The Washington Review of Turkish & Eurasian Affairs

After Abbottabad: America in Afghanistan

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us-abbottabad-operation-7-officials-suspendedOn May 2, 2011 U.S. Special Forces under the cover of darkness descended from their helicopters onto Osama bin Laden’s compound in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization in the process. To be certain, bin Laden’s death marks a significant victory for the United States in the War on Terror on account of the fact that Al-Qaeda has been deprived of its organizational leader, chief planner, and spiritual figurehead. In retrospect, nearly ten years had elapsed from the occurrence of the September 11th attacks until bin Laden was finally brought to justice.

Incidentally, nearly ten years have also passed by since the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom, thus making the War in Afghanistan the longest war to date in U.S. history. Yet what have America and its allies accomplished thus far? To what extent is Washington within reach of achieving its goals of establishing a stable democratic Afghan polity equipped with the capacity to assert authoritative control within its internationally recognized borders as well as eliminating the Islamic fundamentalist threat within the country?


Charles J. Sullivan is a PhD candidate in political science at The George Washington University. Mr. Sullivan specializes in the comparative politics of the countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU). He has published articles in The Journal of Central Asian Studies, The Washington Review of Turkish & Eurasian Affairs, and The Journal of Energy and Development. Mr. Sullivan has also written a contributory book chapter entitled Dealing with Despotic Regimes: U.S.-Central Asian Relations in the Post-9/11 Era for The Handbook of Central Asian Politics (forthcoming). Mr. Sullivan is currently a Graduate Student Fellow at the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies in Washington, DC.
The purpose of this essay is to assess the many challenges that Afghanistan currently faces (all of which will continue to frustrate U.S. officials and coalition partners for well into the future) as well as provide a blueprint laying out how to go about rebuilding Afghanistan over the course of the next few years. Overall, this article contends that in order for America and its allies to ensure the continuation of the new Afghan polity in Kabul, the U.S. and its coalition partners must somehow effectively manage the Afghan insurgency (consisting of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and various remnants of the Mujahedeen), the meddlesome behavior of neighboring states (namely Pakistan and Iran), the Afghan warlords, the drug trade, corruption, poverty, illiteracy, as well as U.S.-Afghan relations. In brief, this article posits that coalition forces should focus their efforts on tailoring a set of strategies designed to foster the growth of the Afghan state, nation, and political system and work to implement these strategies over the next 5 to 10 years.

DEFINING VICTORY

In order to comprehend when the United States and its coalition partners will succeed in accomplishing their various political, economic, and military aims in Afghanistan, it is first necessary to broadly sketch out what victory looks like here. Generally, this article assumes that the coalition’s long-term goals are to oversee the creation of a stable democratic Afghan polity equipped with the administrative capacity to assert authoritative control within its recognized borders and simultaneously eliminate the radical Islamic threat within the country. Realistically, however, because of certain factors America and its allies should seek in the short-term only to establish a ‘hybrid’ democratic polity equipped with the capacity to assert authoritative control within the major population centers of the country, while U.S. and coalition forces continue to battle against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Mujahedeen remnants and hunt down enemy leaders by relying on human intelligence gathering, superior airborne weaponry, and close cooperation with the Pakistani military. Thus, this article argues on behalf of the U.S. and its coalition partners adhering to a series of strategies that will serve to further three principal aims over the course of the next 5 to 10 years in Afghanistan; state-building, nation-building, and institution-building.

 AFGHAN DEMOCRACY

In the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001, the U.S. and its coalition partners established a new Afghan polity. Yet what should this governing entity be labeled as today? In order to answer this question, it is first necessary to properly define ‘democracy’. Broadly defined, this article characterizes democracy as a type of governing system in which a substantial portion of a population partakes in both the exercise and contestation of power according to a set of formal democratic institutions. With respect to these democratic institutions, in order to qualify as a democracy a government must (i) hold free and fair elections at regular time intervals, (ii) oversee the enshrinement of a set of civil liberties and political rights granted to an overwhelming majority of its population, (iii) enforce and uphold the rule of law within its recognized borders, (iv) encourage the development of a vibrant civil society, and (v) openly endorse the peaceful contestation of political power, mainly by allowing citizens to join and/or establish political parties and civic associations.[1] Put simply, if a government does not possess all of these formal democratic institutions, then it cannot (as well as should not) be classified as a democracy. Moreover, it is important to note that in order for democracy to endure the political system in question must undergo ‘consolidation’ over time. On this point, Diamond (1999) largely defines democratic consolidation as the process whereby societal actors come to view the exercise and contestation of power according to a set of formal democratic institutions as the only legitimate form of governance.[2] Hence, in order for a country to undergo democratic consolidation, virtually all of the societal actors which regularly engage in the exercise and contestation of political power must become “habituated” to this type of governing arrangement.[3]

Yet how is habituation achieved? To date, a variety of academics contend that a series of factors (such as the level and nature of economic development, the degree of socio-economic inequality, the willingness of ruling elites to respect democratic institutions, the government’s ability to manage a variety of “contextual problems”, and the extent to which a political culture that is conducive to the proper functioning of democracy is internalized within a society) greatly influence whether or not a given country will undergo democratic consolidation in the future. On this point, academics have posited that societies beset with ‘high’ levels of inequality, ‘low’ levels of economic development, ruling elites who regularly engage in what O’Donnell (1996) refers to as “particularism” to realize their own interests, a non-democratic mass political culture, and many “contextual problems” (such as insurgencies, ethnic hatreds, debt, inflation, and terrorism to name but a few) are thus highly unlikely to experience democratic consolidation.[4] Unfortunately, this article argues that Afghanistan clearly falls into the category of countries which are unlikely to undergo democratic consolidation anytime soon on account of such factors.

