For Afghanistan to develop, the war there must end

August 8, 2012

August 01, 2012, by David Cortright

Without the political conditions for peace in Afghanistan, economic development will be impossible, no matter how much aid donors pledge. Major states meeting in Tokyo earlier this month pledged approximately $4 billion a year in financial support to Afghanistan through 2015. The aid commitments are part of a strategy to secure Afghanistan’s future by providing support for the Kabul government and funding for economic development. The theory is sound – governance and development are unquestionably necessary for peace – but the strategy is missing the most crucial element: a plan for ending the war.

Afghanistan has faced almost continuous war for more than 30 years. There was, first, the war against the Soviet Union, then a civil war, and, at present, the Taliban-led insurgency against the United States and its allies. All of these have contributed to the country’s status as one of the world’s least developed nations.

Security conditions in Afghanistan today remain a serious concern and could worsen as foreign troops depart. Afghans have watched civilian casualties steadily increase in recent years, and insurgent groups control many parts of the country. The U.S. has tried to encourage peace negotiations but is also operating on the assumption that the war will continue.

According to the Congressional Research Service, approximately 20,000 foreign troops will remain after 2014 to train and support Afghan security forces as they battle the insurgency. If the fighting degenerates into renewed civil war, as many fear, civilian suffering will increase, recent gains in women’s rights will be lost, and the prospects for economic development will disappear.

Afghanistan needs economic aid – but its greatest development need is assistance in ending the war. This is what will best serve the Afghan people. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the Tokyo conference that security and development in Afghanistan depend on “whether political reconciliation proceeds and succeeds.” A peace accord between insurgents and the Kabul regime would reduce the need for large, unaffordable security forces, allow greater spending on civilian priorities and increase the prospects for attracting foreign investment.

The challenges in negotiating such a settlement are huge. Washington and the Afghan government have endorsed the goal of a negotiated peace, but they have not devoted the necessary energy and resources to the process. The Taliban and other insurgent groups initially favored peace talks, but last year walked away from the process, demanding American fulfillment of earlier promises to release some detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison. U.S. officials met recently with a Taliban representative in Tokyo, but no progress has been achieved yet in beginning formal negotiations.

Most wars end through negotiated peace agreements rather than military victory. A peace accord would bring security and stability to the Afghan people. It would also reduce the appeal of armed militancy.

Research shows that peace processes are most successful when they are comprehensive and inclusive, with strong international backing. The chance of success also improves when agreements are monitored and policed by third-party peacekeeping forces. This will require continued international involvement and support for Afghanistan, but with a greater focus on peacemaking instead of war-fighting.

Recent reports by the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization working in violent conflict areas, and the RAND Corporation, a leading think tank, recommend the creation of a high-level United Nations-led mediation team to work with the Afghan government, insurgent groups and neighboring states to facilitate a comprehensive, multifaceted peace process. Those involved in negotiations should seek an agreement between insurgents and the Afghan government and a diplomatic compact among neighboring states. The former would attempt to create more inclusive and accountable governance within Afghanistan, while the latter would seek pledges of noninterference and support for stabilization from surrounding states. Afghan women should be included in negotiations and their gains and rights protected throughout the process.

The U.S. and its partners should increase their support for a negotiation process and devote more energy to the search for a political settlement in Afghanistan and among its neighbors. Working for a negotiated end to the war would do more than all the aid pledges in Tokyo to enhance the prospects for development in Afghanistan and improve the lives of its people.

David Cortright is the director of policy studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service (

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