I once caught a ride from a cab driver who told me that America’s problems in Afghanistan really start in Kashmir. He explained that the key conflict in South Asia is between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir (that he, a native Kashmiri, called the most beautiful place on Earth).
In its fight with India, the Pakistani government uses the Taliban and al-Qaida as proxies who do its dirty work without leaving any official fingerprints. And since their India problem is much more important to them than our Afghanistan problem, we can’t count on the Pakistani government to eliminate its own intelligence assets for our sake. His point was that it’s too late to try to reach the older generation of Afghans, Pakistanis, and Indians who are locked in decades-old patterns of conflict. “Forget the fathers,” he said, “concentrate on the sons.”
With President Obama’s announcement that he is sending some 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan over the next six months, we will finally finish the job that our previous president put on hold so he could invade and occupy Iraq. Once the military has secured the country, the most important thing is that we not repeat the mistake we made in Iraq by leaving reconstruction to the Department of Defense. The job of building the modern state of Afghanistan has to be centered around diplomatic and developmental work; and that should be done by the United Nations as led by our State Department and its secretary, Hillary Clinton, with a lead role to be played by the Clinton Global Initiative.
I am not the slightest bit concerned about our military’s ability to do its job. Within the next 18 months, the most highly-trained and best-equipped fighting force in the history of the world will deploy units all over Afghanistan to capture or kill senior al-Qaida leaders, protect the population from the brutality of the Taliban, and to eliminate the drug warlords who profit from the poppy trade. Then as U.S. troops begin to draw down, I have no doubt that the remaining NATO and Afghan forces will be enough to keep the country secure. The drug warlords are tough, but they don’t have an air force.
That’s when the real heavy lifting begins because 30 years of war and instability have left Afghanistan in a state of perpetual political upheaval. Two out of three Afghans are illiterate, including three out of every four women, and the unemployment rate is 40 percent. About one-tenth of the population works in the poppy trade, which accounts for one-third of Afghanistan’s GDP. The bottom line is that Afghanistan’s young people need pubic schools and a principal export that isn’t an illegal narcotic.
That’s where the Clintons come in. With the central government too inept to run an election, there is no way for it to establish or expand civil institutions on a provincial or local level — and forget about critical infrastructure like highways, roads, and bridges. To get the job done right and done on a scale that will benefit the entire country, it will have to be done by the international community. Who better to lead the team than the U.S. secretary of state?
And once a secured Afghanistan has reliable basic systems for water, power, sewage, and transportation, Bill can bring his Global Initiative into the mix. Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin from Google can send a team to map the country, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation can bring clean water and clinics to rural villages, Warren Buffett can build some schools, and Steve Jobs can outfit and equip them. Then we’ll teach Afghanistan’s young people to grow, harvest, market, and export the product that will carry their country into the future: the pomegranate.
Oddly enough, the pomegranates grown in Kandahar, Afghanistan are the tastiest in the world. As a bonus, Afghan farmers who export their pomegranates make as much money per-acre (about two grand) as they would growing poppies, with none of the legal or security issues. Only 1,000 of the 40,000 metric tons of pomegranates grown in Afghanistan this year will be exported, but a few million motivated U.S. consumers can easily quadruple that number. I’d have a bottle of POM juice every day if I knew that buying the stuff was helping the Afghan people. I’d drink double-grenadine Shirley Temples all day and pomegranate martinis all night if it helped fight global terrorism, wouldn’t you?
The United Nations and the Clintons need this mission. George W. Bush proved the UN to be powerless to prevent military aggression when he invaded Iraq. Building the country that Afghanistan’s young people will inherit would go a long way toward restoring the organization’s credibility. Whitewater, Monica-gate, impeachment, and the ‘08 Democratic primary showed the Clintons of Arkansas to be motivated by self-interest above all else. If they were to use their power and influence to improve the lives of millions of poor Afghans, history would have no choice but to remember them as life-long public servants.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provided with four-quadrant crossover appeal who thinks letting the Afghans corner the pomegranate market is the least the world can do. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at email@example.com.