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By Afghans, for Afghans

As Afghans prepare for the results of the presidential election, it is encouraging to consider that Afghanistan – a land of enormous economic potential – is determining its own fate.  Decades of conflict have made Afghanistan a dangerous place but, for all of its problems, it is becoming steadily more entrepreneurial and stable.

Having recently returned from Kabul, where the International Executive Service Corps (IESC) provides managerial and technical expertise, it is clear to me that this is a crucial period for the country.  As America withdraws combat troops, there are no easy answers to the serious question: was the United States’ involvement worth the staggering costs of American lives and money?  There are, nevertheless, positive signs.

{mosads}During my time as ambassador to Bosnia in the late 1990s, I witnessed a country striving to recover from conflict.  While significantly different countries and cultures, the similarities between Bosnia and Afghanistan are striking, particularly in the entrepreneurial spirit and ambition of its youth.  One thing that the U.S. is getting right in Afghanistan is the promotion of local sustainability and ownership versus outsourced foreign talent and assets.

Bosnia proved a frustrating experience for the international community, which wanted to tell the country what to do and how to do it.  With Afghanistan, the West has learned that nation-building can only succeed if it comes from within.  It is a truism that, even if the result is imperfect, it is better to have an imperfect result accomplished by Afghans than a perfect result imposed by outsiders.  IESC’s experience working with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock shows that for nation-building initiatives to be transparent, sustainable and effective they must be Afghan led and Afghan run.

Another important principle is the absolute necessity for an exit strategy, leaving a solid base for Afghans to run their own affairs. 

Finally, there needs to be an emphasis on process, not solely on measurable results.  In fact, homegrown and implemented process can be just as important.  Improvements to the way in which everyday things are done can have substantial impacts on the lives of Afghan people, even in the most remote regions.

As America withdraws combat troops, the Afghans I have met over the past four years point to an increasingly vibrant entrepreneurial sector creating jobs and consumers ready to participate in a more stable economy.  It has not gone unnoticed that Afghanistan, a nation of some 30 million people, is rich in natural resources.  The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that untapped mineral deposits there are worth between $900 billion and $3 trillion.  Afghanistan has historically been dominated by entrepreneurs from Pakistan, China, and Iran who have exploited these resources to their own advantage.  But, one step at a time, Afghanistan is building the capacity to exploit and market its resources to its own advantage.

The world must understand that Afghanistan is for Afghans.  This is not to say there won’t be setbacks but, from what I have seen, I feel confident that Afghanistan can and will succeed.

Miller is the president and CEO of International Executive Service Corps (, a U.S. not-for-profit that sends consultants and volunteer experts to developing countries.  He was previously U.S. ambassador to Greece, U.S. ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and special coordinator for Cyprus at the rank of ambassador.


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