In evaluating whether Afghanistan is a democracy, one needs to simply look at the numbers. In 2011, Freedom House assigned Afghanistan a score of 6-6 for its political rights and civil liberties, classifying the country as ‘Not Free’ and citing a downward trend in its political development on account of the pervasiveness of fraud in the September 2010 parliamentary elections, continued state interference in the media, the occurrence of several corruption scandals involving high-ranking members of the Karzai administration, and the inability or unwillingness of the Afghan government to address the subjugation and mistreatment of women.[5] In 2010, Transparency International also unceremoniously awarded Afghanistan a score of 1.4 on its Corruption Perception Index, rating it as the second most corrupt country in the world (tied with Myanmar and only behind Somalia).[6] Lastly, the UNDP from 2006 to 2008 listed Afghanistan as the poorest country in Asia, with nearly 70% of the population subsiding on $2 (USD) a day.[7] Based upon these statistics, it is obvious that Afghanistan is at best a ‘hybrid’ democratic polity.

With respect to this concept, scholars such as Diamond (2002) and Carothers (2002) contend that “hybrid regimes” possess both democratic and authoritarian features in the sense that despite the existence of democratic institutions, they are regularly manipulated by ruling elites so as to ensure their respective holds on power.[8] To be certain, Afghanistan boasts a democratic constitution proclaiming its commitment to the holding of free and fair elections, the enshrinement of political rights and civil liberties, the supremacy of the rule of law, and the rights of Afghans to partake in the policymaking process. The problem, however, is that these institutions do not wield any power. Thus, judging by the state of the economy, the pervasiveness of poverty and corruption, and the make-up of the ruling elite, it is quixotic to think that America and its allies can fashion Afghanistan into a consolidated democratic polity in the next few years.

Ideally, the U.S. and its coalition partners should work towards the establishment of a stable consolidated democratic polity in Afghanistan because "hybrid regimes" are inherently unstable since they lack broad-based political legitimacy. Realistically, however, the aforementioned factors will inhibit such efforts from producing desirable results in the short-term. For the time being then, the U.S. and its coalition partners should only work to preserve the nascent democratic institutions in place and see that they are not replaced with autocratic ones.

 A FAILED STATE

To further complicate matters, Afghanistan remains very much a ‘failed state’ today. In discussing this concept, if we define a state as a sovereign legitimate governing entity which wields a monopoly over the use of coercive force and exercises authority over a population residing within a given territory, then a failed state is a governing entity which neither possesses legitimacy nor the capacity to exert total authority within its recognized borders on account of its functional ineffectiveness. Failed states thus differ from “strong” states in that they lack both legitimacy and functionality since they are unable to regularly provide their populations with basic services. With time and effort, however, failed states can be rebuilt into functional polities.[9]

For the past three decades now, Afghanistan has been at war with itself. Obviously, the devastating effects of a civil war fueled mainly by the superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1980s and the opportunistic behaviors of neighboring states throughout the course of the 1990s resulted in the complete destruction of the country’s infrastructure and economy, thereby making it exceedingly difficult for the central government to exert total authority within its recognized borders. As well, since the onset of the War in Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have ‘found’ a safe haven in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs) and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in neighboring Pakistan. Consequently, the rural countryside lies outside the perimeter of Kabul’s authoritative writ today.

As bad as this all sounds, the situation could actually be a lot worse than it is right now. For throughout the 1990s, Afghanistan was on par with Somalia in the sense that the governing apparatus had devolved into a “collapsed state” after rival Mujahedeen warlords seized Kabul in late April 1992, overthrowing the Communist-led Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the process and then turning against one another for control of the capitol city.[10] Presently, although it is accurate to classify Afghanistan as a failed state, this article contends that the current situation on the ground can be gradually transformed so that Afghanistan becomes a “weak” state (i.e. a governing entity which possesses a measure of legitimacy as well as the capacity to exert some degree of authority within its recognized borders).[11] Hence, the U.S. and its coalition partners should only strive in the short-term to establish a ‘weak’ Afghan state equipped with the capacity to assert authoritative control mainly within the major population centers of the country.

THE CENTER AND THE PERIPHERY

In speaking in terms of perspective, this article contends that it is best for America and its allies to narrowly define their objectives in light of the historical nature concerning center-periphery relations in Afghanistan. In general, since Afghanistan has never really been ruled by a strong central (not to mention democratic) governing entity equipped with the capacity to assert total authority within its recognized borders, the U.S. and its coalition partners should thus only seek in the short-term to establish a weak hybrid democratic polity in Afghanistan. To be certain, other governing entities (most notably the Communist-led Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban) recently sought but ultimately failed in their efforts to establish a strong central government in Afghanistan. In trying to do so, both the DRA (1978-1992) and the Taliban (1994-2001) aspired to transform Afghanistan by means of implementing an array of radical reforms designed to drastically restructure Afghan society and relying on brute force to usher in a social revolution. In both instances, however, the native Afghan population rose up in armed rebellion, first against the DRA and the invading Red Army and later against the Taliban. In retrospect, it is clear upon analytical observation that the DRA and Taliban’s respective “social engineering experiments” failed to achieve their intended results because both the DRA and the Taliban sought to do away with the ancient historical relationship concerning center-periphery relations (characterized by Kabul awarding the Afghan tribes autonomy over their respective territories and not intervening in local matters as long as the tribes did not challenge the state) and replace it with a strong central governing entity in control of the periphery. So far, U.S. and coalition forces under Operation Enduring Freedom have refrained from following in the footsteps of the DRA and the Taliban by not trying to drastically restructure center-periphery relations in Afghanistan. Hence, America and its allies should continue to adhere to a gradualist approach in their efforts to support the growth of the Afghan state, nation, and political system.[12]

