Afghanistan & The Global Community
The just concluded international conference on Afghanistan provided a welcome opportunity for UN and NATO leaders to demonstrate cohesion as well as declare continuing commitment to defeating the Taliban, al Qaeda and associated groups in that country and the wider South Asia region.
Both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen joined the large number of national leaders at the gathering. Guerrilla rocket fire forced the diversion of Ban's plane.
On a more positive note, Rasmussen was explicit in declaring the North Atlantic Alliance, which now has a truly global role, would remain in the region not only through the current war but beyond, to address the enormous related challenges of economic development and modernization.
Afghan Pres. Hamid Karzai appeared calm and cool, as usual, despite the growing insurgent violence and constant criticism. Daring as always, he used this opportunity to declare very explicitly that Afghanistan absolutely will take over providing domestic security by 2014.
Dwindling public support for the Afghan war in the U.S. and other Allied nations underscores the vexing nature of this challenge. Demonstration of solidarity in Kabul conversations has taken place as the military conflict is becoming more intense.
Approximately fifty U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan in July, and sixty were killed in June, the most in a single month in the nine-year war. More broadly, and ominously, the steadily expanding Taliban insurgency has actually been going on for approximately two years.
On June 13, 2008, a massive prison break in Kandahar, a southern Afghanistan province previously considered secure, freed approximately one thousand people, among them an estimated four hundred insurgents. The prison gates were blown open by a suicide bomber in a large well coordinated operation.
Yet there are also promising developments. At the same time as the highly visible Kandahar breakout, Group of Eight (G-8) foreign ministers meeting in Japan decided to devote massive financial resources to combating the drug trade and poverty in Afghanistan.
A G-8 coordinating body was established to oversee commitment of approximately four billion dollars in aid, concentrated in tribal areas bordering Pakistan where al Qaeda and the Taliban are particularly strong. Assistance includes police and military training as well as expanded anti-drug efforts. The thrust, however, is economic.
In seeking effective policies, useful lessons are provided by that durable duo of international relations, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. During the Nixon administration, Turkey was a principal source of world heroin production. President Nixon creatively used product licensing to encourage Turkish farmers to sell crops to pharmaceutical companies for legal medicinal purposes.
Drug lords moved production to Afghanistan, but the route from Turkey to Marseilles France, and then the U.S. - dramatized in the film "The French Connection" - was disrupted, and our important ally Turkey was strengthened. We should apply this practical approach to Afghanistan.
After the Kabul conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates went on to South Korea, visiting the DMZ which borders North Korea. The Korean War of the early 1950s made the Cold War global. Previously, the intense conflict had been limited essentially to Europe, focused on a divided Germany and a divided Berlin.
Terrorism is a global threat, but not nearly as dangerous or as high in stakes - so far - as the Cold War. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan meeting has confirmed the roles of international organizations in managing military as well as economic challenges.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of ‘After the Cold War'. He can be reached at email@example.com