The Key to Success in Afghanistan

A Modern Silk Road Strategy

One of the most promising ways forward for the U.S. and NATO in Afgha-nistan is to focus on removing the impediments to continental transport and trade across Afghanistan‘s territory. Many existing international initiatives from the Mediterranean to the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia are already bringing parts of this network into being. Absent is the overall priori-tization, coordination, and risk management that will enable Afghanistan to emerge as a natural hub and transit point for roads, railroads, pipelines, and electric lines. America and its coalition partners can provide these missing ingredients.

Opening the great channels of transport and trade will improve the lives of average Afghans, reinforce the military effort, and create a sustained income stream for the Afghan government. It will begin reaping these benefits with-in 18 to 24 months. This strategy acknowledges the reality that the Afghan struggle is regional in scope, affecting the rest of Central Asia, Pakistan, India, China, Iran, etc., and must be resolved on a regional basis. Such a strategy benefits all and is directed against no one.

Priority projects include the completion of the Afghan Ring Road and Kabul-Herat highway and linking them to continental trunk routes, especially to the Pakistani port at Gwadar; completing trans-Afghan rail lines linking Eu-rope and Asia; constructing the TAPI pipeline; and completing electrical transmission lines linking Central Asia, Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, and India.

Particularly urgent is the prompt removal of existing ―corks‖ preventing the quick transit of goods, especially bureaucratic impediments at Afghanistan‘s borders and at key borders further afield. This requires prompt governmental action. But the larger task will involve, and be attractive to, the private sec-tor. A transport-based strategy will open promising opportunities to businesses in Afghanistan, neighboring countries, and in the NATO countries, including the U.S.

The Government of Afghanistan affirmed in 2007 its commitment to a transport-based national strategy. Most of the prioritized initiatives listed above are already underway by the U.S., regional states, international finan-cial institutions, or private investors. Others require immediate U.S. leader-ship and coordination, especially in the area of risk management.

To implement this strategy the U.S. must treat it as a matter of the highest priority, equal to and complementary with, the military strategy. In keeping with this, the U.S. must designate a high-level official to lead a major inter-agency task force that will work closely with military and civilian leaders in the U.S., Afghanistan, among coalition partners, and in regional states. Such an initiative must use all tools at the disposal of the U.S. government to en-gage the private sector.

Andrew C. Kuchins

Stephen Benson, Elie Krakowski, Johannes Linn, and Thomas Sanderson

S. Frederick Starr