We are preparing to go to war in Iraq under the assumption that making the peace will be harder than winning the conflict. Many commentators have offered more or less sloppy analogies with the situation in Afghanistan, most of which have little value. But if there is anything to apply from one reconstruction effort to another, it is the importance of learning how the society in question is organized and how power has traditionally functioned within it. This is just what we have failed to ascertain in Afghanistan.
LOOKING AT AFGHANISTAN
By now, Americans are familiar with the standard themes of articles on Afghan politics. We have read arguments for and against strong central government, the ethnic composition of the current government, the role of the “warlords,” and various approaches to reconstruction. We have come to realize that Hamid Karzai has a great deal more power in Kabul than outside. We have, lately, seen a lot of articles lamenting the slow pace of rebuilding, the continued stagnation of the economy, the difficulties with forming a national army and disarming “warlords” and the fact that in material terms little has changed for the better in many Afghans’ lives. (more…)