What Holbrooke Should Hear

Feb 13, 2009 10:46am

Richard Holbrooke is in Kabul today for his first round of talks with Afghan officials since his appointment as U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. We can expect – even hope – he’s getting an earful.

Two days before his visit, Taliban insurgents launched their most brazen attack in Kabul to date, killing 20 in three government ministries. Overnight, Australian defense officials announced more civilian deaths – five children – in fighting with the Taliban in Uruzgan province. Tensions have risen between the United States and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. A U.S. government report yesterday questioned inventory controls on 87,000 U.S. weapons shipped to Afghanistan over a four–year period. And seven years after the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban, the Afghan public is growing increasingly frustrated with continued violence, slow development and the lack of economic opportunity.

We covered many of these angles in our latest poll in Afghanistan, released earlier this week – our fourth national public opinion survey there since 2005. Frankly, Holbrooke would do well to read it. A visit to Kabul and briefings with government and military officials there is valuable – but it cannot tell the full story, particularly the experiences and concerns of the Afghan population, and the sharp differences we see from region to region and province to province.

I had the opportunity to present our findings at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington this week, and there I was able to go into somewhat more detail than our general-interest analysis here at ABC News. While we’d like to do more work on the model, I presented a regression analysis suggesting that the root causes of growing discontent in Afghanistan stem from a panoply of issues – not solely security, not just road building or school openings, but a range of security, economic and development concerns. It indicates there’ll be no easy answers.

The analysis – you can see the slideshow here, and get more details at the CSIS site – also provides more extensive regional and provincial data, underscoring the extent to which a one-solution-fits-all approach would not begin to address this troubled country’s needs.

In short, Holbrooke’s visit to Kabul is a start – but to get the full picture he’ll need to go far more broadly, and far deeper, than a sit-down with the local brass.

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