America’s strategic interest in Afghanistan and South Asia extends beyond the immediate denial of a safe haven for al-Qaeda. In a wider context, strategic opportunities converge in Afghanistan that could help to stabilize the region, expand a lucrative market for U.S. investors and exporters, help restore America’s credible influence in the Islamic world, reduce narcotics production, and maintain an environment nonconducive to extremism. Afghans recognize the need to diminish corruption and criminal activity (including the production and trafficking of narcotics), while at the same time creating jobs, improving the quality of life, and increasing literacy. And while they realize they cannot do this without outside assistance, they seek a sustainable path to self-sufficiency. Afghans not only want to eventually take the lead in providing their own security, they want an opportunity to sustain their own prosperity rather than receiving direct support and handouts that only perpetuate their vulnerability, poverty, and dependence.
Within the next several months, President Obama and the international community have an opportunity to shift the paradigm from “foreign-funded, Afghan-assisted” security and prosperity in Afghanistan to a sustainable “Afghan-funded, foreign-assisted” program underpinned by a financial mechanism for international oversight to counter endemic corruption. This paper proposes a sustainable, systemic, and coherent plan—modeled on FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps—that would consolidate existing initiatives to address joblessness, infrastructure improvement, illiteracy, and microeconomic growth while offering a path to reconciliation and an income-generating alternative to opium poppy cultivation. This would be achieved with no increase in the U.S. presence, and would facilitate the eventual drawdown of U.S. military forces.
This Afghan-led, Afghan-funded program would be centrally managed from Kabul but implemented at the district level, province by province, paced by conditions on the ground. Funding would be drawn from an escrow account (with proven mineral resources and international funding as collateral), fiscal and governance oversight would be provided by a small, embedded monitoring team, and economic development (including job training) would be supported by public and private sectors of the international community. The model for this plan is proven, easily understandable, and characteristically American; its application would be uniquely Afghan. There is already interest among Afghan government ministers to adopt this model.
For the full text of this White Paper, please click here.
Bijan R. Kian is a member of the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. The statements here are his personal views and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. government. Wayne Porter is a Captain in the United States Navy. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Navy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.