Part of The Future of Afghanistan and U.S. Foreign Policy

Running Out of Time for Afghan Governance Reform

How Little Can we Live With?

Mullah Naqibullah, a commander and politician from Kandahar, circa 2002. (Courtesy Reuters)

This piece was published as part of The Future of Afghanistan and U.S. Foreign Policy, a collaboration between the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism and ForeignAffairs.com.

The range of achievable outcomes in Afghanistan is narrowing as Western effort wanes. The ambitious goals of the Bush administration were probably never attainable and are certainly not now. But even minimally democratic accountability may soon be beyond reach. If so, some form of delimited warlord rule will be the outer bound of the achievable. If a new set of bargains between Kabul and provincial powerbrokers can be reached and enforced, such a system could still be tolerable in the limited sense that it could preserve the United States' essential security interests in Afghanistan. But it would be far from ideal. And even this option could slip away if some critical reforms are not instituted soon.

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