STATE-BUILDING, NATION-BUILDING, AND INSTITUTION BUILDING

So far, this article has argued that America and its allies should seek in the short-term to establish a hybrid democratic polity in Afghanistan equipped with the capacity to assert authoritative control mainly within the major population centers of the country. To achieve these twin goals, the U.S. and its coalition partners along with Kabul need to simultaneously advance three principal aims; state-building, nation-building, and institution-building. With respect to the first aim, state-building can be defined as the process whereby a governing entity gradually comes to assert its authority within a given country by means of co-opting and/or coercing all rival governing entities into submission. To understand the mechanics at play in this process, we must consult the works of the late Charles Tilly. According to Tilly (1985), all states throughout history have regularly performed four interrelated governing functions; “war-making” (i.e. “eliminating or neutralizing their own rivals outside the territories in which they have clear and continuous priority as wielders of force”); “state-making” (i.e. “eliminating or neutralizing their rivals inside those territories); “protection” (i.e. “eliminating or neutralizing the enemies of their clients”); and “extraction” (i.e. “acquiring the means of carrying out the first three activities…”). Upon laying out these functions, Tilly explains how the modern European state system took shape over the course of the past several centuries. On this topic, Tilly argues that for a long time rival “coercion-wielding organizations” competed for supremacy via engaging in the practice of war. States which thus sought to wage war to gain control over territories had to first assemble the necessary resources in order to achieve victory in battle. In order to do so, these states borrowed credits from merchants and extracted resources (usually through taxation and conscription) from the local population residing within the territories under their control. Hence, Tilly’s quote, “War made the state and the state made war” sums up the state-building process.[13]

Moving on, nation-building is the process whereby a group of individuals come to view one another as members of a distinct social unit.  To understand the mechanics at play in this process, we must consult the works of the late Ernest Gellner and Eugen Weber. In doing so, Gellner (1983) defines a nation as an assembly of people who, by virtue of their sharing of a set of common cultural beliefs, recognize one another as members of a distinct unit or group.[14] Yet how does any assembly of people come to view themselves as a nation? In response, Weber (1976) argues that states can promote “nationalizing projects”. On this topic, Weber maintains that by implementing a variety of strategies (such as promoting infrastructural development, encouraging urban migrations, sponsoring military conscription drives, and instituting a series of mass-schooling initiatives) a state can over time convince a population to embrace a new set of values/beliefs, thus setting the stage for the formation of a distinct social unit. Hence, Weber argues that the nation-building process takes place within the cities, barracks, and classrooms.[15]

Lastly, institution-building is the process whereby ‘old’ institutions come to be replaced by ‘new’ institutions, thus causing societal actors to modify their behaviors toward one another over time. To understand the mechanics at play in this process, we must consult the works of Douglas North. In doing so, North defines institutions as the “rules of the game” within a given society that shape interactions between people by means of issuing a set of guidelines designed to structure social behavior. Institutions can be either “formal” or “informal” in nature, ranging from constitutions and legal statutes to commonly shared norms and unwritten codes of conduct. Moreover, since institutions are created for the purpose of reducing social uncertainties, North contends that formal and informal institutions work in tandem to promote “equilibrium” within a society. As well, the state (in the interest of ensuring that all abide by the rules of the game) acts as the enforcer of the formal institutions. Informal institutions (i.e. norms, values, customs, beliefs, etc.) in turn serve to “modify, supplement, or extend” those formal institutions in place.[16]

To recap, state-building entails working to enhance the authoritative supremacy of the state; nation-building entails working to enhance the shared perception of a people that they are members of a social unit; and institution-building entails working to structure how people behave towards each other. Bearing these principal aims in mind, America and its allies should thus strive in the short-term to make Afghanistan into a hybrid democratic polity equipped with the capacity to assert authoritative control only within the major population centers of the country.

In issuing this recommendation, this article posits that in light of the sheer complexity of the state-building, nation-building, and institution-building challenges currently facing Afghanistan, it is best for the U.S. and its coalition partners to more narrowly define their objectives and refrain from trying to transform an extremely weak governing entity of questionable legitimacy presiding over a preindustrial society into a strong state on par with those commonly found in Western Europe and North America today.  After all, a plethora of  challenges continue to plague Afghanistan, ranging from the prevalence of multiple “coercion-wielding organizations” (be they insurgents, bandits, or militias under the command of any of the Afghan warlords) vying for power to the inability of the Afghan state to generate large taxable revenues so as to increase its administrative capacity throughout the country (largely on account of the fact that the Afghan economy is dominated by the arms smuggling industry as well as the growth, manufacturing, and distribution of the illicit opium poppy crop); from the lack of infrastructural development spanning across the country to the Afghan population’s awfully high illiteracy rate (both mainly consequences of the continuation of a civil war for more than three decades now); from the lack of a prior democratic history to the historical nature of center-periphery relations in Afghanistan. So, how should the U.S. and its coalition partners go about rebuilding Afghanistan? In brief, this article posits that the way forward in Afghanistan lies in America and its allies implementing a set of strategies tailored to foster the growth of the Afghan state, nation, and political system over time.

 ASSESSING AMERICA’S MILITARY STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN

Of course, in order to effectively orchestrate the Afghan state-building, nation-building, and institution-building processes, America and its allies will have to continuously rely on military might. Today, Afghanistan remains in the midst of a civil war. The U.S. and its coalition partners thus must work towards bringing this conflict to an end that is advantageous for Kabul. Unfortunately, the truth is that the U.S. has only recently gotten serious about fighting this war.

