Is Peace Possible in Afghanistan?

Is Peace Possible in Afghanistan?
(Ali Jalali, November 13, 2019)

Transcript available below

About the speaker

Ambassador Ali Jalali served as Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Germany and designated Special Envoy to NATO. He served as Interior Minister from 2003-2005, overseeing the creation of a trained force of 50,000 Afghan National Police and 12,000 Border Police to work effectively in counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and criminal investigation.

He recently served as a Professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University in Washington D.C. His most recent book is A Military History of Afghanistan from the Great Game to the Global War on Terror (2017). A former officer in the Afghan Army, Col. Jalali served as a top military planner with the Afghan Resistance (Mujahedin) following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

He graduated from high command and staff colleges in Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.A published writer in three languages (English, Pashto, Dari/Farsi), Ali A. Jalali is the author of numerous books and articles on political, military and security issues in Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. He is the author of The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War.

Ali Jalali has taught at higher education institutions of Afghanistan and extensively lectured at U.S. National Defense University, U.S. Army War College, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the British Army Staff College, Camberley, England.

During his VOA career from 1982 to 2003, Jalali directed broadcasts in Pashto, Dari and Farsi (Persian) languages to Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan. As a journalist, he covered the war in Afghanistan (1982-1993) and the former Soviet Central Asia (1993-2000).


Robert R. Reilly:

I’m very delighted to welcome tonight our speaker, Ambassador Ali Ahmed Jalali, who is a distinguished professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University. He also recently served as Interior Minister of Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Germany, a place from which he just returned because of the 30th anniversary conference on the fall of the wall.

Previously, Ali served with the Voice of America for more than twenty years, covering Afghanistan, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East, including assignments of the director of the Afghan radio network project and chief of the Pashto, Dari, and Farsi services. Ambassador Jalali is a prolific published author in three languages. His most recent books include – this from 2017 – A Military History of Afghanistan from the Great Game to the Global War on Terror from Kansas University Press, and Afghanistan: National Defense and Security Forces: Mission, Challenges and Sustainability. Ali attended higher command staff colleges in Afghanistan, the United States, Britain, and Russia, and has lectured very widely.

I leave out the best part for last. I had the great privilege of working with Ali at the Voice of America when he was undertaking his great work there. I’ll only add in the question session, we will be passing out the microphone for you to ask your questions. Please join me in welcoming Ambassador Jalali.

Ali Jalali:

Thank you very much for this introduction. It gives me a lot of pleasure to be back here at the Westminster Institute. I was here back more than two years ago. That was a time when this institute was really kind enough to publicize my book at that time, which was just published by the Kansas University. It has been translated into Persian and also into the Pashto language.

Now, the question is: is peace possible in Afghanistan? Afghanistan has been at war for mostly about for decades, but it was a different war at the time. In the past twenty years, this war has seen so many different phases and contexts. Just last month, the U.S. involvement, the U.S. war in Afghanistan entered its nineteenth year.

Four Phases of War

The one question is why is it a long war? It is not a long war, it is a continuous war. It is a war in different phases. I think I can identify four phases for this war. The first phase started with 9/11, after 9/11 when the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York by a network of Al Qaeda that was based in Afghanistan and was hosted by the Taliban who were in power there. Actually, we made this intervention of the United States and other allied countries into Afghanistan. The purpose of this phase of the war was to dismantle or disrupt the Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan that were responsible for the terrorist attack and killing of three thousand innocent people in the United States, and to overthrow the Taliban who were hosting them, to take them out of power. How long did that phase actually last? It lasted less than two months.

The first bomb that landed in Afghanistan was on October 7, 2001, less than a month from 9/11, and then at that time I was in Washington. I was an analyst at that time. And many friends were thinking that it’s going to be a long war because they thought the Taliban was well-entrenched, Al Qaeda is well-entrenched, it’s a mountainous country, and we have the experience of the Soviet Union who were fighting the war in nine years and still they were not able to dominate that country or at least to establish some kind of stability in that nation. So people in Washington at that time were thinking that it is going to be a long war. My argument at that time was you know three things brought the Taliban to power, three things are going to take them out of power.

The Taliban

Why did the Taliban come to power? Because of the chaotic situation in 1990 after the Mujahideen came. In the wake of the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan, they started fighting each other over power. So the Taliban was a by-product of a very chaotic situation. People thought the Taliban could save them. Three things helped the Taliban to come to power. One: they thought they would disarm the fighting and warring factions. Second, they would unify the country, eliminate the people who created turf battles and created their own small fiefdoms in Afghanistan. And the fourth was finally to establish stability in the country. So disarming the militias or the warlords, unifying the country, and disarming these people. People liked that.

