Thursday, December 2, 2010

Afghanistan Panel Reflections

So I am a bit late on posting this, but I would like to also put in my two cents about the panel on Tuesday night. Overall, I thought it was very rewarding and very educational. The contrast between "state-building" and "nation-building" was very interesting, especially in the context of Afghanistan and its history. I thought "state-building" made even more sense when presented with anthropological evidence of how Afghans behaved in the past. Many people, including myself, did not know that the complexities between local and state rules, and Afghanistan's intricate foreign policy.

Now I understand that, in Afghanistan, the phrase "all politics is local" really goes home. The traditional way Afghanistan was governed was by locality and the tribal or village head, not a national figure. This would have been good for U.S. diplomats to know when helping form the new more-centralized government of Karzai. Though the west and other societies are used to a federal or semi-centralized nature of a state, that was totally opposite in Afghanistan. The Afghans have their own way of decision-making. This local concept provides a challenge to "nation-building" but not necessarily to "state-building". One can build a strong state, through infrastructure and technology, but not necessarily a strong nation. A nation is a more abstract concept. However, I do feel that the U.S. should take this into account (if they haven't already) and provide more aid locally to promote a higher quality of life in these villages. If "all politics is local", then it is smart politics to stay local.

In addition, I enjoyed the panelists discussion on the power vacuum that would be opened if/when the U.S. leaves. It was interesting to hear that India would step up and take charge. An emerging power, India has been overshadowed by China. However, this would be India's chance to make a stand in world politics, though lets see if it actually happens.

Though I enjoyed the discussion, I feel that Professor Commins should have moderated more, as a majority of the time the speakers spoke for a very long time on one question. I did enjoy hearing their thoughts, but I feel the panel could have hit on more issues as well as more time for questions.

On the questions issue, I personally feel the Clarke Forum should have allotted more time for them. Though 2 of the 3 questions were interesting I thought the 3rd one (something about troop presence) was from someone who didn't completely understand the issues (not to be mean, but really?). There were many people, including myself, which had questions and I am sure understood the situation more.

I did benefit a lot from the speakers, and now I have a more in depth view on a very complex situation.


  1. Sadly I didn't get to go lecture but I heard a lot about it. I was recently reading an article on the NY Times about Pakistan and new information coming from the wikileaks about how Pakistan hasn't been cooperative with the United States (not that this is groundbreaking information). But the article specifically discussed how unresponsive Pakistan has been to U.S. demands for the removal or a stockpile of highly enriched uranium in an aging nuclear facility. The article also states that one of the reason why Pakistan has been so unresponsive/ indirectly supporting the Taliban is mainly because Pakistan would like to retain a sphere of influence in Afghanistan when the Americans pull out, so that India is unable to fulfill that power vacuum. I personally think that Pakistan will try to do whatever it can to stop India from increasing their influence into Afganistan.

    I've read that China might be investing to secure the recently found minerals in south east Afghanistan.

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  3. I agree that it was an interesting discussion, but re. the depth of it: I spoke with Nasim Fekrat '13 a bit about it, briefly commenting re. the lack of an actual Afghan on the panel, and he noted that, while he had mentioned the same thing, he thought it was for the best, having viewed the discussion as annoyingly (for him, it seems) simplified. ...interesting to note American perceptions of the country and situation, what we think we know of it, vs what someone else (like an Afghan) thinks we know - or don't know - about it.
    (previous typo fail, if you noted that. ha)

  4. On the topic of Nation and State building, we have recently spent some time discussing Afghanistan in Prof Wolff's European Security class. The one thing that I have learned in there (that scares me quite a bit) is that a majority of these tasks are being carried out by european countries under NATO and ISAF. While European countries have a good record with such operations, the caviats that they are forced to operate under are absurd. The majority of them are in the safest regions, with little or no danger around them and US and British (to and extent) troops are forced to bear the brunt of the violence. This is just something that has been bugging me for the past week or so