Quibbling Over Terms

by Joshua Foust on 1/18/2009

Afghan FM Spanta didn’t like that Hillary Clinton called Afghanistan a “narco-state” during her Congressional testimony.

“Madame Clinton is a good friend of Afghanistan, a close friend of ours,” Spanta told The Associated Press in an interview arranged to rebut Clinton’s classification of Afghanistan.

“But if somebody believes that our government, the government of President (Hamid) Karzai is involved as a government entity in the production of drugs, this is absolutely wrong.”

Spanta clarified by adding that the Afghan government does not control Helmand province, where the vast majority of Afghanistan’s opium is produced. It’s a neat dichotomy: yes my country produces most of the world’s opium, he says, but to call us a narco-state is just batty. I suppose that’s true, but it’s some tricky word-parsing.

Jaap de Hoop Sheffer, on the other hand, is a bit less sparing in how he describes Afghanistan:

But an honest assessment of Afghanistan must conclude that we are not where we might have hoped to be by now. While the country’s north and west are largely at peace and improving, the south and east are riven by insurgency, drugs and ineffective government. Afghans are increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress in building up their country. And the populations in countries that have contributed troops to the NATO-led mission are wondering how long this operation must last — and how many young men and women we will lose carrying it out.

His whole piece is worth reading for a sense of where NATO’s leadership would like to concentrate the Alliance’s efforts. Of course, Sheffer complains about the disconnect between calling for comprehensive action and increasing only the military presence, while also not offering a way for NATO countries to retask their war efforts. Which is great as far as it goes, but we don’t need NATO’s secretary-general to do that when there are countless bloggers out there doing that right now. We need leadership from NATO itself—and that seems to be absent from Sheffer’s plea.

Update: Myra McDonald adds her own thoughts: “The comments appear to reflect increasing frustration with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and come as President-elect Barack Obama prepares to send up to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to try to stabilise the country. Other NATO members are expected to come under pressure to match the higher U.S. troop presence with greater commitments of their own… So given the challenges he outlines in his op-ed, what is the cost of success?”

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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