At a Crossroads in Afghanistan: Should the United States Be Engaged in Nation Building?

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Despite progress in the return of refugeesand the prevention of humanitarian disasters,stability in Afghanistan is threatened by ethnictension, feuding warlords, and violence perpetratedby regrouping elements of the Talibanand their allies. The United States is beingasked to increase its level of commitment torebuilding Afghanistan as a means of stabilizingthe country, even as American troops battlethe resurgent Islamic extremists who operatealong the Afghan-Pakistan border.

An increase in the U.S. commitment toAfghanistan's reconstruction is unlikely tospeed up that nation's progress toward stabilityand peace. With fighting between rival warlordsstill raging, and neighboring nationsvying for influence in Afghanistan, Americanentanglement in Afghan civil affairs will onlydistract from the major goal of eliminatingthe anti-American forces that were instrumentalin the 9-11 attacks. The United Statescan best aid Afghanistan by accelerating thewar against Islamic extremists, paving the wayfor Afghans to reconstruct their own politicaland economic systems. The alternative--aU.S.-imposed political structure--will onlyserve to increase anti-American sentiment.

America's prior nation-building experiencessuggest that external aid has a limitedeffect in the reconstruction of so-calledfailed states. Afghanistan provides a modelfor a broader policy framework whereinAmerican intervention would be confined toeliminating national security threats ratherthan getting entangled in counterproductivenation-building exercises around the globe.

Subodh Atal

Subodh Atal is an independent foreign affairs analyst based in Washington, D.C.