As members of NATO convene this weekend in Chicago, one key issue that will be discussed is the war in Afghanistan. Thus, it is important to take the time out to evaluate the difficult situation and recognize the important factors that could eventually bring lasting peace to the fragile country.
The war in Afghanistan has been going on for a decade now with billions spent, and the country continues to face a number of challenges in the road ahead. The Bonn Conference of 2001, which was sponsored by the U.S. after the invasion, aimed to design a process for political reconstruction for the country, eventually leading to the first democratically elected president, Hamid Karzai, in December of 2004.
However, despite efforts to maintain security and development in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s recent resurgence and provincial instability has built immense roadblocks for the shaky Afghan government and the international community. In recent years, confidence in the ability of President Karzai to combat corruption and reestablish security and stability has declined as well.
With the billions spent on the war, there has been little oversight as to where the money is administered, contributing to the corruption and mistrust in the government. In addition, experts on the region have also pointed to the fact that Afghanistan does not have a local economy that is self-sufficient and is dependent on America for assistance.
There has also been a lack of investment in alternative sources of agriculture, as opium continues to be a troubling issue, as well as infrastructure development. As the U.S. and NATO members discuss withdrawal from the region, the economy left behind may not be able to sustain the country. Providing financial and military assistance to Afghanistan, however, will not stabilize the region in the long term if the current dysfunctional system stays in place.
Designing a peace process in Afghanistan that is comprehensive and substantive requires a network of approaches that addressed a number of problems. While long-term security guarantees are important, they are not the only issue that will need to be discussed during the summit. If fact, investments in economic development, establishing demilitarized zones, and addressing conflicts at all levels of Afghan society will prove to be equally important for the stability of the country.
Peace agreements fail when there is a lack of support. One crucial factor to the success of a peace process in Afghanistan will be the participation of a wide range of diverse parties from unarmed to armed actors. The Bonn Conference did not include the participation of the Taliban, which may have led to missed opportunities for finding a viable political solution. Leaving out key stakeholders, such as the Taliban, lessens their willingness to accept agreements made. In order for a peaceful transition in Afghanistan to occur, all facets of Afghan society must be included in negotiations.
In order for Afghanistan to move from conflict to stabilization, a peace agreement must be created that is multi-faceted, dynamic, and all encompassing. The root causes of the current conflict from government corruption, ethnic tensions to economic instability must also be addressed.
Engaging with and integrating government and civil society into the peace process can build a national consensus on how the country should progress. Civil society is often said to be a driver for democracy and countries that foster the public sphere and citizen’s participation are better suited to peacefully manage a variety to interests.
The participation of women in Afghan society, especially, is a crucial element to bringing about realistic solutions for the country as well. No one can expect a country to progress and democracy to prosper if half of its society is marginalized.
Ultimately, a great deal of the issues affecting the country will depend on how Afghans deal with the challenges themselves. Regardless of how much military and financial assistance America and the international community pours into the country, peace can only be brought through the involvement of members of Afghan society and their willingness to participate in the peaceful settlement of their country.