For the past several years now, the Obama administration has abided by a new military strategy in Afghanistan, currently led by ISAF Commander and U.S. Army General David Petraeus. In a nutshell, this revamped military strategy entails Washington surging U.S. troop levels upwards to 90,000+ for a definite period of time, seemingly in the hopes that doing so will overwhelm the Afghan insurgency. The U.S. and its coalition partners are also now being much more proactive in taking the fight to the enemy in the rural Afghan countryside by clearing insurgent hideouts, holding newly acquired territories, and amassing resources within these vicinities (mainly by establishing a military presence in these areas, providing social services, and creating human intelligence networks, all in the hopes that doing so will allow for the Afghan military to gain the experience required for providing security in the future and the Afghan government to win the backing of the villagers). In brief, the Obama administration is adhering to the ‘Clear, Hold, Build’ policy that was successfully implemented in Iraq circa 2007.

Will such a strategy work? Academically speaking, the newly revamped U.S. military strategy suffers from one major flaw in the sense that it does not fully counter the insurgency’s respective military strategy. To date, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Mujahedeen remnants fighting against U.S. and ISAF troops in the rural countryside are relying primarily on two strategies: “intimidation” and “attrition”. With respect to the first strategy, Kydd and Walter define intimidation as a tactic employed by insurgents to ensure control over a local population via surveillance, violence, and/or fear.[17] On paper, the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy appears to effectively combat this insurgent tactic. That said, in order for the lauded ‘Clear, Hold, Build’ policy to produce its intended results in Afghanistan, U.S. and allied forces must also craft and carry-out a counterinsurgency strategy which effectively manages the enemy’s attrition strategy.

Over the course of the next few years, the U.S. should maintain a sizeable contingent of troops in Afghanistan, mainly so as to guard against the collapse of the new Afghan government. In the meantime, however, in order to avoid becoming bogged down in Afghanistan the U.S. and its coalition partners should try to arrange the brokerage of some type of negotiated political agreement between Kabul and some of the warring factions in which enemy combatants lay down their arms in return for societal reintegration and a voice in the country’s political affairs.  Still, for this strategy to work the insurgents must first be convinced by America and its allies that they cannot win-out by adhering to an attrition strategy. Hence, this articles posits that the U.S. needs to put more pressure on insurgents via increasing the frequency of its Predator drone missile strikes within the Pashtun tribal belt region while simultaneously working with the Pakistani military in executing another ‘hammer and anvil’ campaign in the FATAs and NWFP.

Which insurgents should the U.S. and its coalition partners try to forcefully persuade to enter into negotiations with Kabul? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to analyze the makeup of the Afghan insurgency. Today, U.S., coalition, and Afghan soldiers are battling against an insurgent force composed of several groups (namely the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and several Mujahedeen ‘networks’ with origins tracing back to the early days of the Soviet-Afghan War). Obviously, the U.S. has no interest whatsoever in trying to entice Al-Qaeda to enter into negotiations with Kabul. As well, America and its allies should not seek to engage the Mujahedeen remnants (such as the networks under the command of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani). Instead, U.S. and ISAF forces along with their Afghan counterparts should continue to pursue and annihilate these networks since they cannot be trusted in the long-run to uphold their respective pledges in any accord with Kabul. That then leaves the Taliban to talk to.

In speaking about the Taliban, it seems logical to think that such a group will simply reject any and all proposals for reaching a negotiated political settlement with Kabul on account of the movement’s ideological commitment to Islamic fundamentalism and hatred for America and the new Afghan government. To the contrary, however, this article posits that the Taliban is susceptible to falling victim to what is referred to as the “collective action problem” or the “rebel’s dilemma” in academia, causing the movement to splinter apart. Thus, a ramped-up U.S. aerial campaign in the Pashtun tribal belt region coupled with a renewed Pakistani military offensive in the FATAs and NWFP could work to induce schisms within the Taliban leadership, thereby opening-up the possibility for Kabul to enter into negotiations with various Taliban subgroups from an elevated position of strength.[18] In the final analysis, the Taliban represent a substantial portion of Afghan society (owing largely to the Pashtun composition of the group). It would thus be beneficial (in terms of political stability) for Kabul to co-opt various segments of this movement (mainly by targeting the leadership of the Afghan insurgency and encouraging other insurgents to negotiate with the Afghan government through the High Peace Council established by Kabul in 2010)[19], thereby bringing the Pashtuns deeper still into the political fold.

To be sure, this strategy possesses drawbacks. In particular, it is fairly certain that a ramped-up U.S. and ISAF aerial campaign will result in the loss of more innocent lives, possibly leading more and more Afghans to view America and its coalition partners as foreign occupiers. On this point, the amount of collateral damage involved in recent airstrikes carried out by U.S. and ISAF forces has led to a worsening of relations between Washington and Kabul, resulting in Afghan President Hamid Karzai issuing veiled threats and warning of retaliatory strikes.[20] In response, U.S. and ISAF forces should redouble their efforts in trying to limit the amount of collateral damage to the greatest possible extent so as to prevent the further loss of innocent lives. That said, halting the airstrikes will only allow the Afghan insurgency to regain its footing, thereby further emboldening the enemy and lessening the chances of bringing this prolonged conflict to a negotiated political settlement anytime soon. Thus, for the time being, U.S. and ISAF forces should continue their aerial bombardment campaigns to further weaken the enemy.

STRATEGIZING FOR SUCCESS

To recap, this article has argued that America and its allies should seek in the short-term to establish a hybrid democratic Afghan polity equipped with the capacity to assert authoritative control mainly within the major population centers of the country while U.S. and coalition forces continue to battle against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and various Mujahedeen remnants. Still, in order to succeed in advancing the aforementioned state-building, nation-building, and institution-building aims in Afghanistan, the U.S. and its coalition partners also need to craft and carry-out a series of strategies designed to effectively manage the many challenges facing Afghanistan today (namely the meddlesome behavior of neighboring states such as Pakistan and Iran, the Afghan warlords, the drug trade, corruption, poverty, illiteracy, and the state of U.S.-Afghan relations).