But then when they came to power or at least controlled part of the country or most of the country, three things were actually working against them. First, they interpreted Islam the way that Afghans were not familiar with it. Afghans are very moderate Muslims. Islam is a way of life in Afghanistan, not a kind of dogmatic ideology. Second, they actually violated a secret contract between the people of Afghanistan who tolerated each other. They actually violated that. They went against Hazara Shias, against other ethnic groups, so they violated that. And the third was they brought foreigners to the country. That was Arabs, Al Qaeda, Pakistanis, and others in order to fight.

Many people were against them rather than those supporting them. Therefore, I think it was in February of 2001, seven or eight months before 9/11, I published an article in Parameters, the senior professional journal of the U.S. Army published from barracks, Army War College. That was the anatomy of the Afghanistan conflict. In that article I said that the Talibans are not ten feet tall. There are so many factors in Afghanistan that will work against them, so it’s not really a long war.

The 2001 Invasion of Afghanistan

But Washington was afraid that it’s going to be a long war. Even when in October the first rocket landed in Afghanistan, there was no idea what was going to happen once the Talibans are out. It was later on when the situation developed so fast, the Taliban would fall, and then what is going to take place? It is putting together a very hasty kind of political dispensation in December 2001. In any case, the war in Afghanistan that was started to dismantle Al Qaeda network and also overthrow the Taliban who were supporting them ended in December 2001. So if the aim was to do that, we achieved this in two months.

What happened after that? After that was the problem. The second phase was from the time the Taliban was overthrown to the end of the bombing process in 2005. That was a roadmap that was adopted in a conference where Afghans got together in order to chart out the future of their country. What was the idea of this period? It was to establish a kind of stability in Afghanistan, help Afghanistan, reconstruct the country, establish its own institutions which were destroyed during the war. That was a great idea, however, the aim was high, the resources allocated to them were not enough.

I remember at that time, Bush said we are going to have a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan for reconstruction. It was a Marshall Plan in name, although the resources after that were enormous, but Afghanistan was different from Europe. You know, Europe was advanced, developed countries, and they had the capacities, the institutions to help very quickly in order to reconstruct after the second world war. If I gave you some figures, you would be amazed. The Marshall Plan cost the United States at that time thirteen billion dollars. With today’s money, it would probably be $110 billion .In Afghanistan until last year, only the United States invested $130 billion. Still the country is not stable, and [why that is] I will talk about later, it was different.

Now, the second phase was not done in a more effective way during this phase from 2001 to 2005. The Taliban were overthrown but not defeated. They crossed the border into Pakistan and started to regroup. When they saw that Afghanistan was neither reconstructed nor stabilized, they came back. In 2007, we saw an upsurge of insurgency in Afghanistan. Sometimes I call this the ‘second Taliban war’. Then, gradually the U.S. and NATO forces increased in Afghanistan until 2009.


In 2009, it was realized that Afghanistan cannot be stabilized through military means, so the other option was a surge of forces to blunt the momentum of the Taliban and build the Afghan forces to the capacity that they could deal with the situation independently. That is transition; Afghanization of the war. Like Vietnamization of the war, Afghanization of the war. A lot of resources were invested in this case. The Afghan national security forces were increased up to 350,000 troops, the police and the army. However, the limited time that you have between 2010 and 2014 that was the deadline for the withdrawal of the bulk of the international forces from Afghanistan. The fourth generation was good. We created a lot of battalions. You could reach that limit of 350,000 troops, but qualitatively they were not able to take over the responsibilities after 2014 when the bulk of the international forces left.

Changing Context

Now we are talking about four wars in Afghanistan even if you do not take the war before the intervention, which was a war between 1979 to 1989 when the Soviet Union left Afghanistan. So when we talk about peace in Afghanistan, the context is changing. The context was easier in 2010 or 2005 than the context today because not only have the Taliban regrouped, they became stronger.

But at the same time, the international environment has changed. The regional actors are now not willing to cooperate the way that they were willing to cooperate in 2002 and 2001. In 2001, when U.S. forces intervened in Afghanistan, many countries in the region and also the international forces were all on the same wavelength. They cooperated, but now it is different. Now we are talking about whether peace is possible. Possible or not, this is the only way to bring some kind of situation that ends this war.

