Sunday, December 6, 2009

Toward a L&D Afghan Research Program

Thanks for the interest expressed by some of you in this piece...

The recent announcement by the Obama Administration of increased troop deployments to Afghanistan (or should that be the Af-Pak region?) has been met with an air of skepticism by some and inevitability by most. It is hoped this surge will provide the basis for a new sort of stabilization required to promote an effective civilian strategy in partnership with the UN and Afghan people. Yet while some details of the new military strategy have been released, it is not clear how the civilian surge can address the dysfunctional Afghan governance structures. There are two cancers growing in Afghanistan. One is from the resurgent Taliban and Al Qaida remnants that challenge the Afghan people’s physical security. The other is the corrupt system of governance that fails to deliver basic human needs to its population and engages in detainee abuses and other human rights violations. It is not clear that more troops can tackle these twin cancers. While they may help quell the violence in the short term, it will take a different sort of investment to build the local capacity required to tackle the corruption and continued human rights abuses that have sown the seeds of instability in a region with a history of poverty, religious intolerance, and gender inequality.

An immediate critique to this line of reasoning is that addressing the Afghan situation requires a two-step process. Step one requires providing basic security. Only then can the development community truly engage in the second step of working with Afghan citizens.  This may be right and the ideal way to proceed should an intervention of this kind be required in the future. The reality of course is that USAID and a host of other development agencies from countries around the world are all ready in place in Afghanistan. The delivery of foreign aid and governance reform programming is all ready underway. Despite recent concerns about cost by Thomas Friedman and others, the attention of the world is firmly fixed (for now) on Afghanistan. This may present an opportunity for scholars to begin to catalogue events and focus on the connections between social justice, legal reform, and human development. What can the study of Law and Development tell us about what is needed to promote human security, stability, and political reconciliation? What do we know (or think we know) and what might an L&D Afghan research program look like?

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