A peaceful Afghanistan requires more than military security
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Debate over U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will continue for some time, but this much is irrefutable: For Afghanistan to be a peaceful nation, more work must be done to improve security, and promote political, social and economic development. The U.S.’s continued support of the Afghan National Army’s Special Operations Forces is the country’s best hope for security. These Afghan forces are trained, advised and assisted by volunteer U.S. service members who fight shoulder to shoulder with them, and who — with their families — bear the sacrifices of sustained war.

But for a peaceful Afghanistan, it does not stop at security. Without governance and development, conditions will never exist to ensure long-term security and peace. Victory also means building stability, and stability requires diplomacy and sustainable development. Effective diplomacy depends on a robust State Department and a Senate-confirmed U.S. ambassador that can lead diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan.

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Sustainable development necessitates equal access to justice, respect for human rights, effective rule of law and good governance, and transparent, effective and accountable institutions. Development is a crucial element of U.S. power, and proposed cuts to the U.S. Agency for International Development do not bode well for U.S. or Afghan interests. Afghans will continue to work toward the future of their country, but they cannot do so through military means alone.

 

Importantly, Afghan women’s inclusion in the process of building this future is essential to the effectiveness of peacebuilding, and advancing security interests. Evidence shows that women improve the process and outcomes of peace talks by promoting dialogue and trust, bridging divides and mobilizing coalitions, raising issues that are vital for peace, and prioritizing gender equality. Gender equality and women’s economic empowerment are also strongly tied to prosperous and peaceful societies.

Unfortunately, a 2014 study by Oxfam found that in 23 rounds of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban since 2005, only one woman from the government was present on two occasions. No women have been included in discussions between international negotiators and the Taliban, and it is unclear if, or to what extent, women’s interests were represented by others.

Recognition of the continued sacrifice of both Afghan civilians, Afghan security forces and our service members has also been missing from the policy debate. In July of this year, the United Nations reported that Afghanistan had seen the highest number of civilian casualties in the history of the 16-year war. The number of deaths of women and children has grown especially fast, with a 9 percent increase of child casualties since last year, and a 23 percent in female casualties. The majority of these deaths result from insurgent attacks.

We must never forget that what happens abroad matters to us here at home. This is directly true when it comes to the men and women in the United States military, and the government officials and support organizations who serve in Afghanistan. But it is also true that diplomatic work, sustainable development contributions, and humanitarian aid are essential to create a peaceful and stable society. That is the best hope for the future of Afghanistan, and indeed the best hope for a secure and peaceful world.

Miguel Howe is the April & Jay Graham fellow in the military service initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.

Farhat Popal is manager of the women’s initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.