The Taliban always claimed that they would talk peace when the international forces leave Afghanistan. So a year ago, maybe in October 2018, the United States started to shift, to talk to the Taliban about the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan as a prelude to peace in Afghanistan because peace was used as leverage to pave the way for other elements of the peace process. Other elements are ceasefire, talking about the Taliban in the Afghan government in order to bring some kind of an understanding for the future of Afghanistan, and third, for the regional actors to support the establishment of peace in Afghanistan.


From October 2018 until September 2019, nine rounds of talks took place between the negotiators of the Taliban and also the top negotiator of the United States, Ambassador Khalilzad. In these nine rounds, two issues were agreed upon: first, the timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s guarantee that they would not allow Afghanistan to become again a base for the terrorist groups that attack the United States and its allies.

Now, these two issues also related to other issues. One was a comprehensive ceasefire and the other, the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. However, when the two issues were about to be resolved, about to be agreed upon, the Taliban’s attacks in Kabul and the increasing violence led to President Trump canceling talks with the Taliban. Since then, there have been a lot of international movements to revive these talks with the Taliban because the talks at least paved the way for other issues, for other elements of peace. In the past two months, the Chinese, the Pakistanis, NATO, and the European Union all tried to help the two sides to renew the talks.

An Informal Dialogue

Recently, two issues were promising for the revival of talks. First, the Taliban and the Afghan government and the Afghan people all want the talks to be renewed. Secondly, in order for talks to be renewed, some measures of confidence building were put in practice. One was the exchange of prisoners and the other one was the United States, China, and the Taliban starting a kind of informal dialogue between Afghans and the Taliban, between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Chinese initiative is going to take place in a few days and Afghanistan has a delegation. The Taliban has a 12-member delegation. We are going to start an informal dialogue in China.

Prisoner Exchange

The second is the exchange of prisoners. Two professors of the American University of Afghanistan were kidnapped by the Taliban in 2015. And then yesterday it was announced that there would be an exchange of three Taliban members who were held in Afghanistan since 2014. With this exchange, there is hope that the talks between the United States and the Taliban will be resumed. However, with some kind of new elements. One element is either to establish a ceasefire while the Afghan government and the Taliban will talk. And the other one is to be in a situation that the Taliban directly talks to the Afghan government. So far, the Taliban has refused to talk to the Afghan government because they think that the Afghan government is a puppet of the United States. So we will see.

However, nothing can happen probably until the results of the current presidential election in Afghanistan is announced. The presidential election of Afghanistan took place on 28 September. However, so far, there have been so much complication, problems, accusations of fraud, rigging, that the result has not been announced yet. And the many candidates are challenging the way that this process of counting of votes is being done, so unless there is a clear winner in Afghanistan’s election, it will be very hard for the Taliban and for its supporters in the international community to start or revive the talks.

Now, what kind a peace can come to Afghanistan?

Peace has a price, and the price is for all. The two sides when they talk about peace, I think they do not know what price they are ready to pay for [the peace]. If the Taliban believes they can turn the clock back to 2001, it is not going to work because Afghanistan has changed since 2001. In 2001, social, economic, and political situation of 2001 is no longer there. A new generation has grown up in the past eighteen years, and they have their own demands. The country’s social situation and the political situation has changed. In 2001, fewer than one million students attended school, and no girls went to school at that time. Today, nine million students are in schools. About sixty, seventy thousand Afghans have been trained at higher education in Europe and the United States and India, also. The people’s way of life has changed totally.

Although the Taliban is doing informal talks, argue that or actually promise that they have changed, too, it is very hard for many people in Afghanistan to believe that, particularly the women. The women who were deprived of all kinds of rights under the Taliban. It is very hard to believe that the Taliban has changed. On the other hand, the Taliban, too, believe that they have some leverage. One [point] of leverage is they believe the U.S. is leaving anyway. Why should they give concessions, particularly when we see that there is strong opposition to the continued presence of international forces in Afghanistan? If they believe that, okay, these forces will leave anyway, why should we give them concessions for the withdrawal of these forces?

On the other hand, the Taliban also when they talk about the withdrawal of international forces, they are not talking about the dismantling of their bases in Pakistan and elsewhere in Iran. As long as they have their bases in Iran and Pakistan, with the withdrawal of international forces, they think they are in the perfect position, in a favorable position, to force their way in any kind of war or peace or peace talks.

