Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

How Good is "Afghan Good Enough"?

By Svati PazhyanurPublished April 21, 2014

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As the US and NATO begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan, continued aid and support must remain in place to stem the Taliban's resurgence.
By Svati Pazhyanur, 4/21/14

In the wake of rampant fraud in Afghanistan's April 5th election and the still-controversial drawdown of US and NATO forces, the overwhelming refrain coming from politicians and military officers has been the same: the situation in Afghanistan may not be good, but it is "Afghan good enough." In other words, the country may still be recovering from hundreds of election-related attacks last week, a 14 percent increase in civilian deaths and injuries in 2013, and continued Taliban bombings—but it is still better off than it was 13 years ago.

This approach is entirely problematic. The idea that legitimate governance and civilian safety are goals that are too lofty for a country is reminiscent of the superiority complex of colonial days that natives weren't ready for or capable of maintaining democracy. Even in countries with violent pasts, it is unacceptable to deem them lost causes. Doing so implies that the rights of people living in such countries are, at some point, no longer worth fighting for.

Even if the security conditions in Afghanistan could be deemed "good enough" now, believing they will remain so after a complete withdrawal of military support is naïve. After 12 years and billions of dollars spent on development, we have been unable to deliver a free and fair election. Next time, if the troops have gone home and the aid has slowed to a trickle, the situation is almost certain to deteriorate. Tolerating the warlords and the ballot-stuffing strongmen might allow us to get out this year, but it sends a bleak signal to those Afghans with the courage to face down Taliban threats and cast their vote on April 5.

The US continues to have interests in Afghanistan beyond the weight of the sacrifices it has already made, as well as the promises it has already given, to the courageous Afghans who have risen up against the Taliban and al-Qaeda and are counting on our assistance. The security threats posed by the Haggani network in Kabul and Taliban remain significant, demonstrated by the enormous attacks they have conducted on the capital.

If the withdrawal from Afghanistan does in fact continue, there may still be some basis for optimism if the international community continues to provide aid and support. Even the British and Soviet empires — both of whose failures in Afghanistan are now notorious — managed to achieve their short term goals (keeping Soviet influence out and supporting a Soviet-friendly government respectively) while they continued giving aid.

Continued assistance from the US and NATO in vital areas such as intelligence, logistics, planning, air support, and minimal amounts of troops as advisors and as a high-end counterterrorism force can prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a terrorist safe haven. Yet, maintaining that presence only seems likely if "Afghan good enough" is eliminated from our vocabulary and the goal shifts to assisting in a smooth transition to democracy.