Illustration: Marcin Bondarowicz / Himal Southasian February 2011
Illustration: Marcin Bondarowicz / Himal Southasian February 2011

The hasty exit strategy

As the Western powers prepare to hightail it out of Afghanistan, there is little accountability to the Afghan people.

'If only you could take the Afghans out of the equation, you might be able to rebuild their country' – or at least so goes the black humour within a small section of the international community, the long-term residents who have watched with frustration as the country has moved from international-backed plan to plan, proffering new panaceas with seasonal regularity as the situation deteriorates. With each year deemed more critical than the last, the only underlying strand unifying these 'solutions' has been a singular absence of the Afghan citizen from the centrality of plans, projects and policies. Like collateral damage, the euphemism used to describe the death of civilians in military operations, Afghan citizens have been corollary to the rebuilding of their country. Unless their interests are allowed to take centre stage, no plan or policy is likely to make a substantive difference, even though other interest groups, including the donor countries or the powerful political elite of Afghanistan, might achieve their short-term or even long-term goals.

Although there is widespread agreement that Afghanistan is a complex country with complicated problems, solutions adopted have usually lacked the necessary sophistication, being reduced to one-dimensional aims. Despite its shortcomings, the 2001 Bonn process spelt out the components of a modern state, implementation of which could have done much to stabilise the country. However the timetable set for its completion was unrealistic, with emphasis on achieving the form rather than the substance of the agreement. While this allowed the international community to claim success in completing its blueprint by 2005, it left Afghans with a Constitution riddled with contradictions and a lack of clarity on the delegation of administrative and political authority, both of which have repeatedly come back to haunt the polity.

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