So, these are very complicated issues, although the top negotiator, Ambassador Khalilzad, has several times emphasized that no agreement on one issue or the other is final until there is agreement on all issues. These four issues are withdrawal of international forces, a ceasefire (a comprehensive ceasefire), direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and also guarantees that Afghanistan will never again become the base of terror attacks to the United States and other countries.

Now, one of the reasons that the talks broke [down] in September of this year was that the Taliban continued to accelerate violence in Afghanistan while they were talking. I think at the least minute Ambassador Khalilzad said they almost agreed upon two issues, and these two issues also paved the way for other issues. That was the time that they were called to Washington, Taliban members and also the Afghan government, to Washington to finalize this. That was the time the Taliban supporters were warning that if they go to Washington and a deal is not done yet, it will be suicide to them, so they refused at the last minute [and said] that they were not going.

That was the reason that President Trump actually stopped talking, although at that time there was an attack in Kabul, which killed many people, including two members of the U.S. forces. That was the reason, but, actually, at that time there was a hope that, okay, when the Taliban and the Afghan government come to Washington, and the Taliban claimed that they were not going to talk to the Afghan government, then there was totally no longer any issue, but the Taliban were wrong. If they had gone there, they would be in a very difficult position, they could not go back.

Now, we hope these talks will resume soon because the U.S. wants it, Taliban wants that, the Afghan government wants that, and also the regional actors and stakeholders believe that there is only one way to end this war in Afghanistan, and that is peace talks. Well, the difficult part is what is going to happen after that? You know, after the fall of the Taliban, when reintegration began, reintegration was a very difficult problem. How to reintegrate the militias who were fighting for years or decades back into the mainstream of Afghan society [was a difficult problem].

In fact, in Afghanistan it was not an easy job. Sometimes I say it was not DDR, disarmament, dismantling, and reintegration, it was RDDR, because at Bonn the accord said by the establishment of the interim authority in Afghanistan, all militias, all fighters, will come under the Ministry of Defense of Afghanistan, so it was reintegration. Later on, when these people, all [of these] militias who actually were more loyal to the warlords than to the Afghan government, [acted against the government], the DDR started again.

Now, what happened after this? 90,000 Taliban [fighters] were there. Maybe 60,000 were active, and 30,000 were volunteers or seasonal fighters. What are you going to do with them? How do you integrate them? In Afghanistan, two million people are unemployed. The economy cannot support the employment market. Every year four hundred thousand Afghans enter the employment market and work. How can you do that? How can you change these people to be integrated into the mainstream of Afghanistan, which has changed since 2001? That is another problem, so it is going to be a long process.

The first thing that should take place is a ceasefire [with] a kind of talk about the future of Afghanistan, and then reintegration. And then at the same time, Afghanistan is a very poor country. How can that country sustain the security forces that it has today, 350,000, at the annual cost of maintaining those forces, $5 billion a year? Only a fraction of it can be provided by the Afghan budget, but the rest should be provided by international assistance. How long can this [continue]? Will Afghanistan be able to cut these numbers to a kind of manageable level or will the country still need to maintain a large force in order to support the establishment of peace and stability in the country?

On the other hand, what kind of situation can the withdrawal of the international forces create? If we go back to 1989, the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, at that time the two major powers involved in Afghanistan were the Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Union was backing the Afghan government, and the United States and other Western allies were supporting the mujahideen, the anti-Soviet forces. The Geneva Accords for peace, actually, was not signed by them, not signed by the Soviet Union or the United States. It was signed between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which said that the two countries promised or pledged that they will not interfere in the internal affairs of each other, and that the refugees will be allowed to go with dignity and honor back to [Afghanistan].

And also at that time, the new economic plan was there, and the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed, actually, the agreement as witnesses. However, a protocol with the [agreement] was a timetable for the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, nothing else about the future of Afghanistan, nothing else about the resistance forces that were fighting the Afghan government. At that time when the President of Pakistan was asked that they should stop supporting the Afghan resistance forces. They said yes, we do not acknowledge that we were supporting you in the past, so we cannot say that we were supporting you in the past. However, that support continued even after 1991 when there was symmetrical reduction of support to the Afghan government and the mujahideen between the United States and the Soviet Union. Certain groups in Afghanistan continued to receive assistance from their clients.

