Current State of Play in Afghanistan

Moderated by:

Frank Cilluffo
Director, HSPI


Pamela Constable
Journalist, The Washington Post
Former Foreign Correspondent

Josh Meyer
The Los Angeles Times

Peter Bergen
Schwartz Senior Fellow, The New America Foundation

Jonathan Landay
Senior National Security and Intelligence Correspondent, McClatchy Newspapers

Sean Naylor
Senior Writer, Army Times Publishing Company

Afghanistan, its challenges and future, were recent discussion topics at a GW Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) roundtable titled “On the Ground in Afghanistan: Current State of Play and Moving Forward.” Frank Cilluffo, Associate Vice President for Homeland Security and HSPI Director, began the discussion by calling to mind some of the difficulties obstructing progress in Afghanistan. “How can we enable those on the ground to get their job done?” asked Cilluffo.

“There are so many instruments that need to be brought to bear on this issue and I’m not sure that anyone is assembling those instruments as efficiently as we can.”

Tables were turned with this HSPI roundtable as members of the media participated rather than reported on the events. The veteran journalists assembled by HSPI had witnessed firsthand the transformations that have occurred in Afghanistan in recent years.

These journalists emphasized that government corruption remains a barrier to a successful democracy in Afghanistan . “The Achilles heel of Afghan democracy right now is corruption. It’s not the Taliban. It’s not Al Qaeda,” said Pamela Constable, writer and former foreign correspondent at The Washington Post. “What’s needed now, in addition to more troops and more air support, is will power and the ability to make tough decisions within the Afghan government that will help spread its positive influence out to the countryside that will get people to be on board with the authorities rather than seeking alternatives. People crave legitimate government there and they’re not getting it.”

Others suggested that government corruption was fueled by the lucrative drug trade in the country. “The corruption is so endemic in Afghan society that a lot of the people that are drug kingpins are sort of intermeshed with a lot of the government officials on the provincial level and the national level,” said Josh Meyer, The Los Angeles Times writer. “You’re never going to do anything in Afghanistan unless you deal with the drug and corruption problem."

Just as pressing an issue is Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan. “Having a conversation about Afghanistan without the Pakistani dimension would be like having a conversation about immigration without talking about Mexico and this country,” said Peter Bergen, Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation.

The sentiment was echoed repeatedly that these issues stretch beyond Afghanistan . “It’s not about Afghanistan anymore, it’s about global Jihad. They are part of that,” said Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. “Before it was about controlling Afghanistan and creating an Islamic state in Afghanistan , but now they have become so enmeshed with Al Qaeda.”

As Sean Naylor, senior writer for the Army Times Publishing Company, pointed out, fear is a driving factor in Afghanistan . “I believe the Taliban’s center of gravity is their ability to create a climate of fear over individual villages and populations, without that they really have nothing. If they can’t make people afraid of them, then they can’t bend them to their will.”

Despite the myriad of challenges that Afghanistan faces right now, Bergen offered insight about the attitude of the Afghan citizens. “Across the board, despite all the things that have gone wrong Afghans continue to have a very positive view of the future.” Members of the HSPI audience included a myriad of representatives from the intelligence and military communities as well as and Afghan nongovernmental organizations.


The HSPI Policy & Research Forum series is designed to spotlight cutting-edge policy solutions and innovative strategies to some of the most pressing national and international concerns. The Forum features leading officials, practitioners and thinkers in a systematic way designed to better highlight their work and promote a dialogue on effective solutions to current issues.