Expert says crisis will continue in Afghanistan | AspenTimes.com

Expert says crisis will continue in Afghanistan

Charles Agar

James Ritchie talks about Afghanistan with locals Tuesday at the Main Street Cafe and Bakery. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

While in Aspen for a radio interview, Afghanistan expert James Ritchie said Tuesday that the prognosis there is bad barring major changes in U.S. policy.”There is no government in Afghanistan. It is a failed state,” Ritchie said, warning that the Taliban will eventually return to power.

“Loya Jirga is the only thing that will bring stability to the country,” Ritchie said of the national meeting of local and regional councils. He said that the U.S. must hand power to local and town councils, called “shura,” which report to regional “jurga” before the nationwide Loya Jurga. Without that community mandate in traditionally tribal Afghanistan, the corruption will only get worse, he said.Ritchie spends roughly a third of his time in Afghanistan, running the International Foundation of Hope nonprofit. He spent four years of his childhood in Afghanistan – his father was a civil engineering professor – and returned in the mid-70s as a student, and again in 1994. A former commodities trader, Ritchie owns fruit groves in Washington state, but calls Meeker his home. (He owns the Meeker Hotel).Since the 1980s, when the U.S. government funneled millions of dollars to Afghan warlords – some of whom were later implicated in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – the U.S. has only fueled conflict there, Ritchie said.

Ritchie talked with “anyone who would listen” in the years before 9/11, but his pleas fell on deaf ears, he said. His group gave members of Congress two DVDs about the Afghan government in the late ’90s. Then, in December 2000, Ritchie brought a panel of Afghan dignitaries, including Hamid Karzai (now the president) to Washington to plead the case for building a new government peacefully, but to no avail.The current security situation in Afghanistan is getting worse and worse, he said.Ritchie’s nonprofit has succeeded where big government has failed, he said. The British tried to pay farmers to stop growing opium, but production doubled. Ritchie’s group, working with limited funding, cooperated with local councils in the eastern province of Nangarhar to decrease opium production by 96 percent, he said.

“We spend about a billion dollars a month just to be there,” Ritchie said. “And what we spend, we waste.” “We create the problem,” Ritchie said, adding that the only solution is to work with local councils. He said the problem “gets more and more unfixable every day.” Without a quick turnaround, he said, we will have another Iraq.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.