How to Solve Afghanistan (Page 3 of 3)

What I am proposing is to link the cash transfer structure described above with the National Solidarity Program. This is a natural link. The NSP requires cash grants to function in the implementation of its community-based development projects. It is also by definition a governance programme, assuring transparency at the village level and helping link state and local efforts together. Ultimately, because decisions are made within the local community and projects are conceived and then run by community members, the programme was successful in combining development and security together—a goal still eluding most programmes attempted in Afghanistan.

At the same time, directly allocating a significant portion of the mineral revenues via cash transfers allows Afghans to decide how to spend the income. One of the fallacies of development aid is the belief that outside donors know better where and how funds need to be spent. Instead, allowing people to choose how to spend their allocated funds actually leads to better economic and social outcomes. As the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has reminded us, development is about freeing people from the yoke of poverty, not dictating to them how they should behave. In fact, most spending by those receiving cash transfers are for education, health and sanitation, so they go well beyond mere consumption and are investments in both economic and social capital formation.

In today’s Afghanistan, the Taliban’s strength is directly proportional to the weakness and inability of the government and its international partners. The insurgency is not gaining ground because it can articulate a better vision for the future; it is doing so because the absence of a legitimate state creates strategic space the militants are adept at exploiting. Despite bin Laden’s death, as long as that space exists, we cannot win against the insurgency.

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It is still not too late for Afghanistan. In light of extremists looking to gain new ground having been emboldened by uprisings in the Middle East, Afghanistan now represents a new security architecture and a buffer between Iran and Pakistan. The endgame in Afghanistan can only be achieved if the state is able to develop both the narrative and the means of ensuring the future of its people.

Seeking to connect the NSP with cash transfer programmes would establish a powerful set of strategies to help secure an effective transition to Afghans. It will restore a sense of justice, which is foundational to Afghan society and will offer its leadership one final opportunity. As the Taliban will no longer be able to offer a viable alternative to the population, this will also serve as a model making the patronage of extremist groups in Pakistan neither acceptable nor feasible.

Post-Osama bin Laden, assuring the legitimacy of the Afghan state will render the Taliban irrelevant and make it possible to pave the way for stability in an increasingly precarious region. 

Masood Aziz is a senior diplomat, author and corporate executive. He was the senior advisor to the mission at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington DC, and played leading roles on the Afghanistan Compact, the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) and the UN’s Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB). Aziz is also the author of the recently published book The New Silk Roads: Transport and Trade in Greater Central Asia, and has contributed to Foreign Policy, The Daily Beastand Forbes, among other publications.

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