MANAGING THE MEDDLERS

In order for the U.S. and its coalition partners to succeed in achieving their aims in Afghanistan, Washington needs to figure out how to inhibit certain neighboring states within the region at large (specifically Pakistan and Iran) from meddling in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs. Over the course of the past three decades, Pakistan and Iran have regularly intervened in Afghanistan. In the 1980s, Islamabad and Tehran both provided weapons, finances, training, and safe haven to various Mujahedeen groups as jihadists fought against the Red Army in the Soviet-Afghan War. Thereafter, in the aftermath of the fall of Kabul in April 1992 to advancing Mujahedeen forces, Pakistan and Iran both began financing and equipping certain Afghan warlords out of their own respective interests as the political order came crashing down. In time, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency provided a large measure of support to the Taliban in the movement’s quest to assume control over the Afghan governing apparatus.[21] Today, it is widely believed that Islamabad and Tehran are up to their old antics in Afghanistan once again in arming, financing, and sheltering insurgents fighting against U.S. and coalition troops in the rural countryside. In response, this article argues on behalf of Washington revamping its foreign policies vis-à-vis Pakistan and Iran by mending ties with Islamabad and further isolating Tehran.

Generally speaking, it is well-known that Pakistan was responsible the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s and it is widely believed today that ISI elements continue to maintain contacts with their former Mujahedeen and Taliban counterparts. What seems to be less clear to Islamabad is the danger in pursuing such a policy in the long-run. Today, both the Pakistani government and the military have a vested interest in preventing Pakistan from devolving into a failed or even a collapsed state. Pakistan also stands to benefit economically (mainly through the revival of trading routes and the construction of pipelines linking Central Asia onto South Asia) if the civil war in Afghanistan is brought to a peaceful end. However, neither economic opportunities in the form of trading routes and pipelines nor political stability will come to Pakistan unless Islamabad changes its policy course vis-à-vis the Taliban. Islamabad thus needs to be persuaded by America and its allies to abandon the Taliban once and for all. Today, America needs Pakistan’s help in denying insurgent forces safe haven in the Pashtun tribal belt region by temporarily amassing its military presence within the tribal areas and along the AFPAK border. In order for Washington to court Islamabad into redeploying government troops into the FATAs and NWFP, however, the U.S. will have to concede certain interests to Pakistan. To understand what Pakistan seeks to accomplish in Afghanistan, one needs to simply look to the recent past. For more than thirty years now, Pakistan has sought to acquire ‘strategic depth’. In doing so, Islamabad thus continues to meddle in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs to enhance its own security vis-à-vis India. Hence, the key to mending ties between Washington and Islamabad lies in America both continuously providing Pakistan with financial aid (albeit with greater U.S. oversight on how such monetary assistance is utilized by the government), convincing Pakistan to abandon its support for fostering the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in South Asia (which has become rather obvious in light of several recent Taliban military-style offensives in Pakistan and the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007), and replacing Islamabad’s old ‘strategic depth’ policy with a more adroit one vis-à-vis Kabul and New Delhi.

Aside from the United States, Pakistan is the most influential actor in the Afghan theater. That said, it is also important for Washington to come up with an effective strategy for Iran. Unfortunately, despite repeated genuine attempts by the Obama administration to engage Tehran, the ruling regime has brushed aside all such efforts to date. In essence, it is foolhardy to hope that Iran, with the government being so grounded in Anti-Americanism and possessing regional hegemonic aspirations (as evidenced by Tehran’s support of insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with its aims to develop and weaponize its nuclear technology), would respond positively to U.S. overtures for greater dialogue between the two governments. As well, in light of the regime’s resort to force as witnessed in the violent suppressions of peaceful street protests in June 2009 and the 2011 Arab Spring, it is clear that Iran is not a force advocating the kind of change the U.S. seeks to induce in Afghanistan and elsewhere throughout the Middle East today. As such, Washington should move to further isolate Tehran by means of applying more economic sanctions and increasing U.S. foreign aid to Iranian pro-democracy groups. In doing so, America and its allies should work to inhibit Iran from realizing its troublesome objectives.

THE BIG AND LITTLE AFGHAN WARLORDS

Next up on the agenda are the Afghan warlords. In discussing these actors, it is important to point out that not all warlords are alike. To date, some warlords have allied themselves and their militias with Kabul while others have chosen to sit on the fence. As well, some warlords preside over massive criminal syndicates while others simply amount to small-time outlaws who partake in running guns, dealing drugs, and engaging in acts of banditry. In general, however, all of the Afghan warlords are opportunistic actors at heart. They don’t fight for any cause other than to enhance their own respective power bases. They are thus at best America’s temporary allies in the fight against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the Mujahedeen remnants. That said, in order for Afghanistan to be brought under a modicum of control, America and its allies need to assist Kabul in bringing the majority of these rival “coercion-wielding organizations” to heel.

