Rory Stewart, who wrote The Prince of the Marshes about his experiences in running Maysan and Dhi Qar in 2003-2004, outlines in Time what is wrong with the West’s attempts to save Afghanistan. Short answer: we’re trying to accomplish the impossible.
Our money and expertise, which have helped make the central bank and the Afghan National Army professional and competent, cannot prevent the widespread corruption in the police and legal system. A central bank is relatively small, dealing with narrow issues such as currency and interest rates on which international economists can offer practical, technical advice. An army is able to develop its esprit de corps and drills in barracks, isolated from the broader society. But policemen and judges are much more connected to society and much more exposed to local politics and corruption. This is why most developing countries have relatively effective central banks and armies but corrupt and despised police forces. It’s also why everyone finds it easier to build roads than to create rule of law, easier to build a school than a state. Afghans deal with most crimes outside the court system, using a traditional leader as an arbitrator. No amount of legal training can help a judge faced with drug lords who are prepared to kill his family. It is almost impossible for outsiders to reform this kind of system.
Stewart doesn’t think a “surge” is such a great idea:
[…] The West should not increase troop numbers. In time, NATO allies, such as Germany and Holland, will probably want to draw down their numbers, and they should be allowed to do so. We face pressing challenges elsewhere. If we are worried about terrorism, Pakistan is more important than Afghanistan; if we are worried about regional stability, then Egypt, Iran or even Lebanon is more important; if we are worried about poverty, Africa is more important. A troop increase is likely to inflame Afghan nationalism because Afghans are more anti-foreign than we acknowledge and the support for our presence in the insurgency areas is declining. The Taliban, which was a largely discredited and backward movement, gains support by portraying itself as fighting for Islam and Afghanistan against a foreign military occupation.