What's the best way forward for Afghanistan?
It's a question that has returned with pressing urgency as Afghanistan finds itself plunged into a postelection crisis that, if unresolved, threatens to weaken the new Afghan government's popular mandate.
That urgency is only heightend by the military resurgence of the Taliban. Many in and out of Afganistan counted on the August 20 presidential election to help turn the tide against the fundamentalist militia. But President Hamid Karzai's seeming victory, according to the preliminary count, has been clouded by allegations of electoral fraud.
In exclusive interviews with RFE/RL, Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, and former Spanish diplomat and peacemaker Francesc Vendrell share their perspectives on how to resolve the complicated crisis in Afghanistan. Khalilzad Klatsch
Afghan-born Khalilzad became the Bush administration's point man for Afghanistan soon after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.
The next seven years saw him involved in Afghan affairs at the National Security Council 2001. Later that year, he became special presidential envoy for Afghanistan and remained in that position until November 2003, when he was appointed the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Khalilzad held that position until June 2005.
Khalilzad tells RFE/RL that he has some straightforward advice for Karzai if his election win is certified by the Afghan electoral complaints commission.
"He needs to listen to the reasonable complaints of the international community regarding the situation in Afghanistan -- for example, the complaints about corruption, about how to implement things, about improved implementation of plans and delivering improved governance while implementing laws [and regulations]," Khalilzad says. "And for moving forward the economic prospects of the country, serious measures should be taken."
Khalilzad suggests that the international community made certain mistakes in Afghanistan. He cites in particular initial plans for creating only a small Afghan military and failure to do away with extremist sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan.
But he says that the mistakes Karzai made undermined his relations with the United States. Kalilzad claims mutual relations soured particularly after Karzai ignored what he considers reasonable U.S. advice to address significant problems.
Khalilzad, however, is optimistic that the international community can overcome the current divisions regarding the best way forward. He says that will happen once the Afghan election commission shows it is dealing with the voting complaints surrounding the current election and thus delivers a credible final result.
He even sees the international community and the incoming Afghan government working together better in the future.
"The international disappointment with Afghanistan is growing because people do not see progress, which leads them to think that the strategy they have in Afghanistan is not successful -- that's why they are debating about what to do next," Khalilzad says. "The decisions taken by the new government would not only be vital for internal political dynamics, they will be very important for attracting international assistance and shaping international policies [toward Afghanistan]."Vendrell's View
Spanish former diplomat Francesc Vendrell won Afghan friends and praise for his wise demeanor during his service as a special envoy for Afghanistan for the United Nations (2000-02) and later the European Union (2002-08).
He tells RFE/RL that Karzai bears some responsibility for what went wrong in Afghanistan but so does the international community.
Vendrell argues that the "key flaw" in Afghanistan has been the empowerment of rapacious anti-Taliban warlords "who brought misrule to the country."
"The most crucial mistake was to continue to consort with the warlords and commanders who had brought ruin to Afghanistan in the 1990s and to continue to favor them," Vendrell says, "and also to do nothing to ensure that the government of Afghanistan -- the government in Kabul -- had a monopoly on the use of force. I think that has been the key flaw of the whole exercise."
Vendrell suggests that the current crisis in Afghanistan should be resolved in a manner that provides legitimacy to whatever government emerges "in consonance with the wishes of the Afghan people."
He even sees the current acrimony between Karzai and Western leaders dissipating if Karzai's reelection grants him legitimacy.
But he says that also depends considerably on "if we, the international community, had the feeling that President Karzai had been legitimately elected, that the election had been credible, and that the president was pursuing the same objectives that Afghanistan has committed itself [to] at various international meetings and agreements."
Vendrell does not consider himself pessimistic about Afghanistan. He says he believes it will be transformed into a stable peaceful country if its national institutions -- particularly civilian institutions such as the judiciary and the civil service -- are built up along with its police and army.
"We need to have means of fighting the egregious corruption, [and] we need, of course, to continue addressing the security problem," Vendrell says. "But we need -- and I think [U.S.] General [Stanley] McChrystal had made it quite clear -- we need to ensure that our military presence in Afghanistan is seen as a source of security for the Afghan people and not as an occupying force."