x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Afghan victory will not be won by force of arms

US President Barack Obama has announced a gradual drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan. For Afghans the message is clear: time to focus on building your own nation.

"America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home,” US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday, as he announced a gradual drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, many would add, it is also time to focus on building your own nation. The Obama administration will withdraw 10,000 troops by the end of this year, 23,000 by the end of next summer and continue at a “steady pace”.

Part of this is political sleight of hand. Heading into 2012 elections, Mr Obama is manoeuvring between hawks and doves in his electoral base. Regardless, the US will surely continue to have a tactical military presence in Afghanistan, including troops, drone capabilities and special forces, for the foreseeable future.

But Afghanistan needs more support than a foreign army can offer – and it needs it now. Other countries, non-governmental organisations and charities should all be involved in grassroots projects to employ Afghans and develop the country. Increasingly, this support should come from neighbours in the region and Muslim allies who can establish a rapport with the Afghan people.

The UAE efforts in the country, although limited in scope, has changed the reality on the ground. The Emirates has spent Dh16 million on irrigation projects in rural areas, Dh28 million to develop the health sector and Dh26 million in education. The UAE has also contributed Dh189 million in infrastructure and housing aid.

This example should be expanded upon, if we are to see a better Afghanistan. The United States and EU countries have already made aid commitments, but increasingly Afghanistan’s friends in the Muslim world must follow suit.

The idea that foreign forces, or the government in Kabul, will exert full territorial control is a pipe dream. Development efforts in the foreseeable future – which are crucial to keep the country from sliding back into chaos – cannot be carried out at the end of a gun. Regional efforts have to be coordinated with and approved by the Afghans who have the most at stake.

In many areas, the presence of foreign troops has been propaganda fodder for the Taliban. The long-term solution is not more fighting, but development and education.

In February, a UAE-funded project completed the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Parwan province near Kabul. This is the kind of legacy that Afghanistan’s friends should leave, not more bullet casings on the ground.