Cover Story

Their future is now

"Their future is now" Continued...

Issue: "Beyond the body count," Nov. 5, 2011

These and other faith-based organizations see what few Americans have an opportunity to see between the headlines blaring violence, insurgency, and fraudulent activity: that a new generation is busy readying itself in hopes of a new day in Afghanistan. Chen said, "Changes here are subtle. It takes relationship, modeling, and mentoring. At the government level it can be very discouraging-corruption and security problems. But at the grass-roots level we see successes."

Risk it

Karzai deputy says United States should trust Afghans more heading to 2014 transition

By Mindy Belz

Shaida M. Abdali

Shaida M. Abdali was one of three men aboard a flight with Hamid Karzai from Kandahar to Kabul in late 2001. Karzai had just been named chairman of the interim government formed by the U.S. coalition that toppled the Taliban regime only weeks earlier. Karzai went on to be appointed to a two-year term as interim president of Afghanistan, and to win election in 2004 and again in 2009. According to the constitution he cannot serve another term, and presidential elections are scheduled for 2013, at which time Karzai has publicly stated he will step down. Today Abdali is one of the few Karzai allies not toppled by in-fighting, corruption charges, or assassination.

On the 10th anniversary of the start of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Abdali, currently Karzai's deputy national security advisor and special assistant, spoke to me in the presidential palace. "Do we have Afghans behind us as they were 10 years ago?" he asked. "No. Ninety percent of the country was behind us in 2001. The enemy could not find a place to penetrate. Since then we have been losing public support, through interference or indifference. It's our big problem."

Abdali said the Karzai government has "failed to engage the majority population where they live." That's a dramatic admission for a government that has concentrated power and security in the capital, Kabul. Most Afghans, about 80 percent, live outside that zone in rural areas where the Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates have over the last decade made considerable inroads. And it's why politicians like Abdali are paying more attention to community development and the work of NGOs that can act as a bulwark against insurgency.

"We have paid attention to the enemy without paying attention to the people," said Abdali.

Faced with increased attacks by the Taliban inside the capital, where fighters fired rockets on the U.S. embassy and assassins killed former president Burhanuddin Rabbani in September, the Karzai government seems further isolated from the people.

Abdali believes that the counterterrorism policies largely favored by the Obama administration, and especially championed by Vice President Joe Biden, don't help in the long run. Those have resulted in the increased pace of drone strikes on terror targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and targeted killings and captures led by U.S. forces.

Abdali contends, "We are not only wasting money, we are making our problems bigger and bigger. We kill one and create 1,000 more. The enemy is on foot and at most has a motorbike and look at what we have." Abdali would like to see the United States in coming months turning more and more operations over to Afghan counterparts, including the national army and police. "This dependency on you is really killing us," he said. "You must take some risk."


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