Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani writer, whose book “Taliban” became required reading at the White House after the Sept. 11 attacks. In a recent interview in Der Spiegel, Rashid says simply pouring money, troops and hope into a country never works.
“In my view, the Western model of influencing the development of third world countries is doomed to failure,” he said. “The West does not understand how to deal with states that no longer have any authority and are threatened by dissolution. Their efforts failed in Iraq as well as Afghanistan. They are simply not capable of promoting the indigenous economy.”
The West has spent billions of dollars, “without any significant effect,” he said.
“It would be better if the private sector would participate to a larger extent,” Rashid said. “Dysfunctional states like Afghanistan need business people who are deeply rooted in their country and invest in it. They can add stability. But all development programs of the United States and the European countries unfortunately exclude the private sector, which could make investments based on profitability.”
That top-down approach simply won’t work.
Rashid welcomed the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan; the government, he said, was exhausted and incapable of dealing with the Taliban or an ongoing famine.
But the West’s model of intervention, as soon as the government was toppled, has been a series of missteps, he contended. The second step, he said, should have been a focus on the private sector.
Instead, American policy makers focused on “democracy building.”
We now know that’s wrong. As we’ve seen in Egypt so recently, democracy doesn’t always make everything better. People don’t always choose freedom. And elections can be rigged — as the 2008 election in Afghanistan most certainly was.
Another mistake was made by President Barack Obama in announcing a date by which all U.S. troops will be out.
“That was the biggest mistake Obama could have made,” Rashid said. “Now the United States has to ensure that Afghanistan does not immediately collapse after being left to itself in 2014.”
The lesson the West should learn from this decade-long experience is that economic intervention, and rebuilding the private sector, can be much more effective than just military intervention.
“The West would be well advised to change its approach towards failing states,” he recommends. “At present, no major power can find the correct ways and means — and the numbers of failing states are increasing, almost as if there were a race going on.”
Rashid’s insights are persuasive. As Syria continues its civil war and other regional conflicts erupt, we should remember Afghanistan.