Afghanistan: Insights from a War Correspondent

February 1, 2010 — Anand Gopal, Afghanistan-based journalist for the Wall Street Journal, joined us for an update on the current state of the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Mr. Gopal has traveled both independently and with U.S. forces and was able to offer us a unique perspective into the political, social, and economic climate of Afghanistan. His experiences in Afghanistan have allowed him to gain a greater understanding of the impact of years of instability and insecurity on many aspects of Afghan society. Traditional tribal structures have largely eroded due to decades of conflict, leaving elders with less credibility and authority. Moreover, political establishment of a legitimate Afghan government is unlikely given that villages are largely self-governing and shadow Taliban governments have more power than district governors and police chiefs which exist only on paper. Additionally, there seems to be little hope on the ground of training an incorrupt and capable Afghan National Police force. In many parts of the country, Afghans favor a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, in hopes that such an agreement would limit violence.

Mr. Gopal’s initial discussion focused primarily on the economic, social, and demographic characteristics of Afghanistan. He provided an in-depth analysis of the local situation in the Pashtun populated Eastern and Southern provinces of Afghanistan and highlighted many of the issues that influence local Afghan perceptions regarding the U.S. and Coalition forces, as well as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Much of the briefing focused on the underdeveloped rural areas of Afghanistan and the challenges they present to the U.S. and Coalition forces’ counter-insurgency strategy in the region. Additionally, Mr. Gopal’s conversations with Afghans outside of Kabul have provided him with insights into local rationale for anti-American attitudes, especially among the Pashtun population who view U.S. military forces as the source of instability, regardless of which side of the conflict initiates the violence and causes more civilian casualties. Many of these opinions elucidate why a counter-insurgency strategy is particularly difficult to implement in Afghanistan’s Pashtun regions and why ensuring stability and security for an Afghan population that has lived in conflict over the past 30 years is the key to any effective military and political strategy in Afghanistan.

Security for a New Century is a bipartisan discussion group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].

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