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Afghanistan: New U.S. Administration, New Directions

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Kabul/Washington/Brussels, 13 March 2009: Jihadi extremism in Afghanistan cannot be defeated unless the Obama administration adopts new political, economic and military policies that empower Afghan civilian institutions.

Afghanistan: New U.S. Administration, New Directions,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the situation in Afghanistan after seven years of U.S.-led intervention and highlights what should be done and what should not be done for the country to find a path to stability. A policy review by the Obama administration has reopened debate about how to defeat the forces of violent global jihadism – al-Qaeda and its Taliban protectors – in Afghanistan and in neighbouring Pakistan.

“The Afghanistan crisis is the outcome of decades of internal conflict”, says Crisis Group President Gareth Evans. “No short-term solution will resolve the crisis overnight. Time and patience are needed to build the infrastructure and institutions to stabilise the Afghan state and root out or neutralise jihadi influence.”

“The Taliban today is not a standing army but rather a disparate network of groups”, says Joanna Nathan, Crisis Group Senior Analyst. “It does not have significant public support among a population tired of war, and the vast majority of people remain far more fearful of what would happen if foreign troops were to leave rather than stay.”

Because the Bush administration’s “war on terror” put short-term efforts to the fore, after seven years, Afghanistan lacks robust representative Afghan institutions. This is partly a result of the U.S. administration leaving the agenda too much in the hands of the U.S. military. Civilian institutions must now reassert their authority in Washington. The new administration should learn from past mistakes and above all focus U.S. efforts on enabling the Afghan government to expand its reach and legitimacy through the provision of security, rule of law and public services to its citizens.

What is needed in Afghanistan itself is the creation of a resilient state, which will only emerge if moderate forces and democratic norms are strengthened. It requires robust institutions that can uphold, and are accountable to, the rule of law. Only when citizens perceive the state as legitimate and capable of delivering security, good governance and rule of law, will Afghans be able to resist jihadi pressures and overtures.

“The Obama administration must also send clear signals to the Pakistani military that there will be a very high price to pay for tacit or explicit support for jihadis, local or regional”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “This is the minimum necessary to dissuade Pakistani spoilers from trying to destabilise the Afghan enterprise.”

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