Afghanistan today

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MARCO WERMAN: Clare Lockhart has spent plenty of time in Afghanistan. She worked on reconstruction programs there, both for the Afghan government, and the United Nations. She's now the Director of the Institute for State Effectiveness in Washington. What lessons do you take from Afghanistan's history when you think about your own work on development and governance there, Clare Lockhart?

LOCKHART: The lessons from previous interventions are, of course, that engagement with Afghanistan has enormous challenges. But I think both sides have really moved on from the legacy of the 19th century. So while some people argue that the country is ungovernable, it's a country of tribes and warlords and they'll never be governed, my experience and observations are very different. People across the country wanted order, legitimacy, and just to get on with their ordinary lives. Because so many of them had experience in living in countries ? whether Iran and Pakistan next door, or further afield in Germany, or the U.S., or other countries in Europe ? many of them actually had experience of living in developed countries. They were very well educated. Many Afghans around the world have got to the top of their professions, and they bring with them this experience, and this very globalized perspective of what it's like to live in functioning countries. I think, realistically, they understand ? we all understand ? it's going to take a long time for Afghanistan to develop. It's not going to change overnight. But they bring this different perspective back with them, whether they move back to Afghanistan, or they stay in contact with their relatives.

WERMAN: Historians, as you know, often talk about Afghanistan being shaped by its history of being a buffer state ? between Britain and Russia during the 19th century; between the West and the Soviet Union during the cold war; and now it's being squabbled over in the fight against international terrorism. How do you think that affects its ability to function as a state properly?

LOCKHART: Afghanistan's location ? it's in a different neighborhood. I think when its neighbors are not supportive of peace, and stability, and prosperity in Afghanistan, that presents insurmountable difficulties. One of the things that's required is looking again at the regional peace, to understand how a constructive engagement across the region with its neighbors and more broadly with India and the Gulf, is going to be fundamental to putting the country and the region back on the right track. Back in 2001, one of the first things that the U.N. did was to send senior envoys to visit the region, and discuss with neighbors, asking them to commit to the stability of Afghanistan. That really helped underpin the stability that existed between 2001 and 2005. I think going forward, looking at how both politically ? but also crucially ? economically that partnership can be put back into place, is going to be vital. After all, in Europe, after World War II, it was the coal and steel pact between Europe that really underpinned ongoing cooperation in Europe. We could think of a similar concept for the region that positions Afghanistan as a land bridge between South Asia, Central Asia, and the Gulf, and looks at pipelines, railways, roads and dams; a kind of Marshall Plan for the region that would bring the countries into a cooperative relationship. It needn't be as expensive as it sounds. With the right risk guaranties, and bond financing, a lot of this could be privately financed, providing an outlet for the money that exists already in the region in sovereign wealth funds, and in private individuals' hands.

WERNER: But now the approach from the Obama administration, as we've been hearing so far, is to focus less on nation building, and more on going after the Taliban. What are your thoughts about this approach?

LOCKHART: I believe that achieving the goals that the country no longer has sanctuaries in which terrorism and other elicit activities can operate and be based requires understanding what the current conditions are, and what conditions need to exist for those sanctuaries to disappear. In my analysis, it's only when there's a government capable of providing security, and basic core functions to its citizens, that you'll be able to achieve that stability. Our global system is based on sovereign states existing. Any of them that don't perform well enough for their citizens represent a weak link in that chain, in that system, that threatens all of our security.

WERNER: So when you hear the refrain that we're hearing so often now, that Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires, the people can't be pacified by foreigners, what do you think: Is Western-sponsored nation building possible?

LOCKHART: I believe the pessimism is misplaced for two main reasons. One is I believe the Afghans deeply desire a well-governed system. The first Afghan woman I spoke to in Mazar in January 2002, said, "All we want is a functioning civil service. We've had 23 years of war, and that's the problem up until now, so that's what we want." And I've heard this repeated across the country, in all the provinces I visited. So I think that's the key asset: the Afghan people desperately desire a functioning system. I believe, optimistically, that we do have, now, the capabilities in the West to partner with Afghans. The challenge going forward is how we configure that partnership so that the West can configure its instruments to support Afghans to govern themselves.

WERNER: Clare Lockhart directs the Institute for State Effectiveness. She's the co-author, with Afghanistan's former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, of "Fixing Failed States.? Clare Lockhart, thank you very much.

LOCKHART: Thank you.