Aspiration and Ambivalence

Aspiration and Ambivalence: Strategies and Realities of Counterinsurgency and State-Building in Afghanistan

Vanda Felbab-Brown
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 358
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Aspiration and Ambivalence
    Book Description:

    After more than a decade of great effort and sacrifice by America and its allies, the Taliban still has not been defeated, and many Afghans believe that a civil war is coming.Aspiration and Ambivalenceanalyzes the U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan and offers detailed recommendations for dealing with the precarious situation leading up to the 2014 transition to Afghan control and beyond. Vanda Felbab-Brown argues that allied efforts in Afghanistan have put far too little emphasis on good governance, concentrating too much on short-term military goals to the detriment of long-term peace and stability. The Western tendency to ally with bullies, warlords, smugglers, and other shady characters in pursuit of short-term military advantage actually empowers the forces working against good governance and long-term political stability. Rampant corruption and mafia rule thus persist, making it impossible for Afghans to believe in the institutional reforms and rule of law that are clearly necessary. This must change- otherwise, the chances of building responsive and sustainable governmental structures are slim, indeed.

    Felbab-Brown combines thorough research and analysis with vivid personal accounts of her time spent in the war-torn nation-powerful vignettes illustrating the Afghan aspirations for peace, stability, and sovereignty and the stubborn obstacles to securing them.

    "The year 2014 will mark a critical juncture in Afghanistan's odyssey. After more than a decade of arduous fighting and political involvement, the U.S. and international presence there will be significantly reduced and circumscribed. Although the international community has committed itself not to abandon Afghanistan as it did in the 1990s, the onus will be on the Afghan government to provide for the security of the country, its economic development, and governance that attempts to meet the needs of the Afghan people. Difficult challenges, major unresolved questions, and worrisome trends surround all three sets of processes. The biggest hole in the U.S. strategy and international efforts to stabilize the country is the failure to adequately address the country's fractured and brittle political system and very poor governance."-fromAspiration and Ambivalence

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2442-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Bruce Riedel

    The United States has been at war in Afghanistan off and on since January 1980, when the first shipment of U.S. arms arrived in Karachi, en route to themujahideen,less than two weeks after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. At first it was a covert war, fought only by a small number of CIA officers, but after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the war came out of the shadows and American boots arrived on the ground. Twice in the last quarter-century the United States has squandered great victories achieved in Afghanistan by failing to follow up battlefield success with...

  4. 1 Bullets over Kabul’s Broadway
    (pp. 1-21)

    On the bright and breezy Sunday morning of April 15, 2012, my colleagues and I left NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kabul to meet with Afghan journalists, government officials, and civil society leaders to discuss the security and political situation in Afghanistan and the transition to a much reduced international presence after 2014. For once, I was participating in an official, NATO-sponsored trip of five researchers, whom NATO called “opinion leaders,” from the United States, Europe, and Australia.

    After several days under NATO auspices, I would stay on in Afghanistan and travel around the country on my...

  5. 2 Washington’s Strategies in Afghanistan since 2001
    (pp. 22-38)

    U.S. policies toward and operations in Afghanistan since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have been largely a sequence of reflexive reactions in search of a strategy. President George W. Bush stated reasons for driving the Taliban from power, the military undertook operations, Congress committed troops and dollars, and goals for Afghanistan’s future were proclaimed by administration officials, but often the U.S. actions—and words justifying them—did not derive from or add up to a comprehensive and systematically prioritized set of ends-means relationships. At other times, when the White House actually articulated a broad strategy, its price tag...

  6. 3 Insurgency in the Context of Poor Governance
    (pp. 39-58)

    The emergence in the 1990s and reemergence after 2002 of the Taliban movement and other militant groups on the Afghan side of the Durand Line separating Afghanistan from Pakistan have been driven by several factors. Although the causes of the Taliban’s emergence and persistence are multiple and varied, the weakness of the state and the poor functioning of official governance have been crucial enablers of the movement’s ability to gain traction with local populations.

    The Taliban originated as a religious fundamentalist movement that became notorious not only for its religious fanaticism but also for its ruthless oppression and unrestrained brutality....

  7. 4 The Myths of (Non) Governance in Afghanistan
    (pp. 59-74)

    The failure to prevent governance in Afghanistan from deteriorating to levels of abuse and impunity intensely grating to the Afghan people has been more than a matter of incompetence by the Afghan government, unresolved strategic dilemmas within the U.S. government, and difficult policy tradeoffs. True, to a critical degree, Afghan elites ruling the country since 2002 are responsible for the dismal record. However, the poor state of governance in Afghanistan is also a result of mistaken assumptions by the United States and the international community about Afghan attitudes toward foreigners and about the role of tribes in the Afghan polity....