Now, what happened after that? The only thing that happened was withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, and nothing else was resolved, so when they left Afghanistan, [a] civil war took place in Afghanistan, and that civil war led to the coming to power of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

I was talking to Bob Reilly about one of my experiences in 1983. At that time in 1983, there was a conference in Monterrey, California on Afghan alternatives. It was a major conference, an international conference. We had many heavyweights from all over the world to see what can happen to Afghanistan. I think there was [unintelligible] Harrison and some others, only a few people, including me. We were the only people who thought that the Soviet Union was going to leave Afghanistan, and we had to think about what was going to happen after they leave.

At that time, the general understanding was the Soviet Union was not going to leave Afghanistan, that it [had] changed Afghanistan or turned Afghanistan into another satellite country like Mongolia, so [we knew] it was going to be a long war. In a long war, only those fighters who can sustain this fight who would fight with the same fervor of ideology that the Soviet communists are fighting with, that ideology. So, the people who came and supported Afghanistan were with that fervent ideology.

And then, my argument was this: when the Soviet Union leaves Afghanistan, what is going to happen to these people who fought, and will they also claim that they defeated a superpower? What will they do then? I based my argument [on] assumptions. The first was that the Afghans who were fighting the Soviet Union do not care whether they are winning or losing this war. They said this is the right thing to do, so therefore how long did the Soviet Union [think it could] fight this kind of a people and still believe they will get something out of it?

The second was [that] at that time that General [Nikolai] Ogarkov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Union, wrote Always in Defense of the Motherland. In that treatise, he said that the Soviet Union is far behind the West in high technology. High technology and smart weaponry can make conventional warfare as destructive as nuclear war, but the coalition of forces means that use was now qualitative, not quantitative. You can make millions of tanks but only if you are back in the advanced technology. They will actually be a disadvantage in this situation, so Ogarkov was arguing that the Soviet Union has to change technologically, and that in order to change technologically, it has to change economically, and economic changes should be supported by political changes.

That was 1982. He gave an interview to The New York Times at that time. In The New York Times, he argued that we are far behind in advanced technology, and we are going to lose if we do not catch up. My argument was this then: this is going to happen. It did happen a few years back with glasnost and perestroika, and another NEP, actually, a new economic program that the Soviet Union had. NEP always came after war communism. Every time after war communism came NEP, and they went back to war communism. Actually, they lost some of it, and this glasnost was the last NEP, that they could never recover from it. They could not go back to war communism, so if that is the case, I said, then the first thing, the first step they should take to improve their image would be to leave Afghanistan because that is something that actually tarnished their prestige all over the world. They cannot do anything, any kind of dealing with other countries unless they improve their image somehow.

So, the issue [was] that when the Soviet Union leaves, and you have that kind of a battlefield in Afghanistan, that kind of alignment of forces in Afghanistan, what are you going to do? It happened after that. The extremists put together new organizations, Al Qaeda came, and that continues. Actually, the extremism from the Middle East moved to South Asia, so therefore I was concerned [with the question of] what kind of a peace [would Afghanistan enjoy]? A peace that cannot bring stability, and can actually spawn new conflicts, is not a peace at all, so therefore the Afghan situation is a very complicated situation. Peace cannot come as an event. It will come as a process. It will take a long time. In the recent history of Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s situation is always influenced by great power politics in the region from the Great Game even [to] today, so it takes a lot of work at the international level, at the regional level, at the local level to bring the conditions or the established conditions that can bring a peace that actually can be sustained.

Let me conclude with a few important points that are essential for bringing peace to Afghanistan. First, which is actually baseline, upfront. I wanted to say it at the beginning. The war in Afghanistan should end through political settlement, but a flawed prescription for peace can spawn new conflicts. Second, the Afghan war is a long conflict, but since 2014, with the withdrawal of the bulk of the foreign troops, the Afghan security forces have been bearing the brunt of the fighting, fighting insurgency and terrorism. They need minimum support from the international forces for a few more years.

Third, withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan does not bring peace, but peace can bring favorable conditions for the withdrawal. Fourth, peace should define withdrawal, not withdrawal defining peace. Withdrawal is not a condition but an end. Fifth, based in a credible peace process, direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are essential. Such talks need to open under a temporary ceasefire or at least a reduction of violence by both parties. Sixth, withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan need to be backloaded, and the withdrawal timetable [must] be benchmarked by progress [in] intra-Afghan peace talks. Complete withdrawal before a settlement among Afghans may have negative consequences. Further, along with the reduction of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban military infrastructure in Pakistan and Iran should be shut down, and foreign support of the Taliban trickle down. To verify pledges made by the negotiating parties, an internationally approved monitoring mechanism should be established in order to see that the peace can finally be sustained. I will stop here. Thank you very much.