Overall, the most powerful Afghan warlords have no reason to not support the aforementioned objectives of the U.S. and its coalition partners since they stand to benefit both politically and economically, at least in the short-term. Thus, one of the strategies being advocated in this article argues on behalf of allowing the most powerful Afghan warlords to retain their respective power bases and illicit economic networks on account of the fact that Kabul is simply too weak at the moment to effectively rein them in. Again, the trick to reining in the ‘big’ Afghan warlords lies within bolstering the administrative capacity of the Afghan state over time. As previously stated, Kabul’s administrative capacity will remain insignificant until the government is able to garner a large tax revenue base. Thus, for the time being it is only the ‘little’ warlords who stand to lose out. Since these actors do not possess resources on par with their larger counterparts, they should pose less of a problem as America and its allies along with Kabul selectively dispose of them several at a time mainly through disarming and disbanding these “illegal armed groups” under the UNDP’ Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (which now falls under the jurisdiction of the ISAF’s Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program).[22]

On the surface, this strategy is somewhat repulsive in nature. Yet the underlying logic in promoting such a strategy is to significantly contract the political and economic space in Afghanistan down from its current size so that Kabul can gain some measure of control over the arms smuggling industry and the drug trade (thereby allowing the Afghan state to both acquire more control over the employment of violence and greater tax revenues). Theoretically, this policy will result in the consolidation of several big warlord syndicates as the little warlords are purged from the political and economic space. Simultaneously, Kabul will need to formulate a mutual understanding with the big warlords through some type of jointly acceptable agreement. On this point, such an agreement might stipulate that Kabul and coalition forces will continue to let the big warlords manage their syndicates and issue them private grants of immunity from prosecution for their past crimes against humanity, provided of course that they in turn pledge allegiance to the new Afghan government as well as kick-up a portion of their revenues to Kabul.

OVERSEEING ECONOMIC, INFRASTRUCTURAL, AND EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Aside from the Afghan insurgency, the meddlesome behavior of neighboring states such as Pakistan and Iran, and the Afghan warlords, four other interrelated challenges threaten to derail the multi-national effort underway to rebuild Afghanistan; the drug trade, corruption, poverty, and illiteracy. As previously stated, the aforementioned statistics derived from both Transparency International and the UN Development Programme make Afghanistan out to be a poverty-stricken and extremely corrupt country. That said, despite nearly ten years of uninterrupted international assistance, Afghanistan’s economy (which is overwhelmingly comprised of farmers due to its largely preindustrial character) continues to be fueled by two main revenue sources: foreign aid and the cultivation of the opium poppy crop. In turn, this article argues on behalf of America and its allies working to diversify Afghanistan’s economy. Today, most Afghan farmers grow opium poppies because of the high market demand for this crop and the inability of the Afghan government to bring its cultivation to a halt since so many Afghans depend on opium poppies for their own livelihoods.  Bearing this in mind, in order to diversify the Afghan economy the U.S. and its coalition partners must remain resilient in their efforts to destroy the majority of opium poppy fields, forcefully prohibit the manufacturing of opium poppies into heroin and the distribution of this product on the black market, and provide Afghan farmers (especially those who have been deprived of their economic livelihoods) with the finances, training, equipment, fertilizer, and seeds to grow and sell their substituted crops (such as wheat, corn, saffron, melons, pomegranates, barley, and other fruits and vegetables).[23]

Of course, for such a strategy to succeed the U.S. and its coalition partners must see to it that foreign aid designated for crop substitution and the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure does not continue to fall into the wrong hands. Regrettably, the Afghan government under Karzai’s stewardship has been wracked by a series of corruption scandals (such as the 2010 Kabul Bank scandal which prompted a massive bank run and nearly brought about the collapse of the country’s financial system), tarnishing the Afghan president’s image and undermining his ability to govern in the process.[24] To be clear, corruption in Afghanistan is endemic and threatens to delegitimize the governing institutions in place if left unchecked. America and its allies must thus work to curtail this challenge before it overwhelms the multi-national rebuilding effort.

On a related note, despite the provision of a considerable amount of foreign aid by the international community over the course of the past several years (estimated at $35 billion USD), most Afghans live in conditions of extreme poverty. Accordingly, a recent UN OHCHR report issued in March of 2010 maintains that 36% of the Afghan population lives in “absolute poverty” with another 37% of the population residing “slightly above the poverty line”. The UN report also goes on to discuss the consequences of poverty in detail via issuing the following statistics:

Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate, making it the single highest cause of death in the country, and the third worst global ranking for child mortality; drinking water supplies reach only 23 percent of Afghans; only 24 percent of the population who are 15 years and older can read and write; an estimated 12.6 percent of women are literate and there is only 20 percent literacy in rural areas.[25]

To combat all of these social ills, America and its allies must adhere to a multi-pronged strategy focusing on (i) strengthening the rule of law via enhancing the independence of the courts and prosecuting government officials suspected of misappropriating state resources, (ii) increasing the educational opportunities available to ordinary Afghans by initiating mass-literacy campaigns across the country (such as USAID’s Learning for Community Empowerment Program)[26], and (iii) expanding infrastructural development via overseeing the construction of more road and railway transportation routes. With time, these strategies can help to enable many Afghans to pull themselves from out of poverty as well as serve to legitimize the Afghan state.

In sum, by working to further diversify the Afghan economy by way of employing eradication, interdiction, and crop substitution strategies, tackling corruption, and increasing the opportunities available to the Afghan population through infrastructural development projects and mass literacy campaigns, the U.S. and its coalition partners will gradually enhance both the administrative capacity and legitimacy of the Afghan state in the eyes of the Afghan people. In doing so, America and its allies will advance their nation-building and institution-building aims.

KEEPING UP WITH HAMID KARZAI

Over the course of the past ten years, Hamid Karzai’s political reputation has been tarnished on account of his perceived governing style and occasionally strange behavior. In his defense, Karzai has perhaps the most stressful job in the world because he does not wield control over the resources he needs to solve the problems his country faces. Simply put, Karzai is totally dependent on the U.S. for his survival but must also manage a variety of competing foreign and domestic interests. That said, the extents to which both the relationship between Washington and Kabul has been strained (particularly in the aftermath of the 2009 Afghan presidential election) and Karzai is undermining the nascent democratic institutions currently in place are very important. Despite his faults, Karzai is a man of peace and Afghanistan’s best hope for leaving a functioning government in place when he departs from the highest office in 2014. For the time being then, America and its allies need to restructure their working relationship with Karzai, namely by assuring him that U.S. forces are not about to cut-and-run, laying out these new strategies to his cabinet and asking them for constructive feedback, encouraging him to reach-out to insurgents by offering them amnesty in exchange for their disarmament, and discussing with him the long-term benefits in empowering the formal democratic institutions currently in place.

