Today, the Center for American Progress hosted Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and ten members of his interagency team at a public event here in DC. Aside from his “we’ll know it when we see it” remark on success in Afghanistan, the most interesting thing about the Holbrooke team’s presentation was its emphasis on agricultural development.
Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of the opium crop and the plans to dramatically increase the Department of Agriculture’s presence in Afghanistan. But from what Holbrooke and others said today, it appears the main force of the United States’ counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan – beyond clearing locales of Taliban fighters – will be thrown behind rebuilding that country’s agricultural sector.
It was good to hear from Holbrooke himself that opium eradication efforts were futile and being phased out. Opium production is only a symptom of the much larger problems facing Afghanistan’s agricultural industry (such as it is) after decades of war. Since most Afghans rely on agriculture for their livelihood – 80 percent are involved in farming, herding, or some combination of the two – transitioning from an opium-based illicit agro-economy to a more sustainable and legal one will be critical if the United States is to have any success in Afghanistan.
The overall theory behind rebuilding the licit Afghan agricultural sector is relatively simple: help average Afghan farmers get back on their economic feet, and they’ll be more likely to support the Afghan government and less likely to acquiesce to Taliban rule. Of course security is a necessary component for such an effort, and it shouldn’t be out of sight and out of mind. It’s necessary if U.S. civilian personnel are to get “outside the wire” of security compounds, as Holbrooke pledged to do today. But rural development has long been a staple of counterinsurgency efforts in predominantly agricultural economies facing guerrilla wars. Read more