Audience member:

Thank you very much. I have been working in Afghanistan since January 2002 until a couple years ago for the International Monetary Fund. Can you go back to the Bonn Conference? At the time, many of us were surprised and disappointed that the Constitution [that] was adopted seemed to us rather alien to the Afghan way of organization and operations, which is much more decentralized. What is your take? What is your reflection on whether the Constitution was the right thing or the wrong thing, and what should it have been?

Ali Jalali:

Thank you very much. I was involved in the constitutional [process]. In Bonn, the problem was not the Constitution because Bonn adopted the Constitution which was in Afghanistan adopted in 1964 during the decade of democracy, 1963-1973. That was a very progressive constitution that was adopted by Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga at that time, and all of Afghanistan supported that constitution. Only the clause that related to the king was dropped. The rest of the Constitution was adopted. Now, in 2003 and 2004, the Loya Jirga that came for the Constitution, adopted something which is not very different from that Constitution.

There were only two issues that because of the situation in Afghanistan during the past [few] years, some people wanted there to be a kind of change in the structure of the state to give more power to the peripheries. But at that time, a majority of the people said that yes, maybe at some point in the future we can give more power to the peripheries, but after twenty, thirty, forty years of war, if you do that, you are not going to establish a decentralized system. You [instead] will create a chaotic situation. Warlords will come to power everywhere. That is why the 2003-2004 Constitution was adopted, not really different from [the older Constitution].

The problem is not with the Constitution. No constitution by itself can bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, whatever constitution you can have. But if you do not have the institutions that can support the implementation of the constitution, then you have a problem. In Afghanistan, the problem is not the constitution. The problem is institutions. Institutions establish the rule of law.

My problem as Minister of Interior was that there was an uneven development, uneven reform in the security system with the police, with the Attorney General’s office, and with the court system. Whatever police could do, if the Attorney General system or the attorney system or the legal system was flawed, the police could not do much. The police had two choices, either to free the criminals or to imprison themselves, the police, so it was the institutions.

That is why I also argued that you have political legitimacy in the government, you may have legitimacy in the government, but structural legitimacy is lacking here. Structural legitimacy is the one that the people will give you the mandate provided that you have the capacity to implement that mandate. If you are not able to implement the mandate that the people give you as a social contract, then you do not have legitimacy, you lose your legitimacy. Afghanistan’s problem actually was the lack of development of institutions. During the second phase of the Bonn process in 2005, instead of building, strengthening institutions, we strengthened individuals because on the one hand, we wanted to establish a democratic system, on the other hand, we were fighting terrorism. Those who were effective in fighting terrorism did not believe in democracy, so that was the problem that in 2006, all of a sudden, we had another war with the Taliban. We have strong people who build themselves, their networks, and undermine the authority of the institutions.

Audience member:

Thank you very much. I am no expert on these things, so I am going to ask a newbie question, a neophyte question. [I am] someone who does not understand, but I would like to have an idea about the answer. From what I have heard, Afghans have never had a democratic form of government, so why would it be truly in the interest of the Afghan people to impose a regime like that on them.

Ali Jalali:

Well, we have to see what democracy means. If democracy means the rule of law, Afghanistan always wanted the rule of law, but laws are different. I think if you look at the society of Afghanistan, the grassroots level is the most democratic system. What makes it difficult is to bring the system without the kind of institutions that can work it. In Afghanistan, I sometimes call it village states, traditional Afghanistan. The village, take a village. A village has a government that is the head of the village, and then the jirga of the village is the parliament, and then all decisions are made by consensus. The village has private property, that is individual property. A person without property does not have an identity in that village. And it has public property, that is [an] irrigation system, which belongs to all of them, and they work it together. It has a mosque. It has a school and a mosque. And then the economy is a subsistence economy.

Now, [if] you go to the larger areas, [you will find] the village jirga, the tribal jirga, the local jirga, whatever you call it, so it is a country that believes in the rights of individuals. Sometimes when people are concerned that Afghanistan is made of different ethnic groups or different regions, different languages and it is very hard to put them together, and I say that Afghanistan is a very atomized society. It is too divided to disintegrate. It is too divided to disintegrate, and too [unintelligible] to bring together.

