Yale '62 - September 11 - One Year Later - Fred Starr

"Afghanistan: Itís worse and better than we think"
By Fred Starr

Dating back even to my archaeological work in Turkey during several summers while a Yale undergraduate, I have been absorbed in the affairs of Central Asia. Even though it is the result of such tragic circumstances, I have been fascinated to see nations, leaders and citizens around the globe focus so intensely on this complex and remote but proud part of the world.

I am recently back from a few weeks in Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics. This latest trip confirmed my impression that America underestimates both the perils and the prospects presented by Afghanistan and the broader region of which it is the heart.

Yale '62 Poll
America's Role in Afghanistan
Which of the following statements best represents your point of view?
The United States should lead the longer-term efforts to guarantee a stable government in Kabul and future economic development.
The U.S. role should strictly be the pursuit and capture of al Queda and Taliban leaders.
The United States should withdraw forces as soon as possible.

The perils arise from one main source: the gross ethnic imbalance of the new government in Kabul. A crude power grab by a small clique of Tajik warlords from the North has marginalized nearly two thirds of the population. This was to have been fixed in Bonn, but it wasnít. Then it was to be corrected by the Loya Jirga, but the national assembly only made matters worse. Growing discontent among underrepresented Pashtuns and Hazaras threatens to wreck the fragile peace. Unless checked, it is bound to spread across the border to Pakistan, further destabilizing that nuclear power.

America must now rectify this situation. It must demand that Karzai install a balanced group of ministers as a condition for further military and development assistance. Failure to do so will lead the majority of Afghans to conclude that the U.S. has shifted from liberator to oppressor.

Besides destroying al Queda and the Taliban, America has wanted only "to drain the swamp" in which these movements had thrived. But a stable government in Kabul can achieve much more: namely, reopen the great trade routes connecting China, India, the Middle East and Europe. The revival of this ancient trade is the key to economic development throughout the region.

Once peace is established, the cost of reopening these ancient routes is not huge: rebuilding key bridges and tunnels, and setting up customs posts. Because it will not itself reap profit from this, the US is ideally positioned to organize such an international effort. And since this is not against anyone, there will be no losers---unless you count the warlords and fanatics who have fed off the prevailing hopelessness.