As well, America needs to have more patience with Karzai, for one cannot expect for democracy in Afghanistan to simply come into full bloom overnight. Today, many U.S. agencies and non-profit organizations are working to assist the Afghan government in strengthening the country’s nascent democratic institutions. That said, although such work is commendable, the U.S. should refrain from criticizing the Afghan government, particularly if doing so undermines Karzai’s ability to engage in negotiations with insurgents. For the time being then, it would be best if the U.S. muted its criticisms of Karzai (leaving instead such tasks to the NPOs) but still coax him from behind-the-scenes to respect the formal democratic institutions already in place. Lastly, it is important to note that despite a decline in the level of public trust for the Independent Election Commission, a majority of Afghans surveyed by the Asia Foundation in 2010 expressed confidence in their representative bodies and government ministers, revealing that Afghanistan’s government wields a considerable measure of legitimacy today. In this sense, most Afghans believe that all hope is not lost and that their country is progressing along in the right direction.[27]

CONCLUSION

This article maintains that the U.S. and its coalition partners should remain committed to rebuilding Afghanistan over the next 5 to 10 years. With such a time frame in mind, America and its allies need to work towards establishing a hybrid democratic polity equipped with the capacity to assert authoritative control within the major population centers of the country, as well as continue to battle against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Mujahedeen remnants by relying on human intelligence gathering, superior airborne weaponry, and cooperation with the Pakistani military. As the tenth anniversary of the War in Afghanistan nears, the outcome of Operation Enduring Freedom still remains far from certain, for coalition forces are striving to reconstruct a fractured Afghan state, nation, and political system. In the final analysis, the success of their efforts will be determined by how effectively they manage the many challenges Afghanistan faces today. In brief, if the U.S. and its coalition partners narrowly define their objectives and make use of clever strategies, then they can defy the odds and realize their aims in Afghanistan.

In closing, success in Afghanistan should not be measured in the names of killed or captured Al-Qaeda terrorists, the amount of donor aid that has been generously provided by the international community, or in the number of years that America and its allies have remained committed so far to rebuilding the country. Instead, success is best measured by the extent to which the U.S. and its coalition partners have rebuilt the country’s roads, schools, and hospitals; diversified the economy; increased the availability of educational and career opportunities for ordinary Afghans; improved the life chances of the country’s next generation; strengthened the administrative capacity of the Afghan state; and instilled a sense of public trust in the country’s governing institutions. Thus, it is in this sense that the numbers clearly do matter in Afghanistan.

NOTES

[1] I came up with this definition for democracy after reading through the academic literature on democracy and democratization. I have included a select listing of readings from which I drew upon in wording my definition for democracy. Accordingly, see Robert Dahl, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1971). See David Beetham, “Freedom as the Foundation”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 15, No. 4 (2004). See Guillermo O’Donnell, “Why the Rule of Law Matters”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 15, No. 4 (2004). See also Larry Diamond, “Toward Democratic Consolidation”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 5, No. 3 (1994).

[2] See Larry Diamond, Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999). To quote Diamond, “At bottom, I believe consolidation is most usefully construed as the process of achieving broad and deep legitimation, such that all significant political actors, at both the elite and mass levels, believe that the democratic regime is the most right and appropriate for their society, better than any other realistic alternative they can imagine…It is the deep, unquestioned, routinized commitment to democracy and its procedures at the elite and mass levels that produces a crucial element of consolidation, a reduction in the uncertainty of democracy, regarding not so much the outcomes as the rules and methods of political competition” (65).

[3] See Dankwart Rustow, “Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model”, Comparative Politics, Vol. 2, No. 3 (1970).

 [4] See Christian Houle, “Inequality and Democracy: Why Inequality Harms Consolidation but Does Not Affect Democratization”, World Politics, Vol. 61, No. 4 (2009). See Carles Boix, Democracy and Redistribution (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003). See Carles Boix and Susan Stokes, “Endogenous Democratization”, World Politics, Vol. 55, No. 4 (2003). See Christian Welzel and Ronald Inglehart, “The Role of Ordinary People in Democratization”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 19, No. 1 (2008). See Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, “Why Democracy Needs a Level Playing Field”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 21, No. 1 (2010). See Samuel Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993). See also Guillermo O’Donnell, “Illusions about Consolidation”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1996).

[5] See “Freedom in the World – Afghanistan”, Freedom House Afghanistan Country Report 2011 Edition (2011), http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=22&year=2011&country=7980 (accessed 3 Jun. 2011).

[6] See “Corruption Perception Index 2010 Results”, Transparency International (2011), http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2010/results (accessed 3 Jun. 2011). For TI’s 2010 CPI report PDF version, see http://www.transparency.org/content/download/55725/890310 (accessed 3 Jun. 2011).

[7] “UNDP Programme for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” United Nations Development Programme (2006-2008), http://www.undp.org.af/publications/KeyDocuments/undp_country_programme_2006_2008.pdf (accessed 5 Jun. 2011).

 [8] See Larry Diamond, “Thinking About Hybrid Regimes”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2002). See Thomas Carothers, “The End of the Transition Paradigm”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2002). See also Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2002).

[9] See Jack Goldstone, “Pathways to State Failure”, Conflict Management and Peace Science, Vol. 25, No. 4 (2008). See also Robert Rotberg, “The Failure and Collapse of Nation-States: Breakdown, Prevention, and Repair”, in Robert Rotberg, ed., When States Fail: Causes and Consequences, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004). For a discussion on a definition of the state, see Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation", 1919.

