Guest Post by Caroline Esser: Fighting the Taliban by Creating Jobs


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Caroline Esser is a research intern at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
In Tuesday’s Washington Post, Joshua Partlow and Haq Nawaz Khan highlight the numerous flaws in House bill S.496: Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Act of 2009, which has passed the House and is being reviewed by the Senate.
The bill was originally conceived as a way to facilitate economic development by designating specific reconstruction zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan as areas from which all exports would be granted duty-free status in the United States.
However, rather than risk upsetting American industries by allowing duty-free status to foreign goods also produced by American businesses, Congress has created a bill that would give this status only to a very limited number of products, most of which neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan have any experience producing.
Instead of proceeding with this compromised bill, the U.S. government should rethink its approach to economic development and consider the recommendations of Atlantic Council South Asia Center Director Shuja Nawaz.
At a recent public forum at the United States Institute of Peace on the possibility of reconciliation with the Taliban, Nawaz emphasized the importance of economic development and job creation in Pakistan as a way to combat the Taliban. But instead of creating reconstruction opportunity zones, Nawaz recommended financing public infrastructure projects.
Nawaz argues that foreign investment in infrastructure construction would provide immediate benefits for the area. As New America Foundation experts Bernard Schwartz and Sherle Schwenniger have long proposed in the American context, investment in infrastructure is “a proven way to stimulate private investment and job creation and, at the same time, distribute more widely the capital and skills for wealth creation.”
The roads would help connect the marginalized FATA region to the rest of the country, promote commercial activity, and aid the military’s counterinsurgency efforts (see Gilles Dorronsoro’s report on the Taliban in Afghanistan for a further discussion of the importance of road networks for the military).
Furthermore, in addition to creating much needed wells, roads, and bridges, the infrastructure projects would curtail Taliban recruitment by providing alternative sources of income for the roughly 300,000 Pashtun youth who are now the targets of Taliban recruiters.
Unlike the American-dictated details of the reconstruction opportunity zones, the infrastructure projects would be shaped and executed by the people of FATA, making them stakeholders invested in the projects’ outcomes.
Let’s not waste our limited foreign aid money on inefficient projects that will be ill-received, when we can implement highly useful economic development projects that could both weaken the Taliban and help to assuage divides within Pakistani society.
— Caroline Esser


6 comments on “Guest Post by Caroline Esser: Fighting the Taliban by Creating Jobs

  1. jessica says:

    The American-dictated details of the reconstruction opportunity zones, the infrastructure projects would be shaped and executed by the people of FATA.
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  2. jon says:

    US presence in Afghanistan will have to be transformed from
    ‘Occupying Army’ to ‘Honored Guests’ before the Taliban will
    cease their attacks. Their families have occupied their lands for
    centuries and have nowhere else to go. They resent the invader
    and will never cease trying to obstruct and distroy them, as we
    all would if it was our country that had been attacked and
    Aerial bombing and fighting that kills families and innocents
    does not improve matters. Collateral damage simply provides
    additional grievances and new recruits. Infrastructure
    investments, increased employment and bolstered local
    economies would be welcomed, as would greater educational
    activities and assistance that bolsters local productivity.
    But what would infrastructure investment really look like in
    Pashtun areas? Roads, airports, wells, dams, solar arrays and
    electrical distribution, town halls, police barracks, schools,
    military facilities. All very well, but not particularly crucial. And
    it will be somewhat easier for a man getting a regular paycheck
    to resist being pressed into service for the Taliban. The Taliban
    may respond by increasing their pressure to recruit and by shifts
    in their tactics.
    The Taliban did not attack the US on 9/11, nor have they trained
    terrorist cells. They gave sanctuary to al Qaeda who did all of
    those things. And al Qaeda was predominantly Saudi and
    egyptian, middle class and educated. Egypt and Saudi Arabia
    have put enormous sums into infrastructure improvement over
    the past fifty years, and they have thriving terrorist groups
    hostile to the US and to their own governments.
    Roadd building in particular will facilitate the migration of
    persons and families from the villages and back country into
    cities. Afghanistan’s cities are already overburdened. Building
    the equivalent of Sadr City’s and trying to integrate a massive
    influx will likely be well beyond the capabilities of Kabul or local
    governments. This could lead to an even greater source of
    intractable resentment to the US and to the established
    government and prove a better recruiting ground for the
    Infrastructure and investments that help local and rural
    populations to improve their quality of life, gives them
    motivation to not grow poppies, and strengthens local
    governance needs to be explored and enacted rapidly.
    But what emerges from that may more resemble the
    conservative outlook of the Taliban and to be hostile to the
    Kabul government than is desired. Afghans deserve self-
    determination. It is our interest to see that they achieve it, and
    to encourage them not to be hostile to the US. Our behavior in
    their country over the past eight years has not made this an easy


  3. JohnH says:

    On the subject of Afghanistan, Bradblog has a story about Sibel Edmonds. No wonder Steve won’t talk about her!
    The story may also explain why the US somehow just can’t manage to ever catch Bin Laden!


  4. jonst says:

    The Boys, still playing Empire. Still playing the Great Game. Children. And foolish ones at that, passing themselves off as ‘sophisticated internationalists’.
    Well, one of us is nuts. I look around the United States, see OUR infrastructure, our state of the nation, an all I think about is Look Homeward Angel.
    Leave those people alone and take care of your own people.


  5. JohnH says:

    “Investment in infrastructure construction would provide immediate benefits for the area.” How many years has the US been involved in Afghanistan, and STILL hasn’t figured this out? Well, nobody ever said that empires were smart.
    The US left Afghanistan to pull itself up by its own boot straps after the Soviets left. Then the US ignored Afghan economic development after the occupation of 2001. Then Afghans pulled themselves up by their own boot straps, growing poppies. Now the US doesn’t like the results. After 25 years, the US is still clueless about economic development in Afghanistan.
    Where does the US recruit its leaders and advisers? At Doonesbury’s Walden College? And for this we borrow money from China?


  6. samuelburke says:

    Juan Cole, author of Engaging the Muslim World, discusses the origin and meaning of the Taliban, the conflicting messages Obama and the U.S. military give on why staying in Afghanistan is a good idea, the benefits of an “Egypt solution” billion dollar yearly payoff to stabilize and allow withdraw from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s low popular support and territorial control.


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