Dr. Aziz Hakimi, School of Oriental & African Studies, London
Domestic and global anxiety about the fate of Afghanistan and the West’s decade-long military, diplomatic and economic engagement in the region has intensified as United States (US) and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) troops prepare to disengage from the conflict. The change is reflected in Western policy’s turn to realism – exemplified by demands to abandon nation building abroad and recognise the limits of Western power – and instead work through and with local allies, as has been attempted by Western counter-insurgency (Stewart 2009).
Western intervention is generally criticised on the basis of the assertion that Afghanistan is ill-suited to Western liberal models. Instead, a clear re-orientation is evident in both policy and academic circles towards the ‘local’ and the ‘traditional’ and in favour of hybrid political orders over the ‘Westphalian state’ (Boege, et al. 2009). Ironically, conservative politicians and critical theorists have come to agree on the same thing: liberal peace-building approaches had not necessarily led to peace in zones of conflict. However, the implication of this new understanding has not necessarily led to the questioning of key liberal assumptions underpinning Western forays into zones of instability. Instead, the failure of liberal ideas and institutions taking roots in the violent parts of the non-Western world has been, mistakenly, attributed to too much liberalism operating in Western projects of intervention; an inherent illiberalism on the part of non-Western societies; and their resistance to adopting Western norms and values over their own traditional practices (Chandler 2010).
Meanwhile, escalating violence has led to calls for a strategy of less counter-insurgency and more killing and capturing, using Special Operations Forces (SOFs), drones and local proxy forces (Kaplan 2010). The recent US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement aims to pursue a combination of institutional building, albeit on a more modest scale and continuing kill/capture operations to contain the insurgency. Expectations of Western exit are also hinged on a peace deal with elements of the insurgency. A better trained and equipped Afghan security force, including local militias, coupled with modest amounts of continued Western aid, is expected to keep the current oligarchy in power against an armed insurgency allegedly supported by Pakistan’s military establishment. However, the regional dimension of the conflict is tied to domestic politics of the states in the region, whereby ‘statebuilding in one country, for instance Pakistan, may derive benefits from violence, economic interest and state disarray in another, for example Afghanistan‘ (Cramer and Goodhand 2002, 886). This makes for an unstable region and the continuation of violent politics in both countries.
Dr. Aziz Hakimi is a Afghan political scientist with a PhD in development studies from the School of Oriental & African Studies, London University. He has been a guest researcher at the Christian Mikkelsen Institute in Norway, and was a former Director of a non-profit NGO – Future Generations in Afghanistan. He has worked as policy advisor for President Karzai in Afghanistan and as Human Rights Advisor with the United Nations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Before joining Future Generations, he was Executive Director of the Killid Group, a local media organization based in Kabul. He was educated in India and South Africa and holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict, Security and Development from King’s College in London. He is currently a research associate (anthropology) at the University of Sussex