[10] For an historical account of the Mujahedeen-led overthrow of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in 1992, see Martin Ewans, Afghanistan: A Short History of its People and Politics (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2002). With respect to the concept of a “collapsed state” in academia today, see Robert Rotberg, “The Failure and Collapse of Nation-States: Breakdown, Prevention, and Repair”, in Robert Rotberg, ed., When States Fail: Causes and Consequences, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004). Accordingly, Rotberg characterizes this phenomenon as “a rare and extreme version of a failed state (which) exhibits a vacuum of authority” (9).

[11] With respect to the concepts of a “strong state” and a “weak state” in academia today,  see  Robert Rotberg, “The Failure and Collapse of Nation-States: Breakdown, Prevention, and Repair”, in Robert Rotberg, ed., When States Fail: Causes and Consequences, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004). Accordingly, Rotberg maintains that “Strong states unquestionably control their territories and deliver a full range and a high quality of political goods to their citizens…Strong states offer high levels of security from political and criminal violence, ensure political freedom and civil liberties, and create environments conducive to the growth of economic opportunity…In weak states, the ability to provide adequate amounts of other political goods is diminished or is diminishing.” (4).

[12] See Charles J. Sullivan, Building Afghanistan: An Analysis of the Soviet Invasion, the Collapse of the Taliban, and Operation Enduring Freedom (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina – Columbia, Master’s Thesis, 2006). For more on the historic nature of center-periphery relations, see Olivier Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan, 2nd Ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

[13] See Charles Tilly, “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime,” in Peter Evans, Dietrich Rueschmeyer, and Theda Skocpol eds., Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1985). See also Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States: AD 990-1992 (Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 1992).

[14] See Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983).

[15] See Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1976).

[16] See Douglas North, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

[17] See Andrew Kydd and Barbara Walter, “The Strategies of Terrorism”, International Security, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2006). With respect to the logic behind pursuing a strategy of attrition, Kydd and Walter contend “In an attrition strategy, terrorists seek to persuade the enemy that the terrorists are strong enough to impose considerable costs if the enemy continues a particular policy” (51).

[18] With regards to the ‘collective action problem’ see Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965). In brief, Olson argues that members of a group will only press for the realization of a common interest if the public gains for doing so outweigh the personal costs of action. For a lengthy discussion on how Olson’s collective action problem applies to insurgents and/or rebels, see Mark Lichbach, The Rebel’s Dilemma (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1995).

[19] See Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau, “The Dirty Dozen”, Newsweek Magazine (10 Apr. 2011), http://www.newsweek.com/2011/04/10/the-dirty-dozen.html (accessed 5 Jun. 2011). See also “Afghan Government Reveals Membership of New Peace Council”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (28 Sep. 2010), http://www.rferl.org/content/Afghan_Government_Reveals_Membership_Of_New_Peace_Council/2170632.html (accessed 5 Jun. 2011).

[20] See Joshua Partlow and Craig Whitlock, “Karzai Orders NATO to Stop Airstrikes on Afghan Homes”, The Washington Post (31 May 2011), http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/karzai-orders-nato-to-stop-airstrikes-in-afghanistan/2011/05/31/AGFbeMFH_story.html (accessed 3 Jun. 2011).

[21] See Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York, NY: Penguin, 2004). See Mohammad Yousaf and Mark Adkin, Afghanistan – The Bear Trap: The Defeat of a Superpower (Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2001). See also Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001).

[22] For more on how the criminal behavior of the Afghan warlords affects the legitimacy of the Afghan government, see Aryn Baker, “The Warlords of Afghanistan”, TIME Magazine (12 Feb. 2009), http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1879167-1,00.html (accessed 5 Jun. 2011). See also “United Nations Development Programme - Afghanistan - Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups” UNDP Afghanistan Annual Project Report (2010), http://www.undp.org.af/Projects/Report2011/diag/2011-03-21-%20Annual%20Progress%20Report%20of%20DIAG.pdf (accessed 5 Jun. 2011) for a summary of results to date.

[23] See Robert Draper, “Opium Wars”, National Geographic (February 2011), http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/02/opium-wars/draper-text (accessed 5 Jun. 2011). See also Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Afghanistan: When Counternarcotics Undermines Counterterrorism”, The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4 (2005).

[24] See Dexter Filkins, “Troubles at Afghan Bank Jolt Financial System”, The New York Times (31 Aug. 2010), http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/world/asia/01kabul.html (accessed 5 Jun. 2011). See also Adam Ellick, “Afghanistan Tries to Help Nation’s Biggest Bank”, The New York Times (4 Sep. 2010), http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/world/asia/05kabul.html (accessed 5 Jun. 2011).

[25] See “Human Rights Dimension of Poverty in Afghanistan”, The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (March 2010), http://unama.unmissions.org/Portals/UNAMA/human%20rights/Poverty%20Report%2030%20March%202010_English.pdf (accessed 3 Jun. 2011).

[26] For more on USAID’s project to increase the national literacy rate in Afghanistan, see “Learning for Community Empowerment Program – LCEP 2”, USAID Afghanistan (2011), http://afghanistan.usaid.gov/en/USAID/Activity/155/Learning_for_Community_Empowerment_Program_LCEP2 (accessed 5 Jun. 2011). 

[27] See “Afghanistan in 2010: A Survey of the Afghan People”, The Asia Foundation (2010), http://asiafoundation.org/resources/pdfs/Afghanistanin2010survey.pdf (accessed 3 Jun. 2011). Still, it is important to note that only 41% of respondents who identified themselves as Pashtuns thought that the country was "moving in the right direction," while 33% of Pashtun respondents thought that the country was "moving in the wrong direction" (17).


 

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