Afghanistan's Road to Self Reliance
Dr. Barnett Rubin recently gave a keynote speech entitled "Afghanistan's Road to Self Reliance" to the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan in Stockholm, Sweden on 9 December 2016. A video and summary of the speech is available below.
Statebuilding and development became part of the US intervention in Afghanistan only in support of the main mission, which has always been counterterrorism. As a group of former US ambassadors to Afghanistan, U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan, and US scholars of Afghanistan have written: “It [Afghanistan] provides a location and an ally for watching and if necessary attacking extremists across the region.”
The territory of today’s Afghanistan has never produced the resources necessary to sustain a state. When Afghanistan was a self-sustaining state, during the Durrani Empire, it paid for the government expenditure through tax collection from the invaded territories. When the British pushed them back, they needed British subsidies, formalized through treaty with Amir Abdul Rahman Khan (1880-1901). After the independence and partition of India, the Afghan state had to find other sources of funding. The Soviet Union funded the army and heavy infrastructure, while the U.S. and allies supported much of the civilian infrastructure. Because of the financial dependence of Afghanistan on the USSR, when the Soviet Union broke down and so did the Afghan state.
Now Afghanistan is dependent for state functions on funding from the U.S., so partnership with the U.S. is necessary. The largest obstacle to sustainability is funding the army. Sustainability will require developing a national economy as well as lowering the level of threat through political means. Both will require good relations with neighbors of this landlocked state: Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China, and India. The Chinese-led investment in the Belt and Road Initiative as well as the Indo-Iranian project to connect Afghanistan and Central Asia to the Arabian Sea could link Afghanistan to the markets it needs. But several neighbors perceive the long-term U.S. presence needed to keep the state functioning as a threat. They do not want to stabilize an American military base in their neighborhood. Confidence building between the U.S. and Afghanistan’s neighbors is essential to the future of the country.