The London Conference on Afghanistan has adopted a new and more realistic approach to the never-ending crisis affecting a country which has suffered one catastrophe after the next without interruption. It all started with the war by proxy on its territories during the Cold War before the former Soviet Union finally withdrew from Afghanistan. However, instead of benefiting from a transitory international détente, Afghanistan was cursed with the rise of the Taliban and the consequential events that followed including the 9/11 Attacks, Al-Qaeda’s presence and last but not least the current war.
Apparently the new approach is known as “Money for Arms”. Its goal is to create dissention between the Taliban and the tribal elements fighting alongside it or harboring its members, especially those uncommitted to the Taliban’s extremist ideology. It was announced that 500 million dollars is needed to fund this scheme, with 140 million dollars already approved for this purpose.
Meanwhile, there were references to contacts between the United Nations and members of the Taliban. Though the Taliban leadership denied such contacts, the possibility that they might have been established with elements other than the Taliban leadership has not been ruled out. Behind these new political postures and orientations lies, as it appears, a deep-rooted conviction that the military option alone won’t effect stability in Afghanistan or institute a powerful government that has control over all parts of the country; a government that can foil any attempt by extremist groups to set up strongholds for remobilization and attack-launching like the events of 9/11.
This policy marks a basic return to reality. The idea of paying money for laying down arms might seem like a kind of bribe or submission to blackmailing. But in a country that is plagued with abject poverty and mounting anger on the part of Pashtun tribes- which constitute over 40 percent of the overall population and forms the backbone of the Taliban – this approach might be a new way of reintegrating these elements with the state and society.
If this strategy proves successful in Afghanistan, it might become feasible in other countries that have experienced similar circumstances and whose instability poses a threat to the international community, like Somalia for example. The problem is virtually the same in Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries that resemble them. It is all because of poverty, unemployment and poor services, which is what extremist groups capitalize on. They find the money they need by hook or by crook and recruit young men, who have no hope for a better future, and involve them in acts of armed violence and civil wars. However, if these young people were to find jobs, receive a good education and get appropriate services that would undoubtedly cut the oxygen off from terrorist organizations and their ideologies.
In Afghanistan’s case, it goes without saying that if such enormous funds, originally allotted to troops and military operations, are poured into projects and investments, this would bring about stability and progress to the country. However, it is impossible to draw investments and projects without the existence of security and state sovereignty. But which comes first, the horse or the wagon? In Afghanistan’s case, both security and investment should go hand in hand.
The basic solution to the Afghan crisis lies in the existence of a powerful government and a society with a future to look forward to. In the short run, establishing security remains a priority together with furthering the local government’s responsibility and nourishing its self-confidence, provided that deficiencies be countered. Only a solid strong local government could understand the needs of the Afghan people and hold a dialogue with the rebel groups there.