However, there is one thing. They always want a central authority. The disaster for the country all throughout history was the absence of central authority. Central authority does not mean that they can provide everything to people, but it is something that arbitrates the disputes between different people. Democracy cannot be done only by bringing the trappings of democracy. It takes time.

My daughter’s dissertation, her PhD, was the Failure of Democracy in Afghanistan, 1963-1973, and that kind of democracy, in fact, sowed the seeds of conflict. Why? Because you have the trappings of democracy, no institutions, and then you have the negative aspects of both dictatorship and democracy. Dictatorships have some kind of element, some kind of leverage in order to bring some kind of stability to the country.

Democracy also has something because through institutions, through the rule of law, but a trapping of democracy does not have the institutions to establish the rule of law. It is not [a] dictatorship in order to actually go beyond the established rules of democracy. So, sometimes I call Afghanistan not a democracy without the institutions. I call it a ‘no-cracy,’ nothing, so when we talk about this, the democracy, if you do not have all the conditions that democracy wants, then there is no democracy at all. There is a Pashto saying that if you want to keep elephants, first build a home for elephants, then you can keep elephants.

Audience member:

Hi, I just want to say first [that] I am not a historian, I am not a government worker, and I am not an army person, so I am just a businessperson. You mentioned that in 2014 the United States gave $114 billion dollars. For the scale, you said it takes about $5 billion to keep the armed forces [going]. My question is where did the $100 billion go? Did it go to somebody’s pocket? It was not that long ago. It has been five years, so if it is $5 billion to keep the army going, then what happened to the $100 billion?

Ali Jalali:

Okay, yeah. It is a very good question. Now let me put it in perspective. The funds provided to support the Marshall Plan were very effectively, efficiently used by Europe. It helped Europe to rebuild. And the United States, actually, did a great job with that. The amount of money that was invested in Afghanistan until 2015 was about $130 billion dollars [and] 60 percent of it was spent on security forces, building security forces from scratch. However, the way that the aid was executed was very different. You know, 40 percent of the funds of the different countries did not leave the countries. Seventy or eighty percent of it was spent by contractors. Only 15 to 20 percent of it went to the Afghan [government]’s budget and the funds administered by the World Bank. The police fund was executed by the UNDP, so Afghans did not use it. Now, in many cases the subcontractors of a country took a contract, then subcontracted to somebody else, and then he subcontracted to other people, and sub-sub-contracted to somebody else. In some cases, only 5 to 10 percent of that money was spent on the project.

In 2005, for eradication of poppy fields in some provinces, the Afghan police spent $70 [million] to destroy 16,000 hectares of poppy land. Well, 16,000 was the Afghan estimate. The UNDP said it is not 16,000 hectares, it is 8,000 hectares. Okay, [it is] 8,000 hectares. One contractor took $40 million for eradication and destroyed 200 hectares of that land. And when I say this, I am not mentioning that contractor. People said you said it several times, do not say it again. And then when the situation actually deteriorated, many NGOs in Afghanistan were not acting like NGOs. They were acting like contractors.

When the situation deteriorated, in many cases, SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction of the United States, said that in many cases some contractors charged 70 percent overhead for security. It was very interesting to note that one gallon of gasoline for American taxpayers in the Kunar province cost $400. That is the way that aid was established. It was in many conferences, including [the] London conference, the Lisbon conference, and the Berlin conference I attended, it was promised that most of the aid should go through the Afghan budget, but it never happened. Therefore, this is the story of the aid.

Now, we also have U.S. NGOs who had their own funds, PRTs, Provisional Reconstruction Teams. Another initiative they had was SERP, they called it, special funds by the commanders, helping the reconstruction. In many cases, the coordination between the donor countries and the contracts were not there. In many cases you had two or three medical clinics established but no doctors [working there]. Many schools [were built that had] no students, no teachers. When you have forty countries doing things [in] different ways, some countries even actually had their own national kind of caveats, that is why these PRTs – sometimes I borrowed the language from Coca Cola, called them PRT classic, PRT lite, and PRT zero. Afghanistan was fortunate that that many countries came to help, but some of them actually only added one flag to ISAF. Some even did not want to go to Iraq, [so] in order to keep the family happy, yeah, we will go to Afghanistan just to be there. So, the situation in Afghanistan is that corruption was also there, but when you see the contractors doing this, they also had the corruption too.

