Afghanistan: A Story of Statelessness- With Persia to its west and the Indian subcontinent to its east, the area that comprises modern Afghanistan has always stood between great empires. The Anglo-Afghan wars, which, by the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Afghan War in 1879, allowed the British to install a pro-British Amir and use Afghanistan as a buffer state for India, effectively established a legacy of instability in Afghanistan that persists almost two decades into the twenty-first century.
Throughout the 1990s, the various militant groups under the mujahedeen fractured under the pressure of underlying ethnic and tribal divisions. Afghanistan became, once again, characterized by vicious in fighting and general lawlessness. From this rubble emerged the Taliban (or “Students of Islamic Knowledge Movement”), a puritanical, fundamentalist Islamist group led by former mujahedeen commander Mohammad Omar. Beginning in 1994, the Taliban overran and seized control over most of Afghanistan, including Kabul in 1996.
Whereas the Taliban focused its operations on gaining ground within Afghanistan, al-Qaeda operated under a similarly extreme and violent ideology, but expanded its frontiers abroad. These non-state organizations took tremendous advantage of an underlying fragility, sectarianism, and statelessness in Afghanistan, which had persisted since the early Common Era.
Pakistan: From Imagined Community to Failing State- Unlike Afghanistan, “Pakistan” as a theory was clear and fairly coherent, although the process of transitioning from imagined community to independent nation state engendered tremendous violence, displacement, and newly enflamed religious tensions. From 1858 to 1947, the United Kingdom, under the British crown, exercised direct rule over the Indian subcontinent, including the area that makes up present-day Pakistan. By the end of WWII, a war-weary Britain faced a frayed economy, mounting anticolonial nationalism and a declining British imperial morale: the newly ruling Labour Party began supporting a policy of rapid decolonization.
The haphazard nature of partition and the founding of Pakistan sowed the seeds of its subsequent political instability. A number of key characteristics of a failing state defined Pakistan immediately post-partition. Pakistanis, united under a common religion, shared little other in terms of historical ties.
By the late 1980s, immense corruption and economic crises pressured the government to call a special election. Democracy proved just as di cult as authoritarianism, as widespread governmental and institutional corruption, a penchant for disregarding and redrafting the initial 1973 constitution, and persistent center- periphery tensions threatened the Pakistani central government’s semblance of power and control. is lack of effective constitution and institutional structure in government, combined with lawlessness in Western Pakistan, sowed the seeds of Pakistan’s modern state failure.
Prior to the 9/11 attacks, policymakers tended to group capacity building in failing states within its broader international development goals, articulated in the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Thus, any UN-led or otherwise international action tended to focus on the humanitarian consequences of an inadequate or ineffective government.
After 9/11, the international community recognized failed and failing states as potentially detrimental threats to international security, and tied counter-terrorism efforts to capacity building in these states.
Diminishing Borders: The Durand Line- The porous border dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan contributes substantially to both states’ fragility and is the direct result of imperial meddling and hasty decolonization. The Durand Line was drawn in 1893, delineating the boundary between British colonial India and the tribal lands of Central Asia (now Afghanistan). Because the Durand Line is porous: it is ideal for transshipment of illegal weapons, and for individuals, particularly from terrorist organizations. Despite the international community’s best intentions to aid in the foundation of a stable Afghanistan, Pakistan has repeatedly used the Durand Line’s porosity to subvert the Afghan government by aiding jihadist activity across the border.
A New Approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan? Donald Trump’s ascendance to the U.S. presidency in November 2016 has shifted the ideological perspective of the key actor currently involved in Afghanistan. His perspectives, at odds with those of the Obama administration, have increasingly de-emphasized security building and instead frequently involved derisive and divisive rhetoric and subsequent decision-making. Just as the United States’s approach to the conflict has shifted under President Trump, non-state actors have contributed to deteriorating security. The Haqqani network and Islamic State boast ties to the dysfunctional government. The Afghan political situation remains highly precarious, and without a sustained international military presence, outbreak of a full-blown civil war is likely, as is the expansion of existing terrorist safe havens.
Our assessment is that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan raises more questions than it answers. To what extent should the UN and international bodies regulate policies instead of national governments? What would an effective timeline for these post-conflict reconstruction strategies be? How should they be implemented? How should the international community balance social, economic, and political factors as it looks to bolster state capacity in Afghanistan and Pakistan? We can only wait and see.