Interview with Ahmed Rashid: The West Should ‘Change Its Approach to Failing States’

Ahmed Rashid, one of the world’s foremost experts on Afghanistan, once welcomed US intervention in the failed state. But in a SPIEGEL interview, the Pakistani journalist says the West’s model for development is fundamentally flawed and must be changed.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Rashid, in 2014 the West will withdraw from Afghanistan. To what extent have they failed?

Rashid: In my view, the Western model of influencing the development of third world countries is doomed to failure. The West does not understand how to deal with states that no longer have any authority and are threatened by dissolution. Their efforts failed in Iraq as well as Afghanistan. They are simply not capable of promoting the indigenous economy. Neither USAID nor Germany’s international technical cooperation agency, the GIZ, are able to get a grip on it. They provide temporary assistance, no more than that. Many billions of dollars flooded into Afghanistan, but without any significant effect.

SPIEGEL: There is rarely a lack of monetary aid in such countries. So why does the Western model fail in building up a country such as Afghanistan?

Rashid: It would be better if the private sector would participate to a larger extent. Dysfunctional states like Afghanistan need business people who are deeply rooted in their country and invest in it. They can add stability. But all development programs of the United States and the European countries unfortunately exclude the private sector, which could make investments based on profitability.

SPIEGEL: Presumably it would also be quite difficult to persuade companies to invest in countries like Afghanistan or Somalia.

Rashid: Yes, I am aware of the challenges. But I am confident that there are hedge funds, banks or investment companies that could allocate five percent of their portfolios for risky investments. In any event, for countries like Afghanistan the formation of an entrepreneurial class is of vital importance.

SPIEGEL: The United States is trying to establish a more peaceful environment prior to the withdrawal of their troops and to initiate talks with the Taliban — also with limited success.

Rashid: Evidently, the US also isn’t capable of mediation. This lesson can be drawn from the failure of the talks with the Taliban in Qatar. Here too it would be better to involve the private sector, such as with respectable organizations that are preferably trusted by both sides. States should limit themselves to facilitating mediation. For example, the International Red Cross has the best contact to the Taliban. The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan has for the past fifteen years managed three hundred schools in an area of Afghanistan that is under Taliban control. The Swedes have to deal with the Taliban on an almost daily basis so the schools can be kept open for boys and girls. This remarkable local initiative could be transformed into a nationwide initiative for dialogue and mediation.

SPIEGEL: What you are proposing is a paradigm shift.

Rashid: Exactly, the West would be well advised to change its approach towards failing states. At present, no major power can find the correct ways and means –and the numbers of failing states are increasing, almost as if there were a race going on. This year we watched the collapse of Mali, a consequence of the Libyan civil war. The south of Libya and Mali, and Niger too, are well on the way to becoming a no-man’s land. After 9/11, George W. Bush and Tony Blair made the promise that they would not tolerate failed states because they could become a haven for terrorists. And today? The number increases. Last year it was Yemen, this year it is the southern Sahara.

SPIEGEL: What do you suggest? A military intervention surely can no longer be an alternative.

Rashid: It would have been better if the United Nations had sent a team to Mali right away to mediate between the government and the rebels. But where is the political initiative? The Americans make their usual recommendations. They want to train the army for the fight with the rebels. US special forces are already in Mali.

SPIEGEL: The promise that Bush and Blair made can hardly be kept after the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the near future, the United States can probably not be persuaded to launch military interventions.

Rashid: The United States only knows one form of intervention and that is the military one. Everything depends on drawn weapons. We should, however, develop a wider scope of action. And we should learn to be patient.


3 replies

  1. Armies are trained to destroy, not to build. I used to be Director of Finance. What would have happened if my employer would have put me in the manufacturing department and put the Engineers in the Accounting section? Well, the manufacturing would definitely come to a halt fairly quickly and I do not want to speculate how the accounts would have looked like. This is exactly what the ‘oh so clever’ superpowers do by sending the army to build a democracy. When will they learn this simple logic?

  2. In many so-called failed states, the conflicts were created and the situation taken advantage of by the active involved of the west – political, weapon supplies and big power games. in it. I can remember, how Somalia got sucked into this super power game. In seventies, Ethiopia was allied with USA while Somalia was ruled by General Siad Barre was friendly with Soviet Union. The war in Ogaden desert changed all that. The ambition of a greater, stronger Somalia come to fruition when Siad Barre invaded Ethiopia to liberate the ethnic-Somali Ogaden region in 1977.
    Ironically, the 1977-8 Somalia-Ethiopian War, enabled by Soviet support, was the severing point in the friendship between the Cold War nations. The Soviets elected to support Ethiopia against the nationalistic plans of its audacious neighbors. The Somali National Army lost the war when a full Eastern bloc (comprised of Cuba, East Germany, Libya, South Yemen, the Soviet Union army) attached themselves to the Ethiopian cause. The defeat of Somalian armies resulted the political instability and the rest is history.
    Now Somalia is a failed state and Ethiopia is a good friend of USA.
    As far Ahmed Rashid is concerned, he is very clever but opportunistic journalist, with very extensive ties with CIA and MI6. So do not expect him to be a neutral observer.

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