Audience member:

How do you rate the incentive for the Taliban once the international U.S. forces leave? They say [unintelligible] we will wait six months, we will wait a year, and then we will be in a better position than perhaps the government, maybe with Pakistan encouragement to take over?

Ali Jalali:

That kind of a line I thought I heard. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, there was one scene, actually. It originated in Uruzgan province of Afghanistan. When somebody said that the Soviets have watches, we have the time. And that was adopted by the Taliban, too, the same thing. They say that the world has watches, we have the time. This is the most dangerous thing in a peace process. If you give the impression to somebody that, okay, we will be going anyway, so why should we give concessions?

In 2006, we saw an upsurge in violence. The Taliban came, regrouped, and all of a sudden, all-over Afghanistan came under fire. [This happened because] that day that year, 2006, when NATO took over many provinces from the U.S., many Afghans did not want that because not all NATO [forces] were as committed as the U.S. forces were committed to it. Among the Taliban at that time, 2006, [they interpreted the transition to mean] okay, now the U.S. left, and we can deal with these others.

And they were not wrong because I remember in Uruzgan the Dutch forces were based there, and the forces were more interested in force protection than us. Somebody told me that there was one vehicle, making rounds around the capital of the province, saying, we are not fighting you, we are not preventing you from poppy cultivation, when you are fighting the government, we are not going to interfere.’ So, what does it mean? That was the reason that at that time the upsurge of insurgency was explained in some areas. So, the British were doing very well in Helmand, but Kandahar and Uruzgan and others in the north, it was not the same thing. You know, force protection became the most important thing for them.

I am not going to name a country. In one area, I was going after a thug who was involved in extortion, drug trafficking, having illegal militias, and was actually terrorizing the population. I met the regiment, sent a unit from Kabul, and I was about to go after him. And then at night, the ISAF Commander wanted an urgent meeting with me. And when he came, he said I understand that you are launching an operation in that province. I said yeah. He said that person put heavy weapons around the city. I said I know. He said there will be violence. I said I am ready. I am going after him to end this violence. He said, well, this is your decision, minister, but if one shot is fired, the PRT of that country is going to leave that city. I said what? I am the chair of the steering committee of PRT, and he was my cochairman. The PRTs’ mission is to establish and expand the authority of the legitimate government to the peripheries. If they cannot do that, they can hunker down. I do not need them. They can leave tomorrow. But [over] the next two hours I was overruled. I stopped that operation. However, that person, that thug, later on legalized his militia as [a] private security company as hired by the same country, continued his own things, and only two months ago he died. So [for] all these years he was doing this.

The perception matters. You are winning as long as you believe you are winning. You are losing the day you believe you are losing. There are many people in the country [who] when they see that okay, the Taliban believes that the U.S. is leaving anyway, so we will [not be able to rely on them], but I am sure Pakistan does not want the Taliban to come back the way they were last [time]. However, as long as they support their own policy, they will use them. They will use them as leverage to control or to shape the policies in Afghanistan against India, and to prevent the influence of India in Afghanistan.

Audience member:

[Unintelligible] it has been two months in Afghanistan since the election. What do you think is the cause of it with all of the technology that is employed?

Ali Jalali:

First of all, the capacity is very limited in Afghanistan even using the technology, it is also susceptible to be used for fraud. So far, the problem was that fraud and rigging was a major problem. The way that the people come and vote in the past, they proved some of the processes. However, still people do not believe that voting or counting is impartial. Two or three months ago before the election, it was agreed upon by all candidates that only the votes registered by biometric devices will be valid votes, and [they must be] cast between 7 o’clock and 5 o’clock in the afternoon.

But now some candidates or the government said that in some cases, in some polling stations, the biometric system did not work, so people either had to be sent back or put the paper ballots in the box. That is one problem that actually [occurred]. The second was about a few hundred biometric systems were lost, missing. And then there was hacking, reports of hacking of the systems. And then the company, [which] was based in Germany, [had] the server based in Germany. And they ran into some other technical problems that people believe was intentioned.

Now, the major issue is this then: some candidates believe that those ballots that are not recorded by biometric systems should not be accepted ballot votes. And second, all votes even in the biometric system, if it is before 7 o’clock in the morning or after 5 o’clock in the afternoon, should not be accepted. This has been going on for the past one month. Even yesterday, one of the candidates stopped counting and actually locked the counting stations in some provinces as a protest, so everything stopped yesterday. So, it will take some more time in order to resolve this. Thank you.