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  • After the Taliban: Nation-Building in Afghanistan
  • Nake M. Kamrany (bio)
After the Taliban: Nation-Building in Afghanistan, by James F. Dobbins. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2008. 170 pages.

This book is an account of the Bonn (Germany) conference which took place in November 2001 at Hotel Petersberg for the purpose of selecting an Afghan transitional government to succeed the Taliban. Dobbins, who purports to be an expert on "nation-building," congratulates himself for succeeding to create an Afghan transitional government but faults the Bush Administration for failing at nation-building thereafter. He criticizes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsefeld's minimalist strategy, though Rumsfeld's strategy was cost-effective in keeping the Taliban at bay for several years. Instead, Dobbins advocates the ratio of one international soldier to every 50 inhabitants of an unstable country. Since there are approximately 30 million Afghans, by Dobbins' and Rand's formula, some 600,000 international soldiers should have been deployed in Afghanistan, disregarding the military and economic burden of such deployment.

Nation-building did fail in Afghanistan for eight years —from 2001 through August 2009, when the second presidential election took place. During this period, there was an inverse correlation between the number [End Page 669] of US, UN International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and NATO soldiers and security in Afghanistan, as the number of terrorist attacks tripled between 2002 and 2007 and continued through the summer of 2009. This correlation totally discredits the formula used by Dobbins, who fails to understand that the Afghanistan dilemma cannot be solved by military force.

Second, there was an inverse correlation between economic development and the amount of assistance that was promised to Afghanistan in the Tokyo, London, and Paris conferences, as the unemployment rate increased beyond 40% and abject poverty rose.

Third, there was a negative correlation between poppy eradication efforts and the production of poppy in Afghanistan, as Afghanistan's share of world poppy production increased to more than 90%. Moreover, corruption was rampant, governance weak, and the seats of government (administration, legislative, and the judiciary) were dominated by warlords, drug lords, drug traffickers, and sycophants.

This brings us to the fundamental question: Was this debacle all the fault of the Bush Administration, as Dobbins contends, or a faulty selection of the transitional government for Afghanistan? Dobbins actually helps us find the answers to these questions throughout the 11 chapters of the book.

It is axiomatic that the Iraq war caused a diversion of resources and attention from Afghanistan to Iraq, but that in itself does not seem to explain the debacle of Afghanistan over the last eight years. US assistance was initially meager, but Washington did allocate over $2.2 billion in 2004 —an amount that could have gone a long way to help village farmers had the central government the smarts to do it. But that government was devoid of any concept of governance or comprehension of economic development. The grubby group of warlords, drug lords, and private speculators absconded with most of these funds. By 2009, Afghans had transferred over $16 billion to Dubai for safekeeping.

Dobbins' basic framework for selecting the Afghan government at Bonn was to obtain the cooperation and collaboration of the regional powers, including Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan, and the Europeans. He concludes that the participations and decisions of these delegations enabled him to successfully forge a transitional government for Afghanistan —although he fails to point out that at the outset it was solely the military power of the United States that drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan. On the selection of the next President of Afghanistan, the author reports that Hamid Karzai was mentioned on several occasions as the choice of the regional powers for President. But Dobbins fails to explain why Mr. Karzai's name was suggested. Dobbins asserts that Abdullah Abdullah of the Northern Alliance had mentioned Karzai for President. More importantly, Dobbins was impressed that the Iranian and Russian representatives had agreed to Karzai's selection. But was it not possible that the Northern Alliance, Iran, and Russia were in conspiratorial or manipulative mode at this point? Why did Dobbins disregard former King Zahir of Afghanistan as the next President, whom the...


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