  8. 5 Power, Impunity, and Legitimacy in Eastern and Southern Afghanistan: Learning to Love Mafia Rule
    (pp. 75-93)

    Dodging trucks, donkeys, pedestrians, and a police convoy transporting someone of importance, my driver Ahmed (an alias to protect him from Taliban reprisals) slowly forged a path through the madness of Afghanistan’s traffic as he transported me from Kabul to Jalalabad in the eastern province of Nangarhar.¹ In an effort to travel in low profile, I was in full Afghan garb, wearing a blacksalwar kameezand keeping a burqa on the seat next to me in case I quickly needed to minimize my exposure further. The only aspect of my attire that would give me away as a foreigner...

  9. 6 International Efforts to Fight Corruption and Improve Governance
    (pp. 94-118)

    The Afghan people may bemoan and deeply resent government corruption and widespread abuse of power, but they have not been able to mount an effective demand for the Afghan government to reform its ways. And Washington and the international community more broadly have continued to waver in their assessment of how critical it is to challenge corruption, abuse, and other poor performance by the Afghan government. While publicly calling for improving governance in Afghanistan, Washington’s policies have in practice oscillated between tolerating corruption for the sake of other goals—with the justification that Afghans are used to corruption anyway—or...

  10. 7 Logistics and Politics in Northern Afghanistan
    (pp. 119-137)

    The pristine white snow on the Hindu Kush Mountains sparkled against the clear blue sky of a gorgeous crisp morning. At 5 a.m., my driver Habibullah, interpreter Mahmoud, and I had just left Kabul to drive to Baghlan. (Habibullah and Mahmoud are not their real names. Being known to work with Westerners can be brutally costly for Afghans—it makes them favorite targets of the Taliban.) The journey started off with a foreboding—or perhaps auspicious—augur: barely on the outskirts of Kabul, our old, beat-up Toyota Corolla would not start after being tanked up for the journey. The most...

  11. 8 The Afghan Local Police and Other Militias
    (pp. 138-160)

    One complex aspect of the strategy in Afghanistan with especially problematic implications for governance is the effort to create local self-defense forces around the country. These Afghan “militias” are primarily supposed to increase security in areas where Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and ISAF presence is highly limited. At times, the objectives of this attempt “to stabilize Afghan villages” have also included extending the writ of the legitimate Afghan state. Nonetheless, the primary goal of the most extensive and visible iteration of such efforts as of the summer of 2012—the Afghan Local Police (ALP)—has been to weaken...

  12. 9 Counternarcotics and Economic Development Policies
    (pp. 161-188)

    Counternarcotics policies in Afghanistan have been no less complex than the efforts to stand up the Afghan Local Police and other militias, and far more controversial. No wonder, for the counternarcotics policies pressed on the post-Taliban government prior to 2009 had serious counterproductive effects not only on the Afghan economy but also on the counterinsurgency, stabilization, anticorruption, and rule of law efforts being pursued in Afghanistan by the United States and its allies. The flawed counternarcotics programs hampered both counterinsurgency and good governance efforts. In a courageous break with thirty years of U.S. counternarcotics policies around the world that featured...

  13. 10 Pakistan and the Region
    (pp. 189-212)

    Not just the “New Silk Road” but Afghanistan’s peaceful future depends to a great extent on an auspicious regional environment. Yet Afghanistan’s location at the crossroads of the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia has for centuries made the emergence of a friendly neighborhood elusive, and the vision of Afghanistan’s neighbors embracing nonintervention in Afghanistan and regional cooperation remains largely unrealized. Instead, although escaping colonization, Afghanistan has for millennia paid a heavy price for being the buffer state between regional powers and the battleground for their ambitions, with the armies of Alexander the Great; the Mughals; the Persian, Czarist...

  14. 11 Military Transition and Negotiations with the Taliban
    (pp. 213-244)

    The lynchpin of the U.S. and international strategy in Afghanistan and its most developed element is the gradual transfer from ISAF to the Afghan National Security Forces of the responsibility for maintaining Afghanistan’s security and fighting the still-entrenched Taliban. Yet even this core aspect of the strategy cannot be separated from political trends and governance patterns in Afghanistan. Moreover, in handing over the responsibility to the Afghans, the United States and ISAF are handing over a stalemated war.

    The McChrystal plan was endorsed by the White House in December 2009, albeit with far fewer resources than the general had recommended...

  15. 12 What, If Anything, Can Still Be Done?
    (pp. 245-278)

    The year 2014 will mark a critical juncture in Afghanistan’s odyssey. After more than a decade of arduous fighting and political involvement, the U.S. and international presence there will be significantly reduced and circumscribed. Although the international community has committed itself not to abandon Afghanistan as it did in the 1990s, the onus will be on the Afghan government to provide for the security of the country, its economic development, and governance that attempts to meet the needs of the Afghan people. Difficult challenges, major unresolved questions, and worrisome trends surround all three sets of processes. The biggest hole in...

  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 279-284)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 285-346)
  18. Index
    (pp. 347-358)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 359-360)