At an EastWest Institute consultation on Afghanistan, leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the EU, and the U.S. agreed that the world can and must reverse the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the region.

“There have been some positive developments, but things have in certain ways changed for the worst in the last three years,” said Hekmat Karzai, Director of Conflict and Peace Studies in Afghanistan. “We have not had a political strategy to solve the problem.”

David Kilcullen, senior fellow at the EastWest Institute and former advisor to General David Petraeus in Iraq, added: “The situation in Afghanistan is extremely serious, but it is possible to turn it around provided we make some changes now.”

According to the meeting participants, the most significant change required to improve conditions in Afghanistan is the active participation of the Afghan people.

“It’s all about empowering the Afghan people,” said EastWest Institute Distinguished Fellow Hank Crumpton. “Get the Afghans to protect themselves, build their roads, and grow their food. They want to do it.”

Karzai added: “Many donors do not fund projects that are demand driven – they are desire driven. Rather than you, the outsiders, doing it perfectly, let the locals do it imperfectly.”

“It is no catastrophe today,” said General Philippe Morillon, a member of the European Parliament from France. “But the problem is that our soldiers are more and more seen as occupiers. We have to go faster towards Afghanization.”

Participants agreed that global perceptions can change, and ground realities change with them. Two years ago, Iraq was widely considered a lost cause, while Afghanistan was thought to be a winnable war against extremism. Now, many predict relative stability in Iraq and near disaster in Afghanistan. The international community can transform Afghanistan as it has begun to transform Iraq, but it needs significant political will to do so.

“This is about rebuilding an international consensus on Afghanistan,” said John Mroz, President and CEO of the EastWest Institute. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Consultation participants also included Saleh Mohammed Saljoqi, General Khodaidad, and Houmayoun Tandar from Afghanistan, General Ehsan Ul Haq from Pakistan, Lt. General Satish Nambiar from India, and representatives from the EU, Russia, and the United States.

This event was part of the EastWest Institute's larger efforts to determine alternative futures for Afghanistan and Southwest Asia.