October 01, 2020
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The Reconstruction Of Afghanistan

Aminesh Roul talked to avid 'Afghan watchers' -- Prof. Kalim Bahadur, Prof. K. Warikoo (both from JNU), and Dr. Sreedhar, Senior Associate Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi.

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The Reconstruction Of Afghanistan
Is it possible for the international community to rebuild the shattered state? What will be the most plausible model of reconstruction? How far would the Loya jirga process  help Afghanistan in building its own set of political and administrative institutions? What would the role of US and India be?

On the ongoing process of development and reconstruction in Afghanistan:

Kalim Bahadur:- The situation in Afghanistan is still confused and complex. Under the present circumstances it is rather premature to talk of development and reconstruction. Unless and until the tribal factions come to a consensus, the chances of development are bleak. In the end, economic activity alone would facilitate future administration and simultaneous development.

Sreedhar:- To begin with there are two major thrust areas: National reconciliation among the tribal factions which is presently going on and economic reconstruction which is on with the help of international community. Though optimistic, the priority is, one has to revert back to the pre-1973 model of governance for rebuilding and reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Warikoo:- Ensuing sustainable security and peace in Afghanistan is a great challenge facing the international community. There has been a total collapse of all social and economic structures in Afghanistan particularly under the Taliban regime. Even after the Taliban, elements of Al Qaeda network both within and outside Afghanistan need to be dealt with at the outset.

On Loya Jirga

Kalim Bahadur:- Loya jirga has been used by the rulers of Afghanistan in the past to get legitimacy for their rule or their policies. At present it is rather a controversial issue. The question of representation, the role of the king, the present domination of northern alliance are issues which have put a question mark on the smooth operations of the Loya jirga and the future set up in Afghanistan appears almost impossible.

Sreedhar:- It is the custom -- every ruler convenes Loya jirga to get approval for his actions. Taliban convened a Loya jirga on 18 September 2001 to decide the fate of Osama. The delegates are generally ‘Yes men’. Now it is further complicated because Talibans were largely Pashtoon who constitute a  majority in the population. However, it seems, the Bonn model of governance planned after Loya jirga is not feasible in the immediate future. The psyche of Afghan elite has to undergo a change. It will certainly take time for the traditional feudal mindset to be replaced by popular rule.

On foreign assistance and ongoing ‘Reconstruction programme’:

Sreedhar:- The current reconstruction programme in Afghanistan will go a long way. But as of today most of it remains on drawing board. The promised aid is not forthcoming. The UN is able to implement programmes like ‘Back to School’ with its limited funds. Institution building, economic reconstruction and help from friendly countries all must take place simultaneously. Incidentally, the type of and the quantum of aid being talked by the UN, EU and World Bank cannot be absorbed by an economy like that of Afghanistan at this juncture.

Warikoo:- International agencies like the United Nation, World Bank, European Union, etc. need to implement the reconstruction programmes employing professional and committed cadres in coordination with the local agencies/personnel. Air dropping of Dollars or injecting lot of money instead of rebuilding the education system, health care, agriculture, trade and services will not be productive. However, one has to be optimistic. Though cumbersome and long-drawn, if the reconstruction programme continues, it would be helpful in putting the social and economic situation back on track.

On the Environmental problems:

Sreedhar:- Environmentalist who kept quite from 1979 to 1989 and 1994 to 2001, have suddenly woken up to this new dimension. Environmental degradation of Afghanistan is taking place for the last two decades because of policies pursued by Great Powers. Now these issues like deforestation, soil erosion, water contamination due to the war and its residue and refugee problem have to be addressed as part of economic reconstruction.

Warikoo:- Return of refugees (including internally displaced) and their rehabilitation will be a positive indication of the return of peace. Similarly, dealing with ecological hazards and defusing vast numbers of mines scattered all around is a stupendous task that needs to be undertaken by specialised agencies and foreign assistance. Again, restoration and building of irrigation channels, waterways and check dams will help revive agriculture and horticulture. But more importantly there is a need to make poppy cultivation and heroine production a criminal offence.

On American role in Afghanistan:

Warikoo:- The United States being the leader of the coalition against terrorism has to ensure that such terrorist outfits operating in various parts of South, Central, South east Asia and elsewhere are exterminated. The United States can then assist in the international effort to rebuild Afghanistan.

Sreedhar:- The situation we are seeing today in Afghanistan is the result of the US action in the 1980s. If the US after achieving its objectives on war on terrorism withdraws, the situation may fast return to normal.

alim Bahadur:- Frankly speaking, US has no role for a prolonged stability in that country.

On India’s role:

Sreedhar:- The Indo-Afghanistan relations date back to about 5000 years. In the post 22 December 2001, India is taking a low profile and is working at grassroot level to bring back certain amount of normalcy and boost transportation and food supply. It has a bright chance to succeed.

Warikoo:- India has a vital role to play but it could be through assisting in the rebuilding of Afghan society, not injecting money.

Kalim Bhadur:- India should not indulge itself directly but it can assist Afghanistan as a part of international coalition.

On the future of Afghanistan:-

Kalim Bahadur:- Once the international forces especially, the US forces are withdrawn the country is likely to slip into war-lordism and another round of civil war. Though everybody is optimistic about the future development, it is the elite of Afghanistan who could decide the fate of the country.

Warikoo:- The future of Afghanistan with guarantees of peace, security and well-being of its people hinges upon the setting up and effective functioning of law enforcement agencies, on the success of the de-Talibanisation process, on the speedy implementation of reconstruction of social, economic and education infrastructure and on firm control on drugs and arms trafficking of which Afghanistan had become the hub.

Sreedhar:- It is going to be a hazardous process. Thing are evolving during the last three months. Can Afghanistan go back to the glory of Kushan period? The answer is an emphatic ‘No’. Developments in the next decade in terms of national reconciliation and peace and stability will decide the future. If the Afghans acquire the necessary resilience to withstand external pressures, the future may be bright, say after a decade. The new Afghanistan has to be built brick by brick.

(Animesh Roul is a Doctoral Fellow at the School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi)

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