Afghanistan is a by-word for lawlessness, violence and stateless disorder. Its reputation has reached such levels that Prospect’s cover star last month, Phillip Blond, used the country in a recent speech as a a proxy description for medieval England. Instead of saying “Afghanistan is medieval”, it has become easier for Blond to communicate the image to a contemporary audience by saying that baronial England was like Afghanistan. But, as Ashraf Ghanni points out in our latest edition, this vision is much more recent than we think. Looked at over the sweep of the last 150 years, he argues, it is only the last two decades which have been bleak ones for Afghanistan. Within living memory, this was a country of relative prosperity, loved by travellers and neighbours alike; and it could be one again.
Ghanni’s optimism is, perhaps, borne of necessity. A former minister, some tip him to lead the country in the future—perhaps sooner than later, if President Kharzi fails in his attempt at re-election this September. Whoever leads Afhganistan into the future, though, will need to harness the type of ideas Ghanni discusses:
The first step is establishing order. Nato should pick eight of the country’s 34 provinces for special attention. Although including all regions of the country, two or three should be in the east and south, the epicentre of the insurgency. The establishment of good governance in these provinces—and, of course, the capital of Kabul—will then be a visible demonstration of what can be achieved.
Next steps: anti-corruption drives to underpin anti Taliban counter insurgency, weaning the country of its expensive and destructive drug habit, and working with the international community to rebuild its shattered infrastructure. A tall order. But, Ghanni argues, it is vital for the nation’s future to believe that a return to previous prosperity is not entirely out of the question.