Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2006

Afghanistan's Uncertain Transition from Turmoil to Normalcy

Barnett Rubin

March 2006

Council on Foreign Relations


Stabilization and reconstruction operations in Afghanistan have been overshadowed by developments in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. This overshadowing detracts from the achievements in Afghanistan since 2001, including the completion of the benchmarks in the Bonn Agreement, which has given Afghanistan a constitutional framework and nascent political institutions. However, much hard work remains before these institutions can be considered mature. Moreover, the security situation has deteriorated significantly, and long-term stability in Afghanistan remains elusive.

The January 2006 Afghanistan Compact rightly reminds international actors to be mindful that Afghanistan's transition to what might be described as normalcy is not yet assured and that strong international engagement will be essential to address remaining challenges. This report, supported by a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, analyzes the challenges Afghanistan faces, including sensitive issues not addressed in the compact, and proposes measures to meet them. By delineating tasks in the areas of security, governance, reconstruction, and regional cooperation that still require significant attention and resources, this report makes an important contribution to our understanding of what should be done in a country whose importance has for too long and too often been underestimated.