Friday, July 24, 2009

Seth Jones' Book: It's All Been Said Before

Editor's Note: the following is a guest post from my colleague, Haley Gallagher on an event for Seth Jones' new book In the Graveyard of Empires. The views expressed are her own.

After attending Seth Jones’ presentation of his new book, In the Graveyard of Empires, I wouldn’t quite give him the glowing praise supported by the Times.

For one thing, Jones didn’t illuminate anything that we South Asianists haven’t pondered before. You mean the U.S. should address the massive corruption, decentralization of Afghani politics, and engagement of the Pakistani military and civilian leaders? You don’t say.

To his first point, corruption at the national and local levels exists throughout all of South Asia. We have to ask ourselves why it’s so entrenched in these societies and how we work to minimize it? It seems to me that it’s due to the lack of revenue, resources and the law. If the United States can work at the grassroots level to promote real economic development and access to social services that is better than what the insurgents or foreign Islamic Aid agencies are providing, we’ll hopefully rebuild our trust and reputation among the Afghani people.

To his second point, most development and South Asia policy experts are aware of the level of decentralization that exists throughout Afghanistan. We all realize the importance, historical relevance and complexity of the clan and tribal structure within Afghanistan’s political system. We know that to win a war, we must foster strong tribal relationships and win their support. This cannot be done from the compound in Kabul, however. Nor should the United States rely solely on police, military or intelligence forces to win hearts and minds. The United States needs to promote good governance at the grassroots level within an Afghan context and their existing political structures. In addition to grassroots diplomacy, the United States should actively engage and support civil society and NGOs working throughout Afghanistan.

To Jones’ third point, no one has thought about Afghanistan in isolation from the rest of the region. We all know that Pakistan and India are other big players who can serve a vital role in finding and snuffing out militant groups. The geopolitics at play, however, are of great consequence. Many of Washington’s challenges in Pakistan and Afghanistan are linked, and so it is correct and overdue that the United States should formulate a strategy to address the region as a whole.

Back in April, the Council on Foreign Relations released a policy paper response to the new U.S. Strategy for South Asia, “From AfPak to PakAf.” In it, Daniel Markey suggests that “a policy of inducement—through financial, technical and diplomatic assistance—is the best means to shift the strategic calculations of influential Pakistanis and bolster moderates who share basic U.S. interests.” He also suggests that the United States should support long-term development assistance in Afghanistan, with the capacity and mandate to support and expand local, community-based development projects. I couldn’t agree more. As we’ve recently witnessed with the Iranian election, change oftentimes begins from the bottom up.

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