Afghanistan needs a CEO

Wahid Monawar Contributor
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America’s competitive nature and its obsession with digesting annual reviews is no secret. From the best of 2010 to the worst, everyone with some media exposure gets a chance to be reviewed. However, the White House’s much-anticipated Afghan war review received no accolades. Some even called the review a product of crowd-sourcing rather than an astute summary.

For those of us who are avid followers of the Afghan war, it sounded more like an RBS bank commercial. In the commercial, four patrons are having lunch, while one of them is choking on his food; another, oblivious to his patron’s instant need of assistance, continues to explain the Heimlich Maneuver — an emergency technique for preventing suffocation when a person’s airway becomes blocked by a piece of food.

The Afghan war is similar to the RBS bank commercial. For the past nine years, Afghanistan has been choking from the same problems — and this is not a mere rhetorical invective — yet Afghanistan’s allies continue to explain what is wrong with the conflict rather than doing something about it, as if the allies have all the time and money in the world to experiment.

Like an old beater that needs constant repairs, the Obama administration’s AfPak strategy must head back to the shop for a serious tune-up — so let’s recalibrate its essential components: the US’s relationships with the Pakistani and Afghan governments.

Pakistan: One of the hazards of being dishonest to America — or making false and preposterously bogus promises — is writing your own unfortunate fate while doing so. This was the booby trap Pakistan’s military set for itself. Every year for the past nine years, Pakistan has promised to eradicate terrorist sanctuaries within its territory, and every year we witnessed the proliferation of terroristic activities emanating from Pakistan. If terrorist training was a competition, Pakistan would certainly win the gold medal.

So what to do with Pakistan? Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment has a good start: “U.S. assistance to Pakistan (totaling roughly $18 billion in civilian and military aid since 9/11) should be tacitly conditioned on Islamabad’s meeting certain counterterrorism benchmarks.” In addition, we can also incentivize our dialogue with Pakistan’s friends, mainly, Saudi Arabia and China, in exchange for Pakistan’s honest desire to sever support for the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Afghanistan: While the United States’ inadequate strategy to recognize Pakistan’s culpability for supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan contributed to the deterioration of conditions there, Afghanistan’s leaders, particularly Mr. Karzai, whose forthright political corruption and domestic failures are the most important factors responsible for stimulating the Taliban insurgency, are also to blame for the country’s problems.

The insurgency’s renaissance is owed not to any grand nationalist sentiments about resistance, as Afghanistan experienced during the Soviet occupation, but to the fact that the Taliban has been convincing substantial segments of the population that it could not be any worse than Karzai’s criminal enterprise.

So what should be done with Karzai? The answer is simple: promote him. Yes, you read that right. Promoting Karzai as the head of the Afghan state, and finding someone else to be the head of the Afghan government, will resolve at least a major part of the problem. The timing could not be more perfect as General Petraeus is hamstrung by the fact that there’s a complete political breakdown in Afghanistan — within the Afghan government and also between the U.S. embassy and the Karzai regime.

Political resolution and leadership are key to success in Afghanistan. It is counterintuitive to not explore effective ways to build on that. Corporatizing the Afghan war in 2011 should be the first order of business. The creation of a CEO position will afford the United States and the Afghan people a fresh start. The Chief Executive Officer of Afghanistan will make investments in national programs that strengthen institutions, build human capital, and sustain the political viability of this developing country, without towing unnecessary baggage, as Mr. Karzai does. The CEO will be focused on improving the environment for economic development, creating jobs for Afghans, and improving the political climate by ensuring that future Afghan elections are seen as milestones in the ongoing evolution of democracy in Afghanistan.

Wahid Monawar is a former Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan and a former Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations in Vienna, Austria.