“Afghanistan: Covering America’s Longest War”

May 04, 2015

South Asia Week 2015

“It’s been the same war fought 12 times over,” said Sean Carberry, former Afghanistan correspondent for NPR, in a public address on April 27 entitled “Afghanistan - Covering America’s Longest War.” As part of the Future of Diplomacy Project’s annual “South Asia Week,” jointly sponsored by the India and South Asia Program at Harvard University, Sean Carberry was joined by fellow Afghanistan-based journalist, Anand Gopal, who also shared reflections on covering the complex conflict. Their insightful remarks, concerning the different layers of conflict at play in Afghanistan, were moderated by the project’s Executive Director, Cathryn Clüver.

"Layers of conflict":

Examining the U.S.’s ‘longest war,’ Anand Gopal and Sean Carberry began their remarks by acknowledging the different actors and causes of conflict in Afghanistan. “It’s not just a war against a unified military force, and that’s what makes it so difficult; you have people trapped in the middle,” said Carberry. According to the Harvard Kennedy School alumnus and recently-returned Kabul Bureau Chief for NPR, the Afghanistan conflict has been complicated by the fact that the Taliban is “not a unified entity.” Moreoever, Carberry argues that the growth of criminal elements such as the “narco-state” has further complicated things, making it “difficult to parse who is the actor in a case of a violence.”

Problems with the U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan:

Addressing deep-set issues in the U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan, Gopal argued that the main problem lay in the fact that “2 different tracks were pursued: state-building and counter-terrorism,” causing inbuilt contradictions in the whole strategy. Carberry questioned whether the U.S.’s goals in Afghanistan were “realistic or ever achievable to begin with given the realities on the ground.” Carberry stressed that the ceiling for development in Afghanistan may have been too high, with the amount of resources and many being thrown at it causing a "bubble effect" and overly inflated expectations for the country’s growth.

Regional Perspectives:

“Among the regional powers that are responsible for Afghanistan’s future, who can have the largest and most benign influence on the country’s future?,” asked Cathryn Clüver. In response to this question, Carberry expressed pessimism about the influence of bordering countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, stating that “regional fighting is spilling over into the neighboring countries’ approach to Afghanistan.” Carberry argued that the political-sectarian divide and escalated rivalry between Saudi sunnis and Iranian shiites could bleed into Afghanistan, emphasizing that Afghanistan was already experiencing “competing Islamic centers,” funded by Saudis and Iranians. “China may be most effective because they tend to approach things from an economic lens more than anything else,” admitted Carberry. Carberry and Gopal agreed that Afghanistan has suffered from poor institution and capacity-building, essential to enabling economic development.

"A Continued War of Attrition":

Both Gopal and Carberry declared pessimism toward Afghanistan's future. Gopal argued that the current trendlines of increasing civilian casualties indicate a "continued war of attrition" between warring armed militia groups with little substantial state intervention. Carberry added that based on data points from the 2011/2012 tansition period, Afghanistan is still confronting deep-seated problems stemming from a lack of cohesion in both the Afghan government and the Taliban. "None of this, from a negotiations analysis standpoint, indicates that a [solution] is close to happening," said Carberry.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Future of Diplomacy Project
For Academic Citation:“Afghanistan: Covering America’s Longest War”.” News, , May 4, 2015.