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Afghanistan Insurgency Home Grown, Experts Say

(Washington, D.C.-August 14, 2006) Two prominent experts on Afghanistan told a RFE/RL audience last week that the cause of the escalating insurgency in Afghanistan is primarily domestic. Marvin Weinbaum, Professor Emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently Scholar-in-Residence at the Middle East Institute and Amin Tarzi, RFE/RL's Afghanistan analyst, agreed that the "insurgency that is taking root in Afghanistan is primarily homegrown," although foreign actors do have influence on the insurgency.

Weinbaum said there has been "a lost opportunity" to turn the population away from the insurgency. The central government and the international community have "failed" to provide "the benefits of security" for the population, whose expectations from the beginning "were never that high," he said. The central government has failed to provide avenues and opportunities for those "who are often landless and unemployed" and who become "easy targets" for recruitment into the insurgency. In addition, Weinbaum said, the government has never exerted control over "several provinces across the south" that have seen "small, sporadic guerrilla-style attacks become an insurrection." Finally, in those same provinces, the government has failed "to secure Afghanistan's borders," he said.

The international community has also "failed" in its reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, Weinbaum explained. Reconstruction is often delayed under the pretense that Afghanistan "needs better security;" however, "security and reconstruction are two sides of the same coin and failure to make progress on one dooms the other," Weinbaum said. "Although a difficult task," he said, reconstruction and security must be provided "simultaneously."

Progress could be made, Weinbaum believes, if there could be the "creation of greater trust" between the population, the government, and the international community, so that the people of Afghanistan agree "that it is worth the risks to defy the insurgency" -- which has been "preying" on the population, "particularly the Pashtuns in the South." It must be proven to the population that a prosperous future "does not lie with the insurgency," Weinbaum concluded.

In discussing the insurgency in Afghanistan, Tarzi said the "enemy is not monolithic" and that "from the beginning there has been a problem concerning the identification of the insurgency." Tarzi said the Afghan government has been using the catch-all phrase "enemies of peace and security" to describe a varied insurgency that includes warlords, drug barons, possible terrorists, and perhaps foreign actors. This failure to properly identify Afghanistan's enemies makes the insurgency more "costly" to combat, Tarzi said, because "if you do not know your enemy, you cannot defeat it."

Although the insurgency in Afghanistan is primarily "homegrown," both Weinbaum and Tarzi agreed that foreign actors including Pakistan, Iran, and Russia acting through Uzbekistan are affecting it. Weinbaum said the insurgents are "allowed to roam freely" in Pakistan and that, along the Pakistani border, the people share a "culture, language, and ethnicity" with the insurgents and therefore have "little interest in handing them over to the west." According to Tarzi, "Pakistan is definitely involved in the insurgency, but Pakistan does not want to destroy the Karzai government... they just want leverage over Afghanistan." Finally, Tarzi cautioned that "not to discount Iran" when considering the role it plays in Afghanistan: "If Iran is pushed on nuclear issues, we will see more problems in Afghanistan."

Archived audio of this briefing can be heard in RealAudio and Windows Media formats.