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EDITIONS
 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 09:54 GMT
Is it possible to rebuild a country?
Talking Point: Nation building
The Talking Point programme on Nation Building has finished.

  Click here to watch the programme  
or Click here for an audio-only version.


It is a year since Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the interim leader of Afghanistan.

However, the country has a long way to go before it reaches political and economic stability.

Human rights groups say that women and girls continue to experience extreme repression.

The situation in Afghanistan raises questions about the policy of "nation building", which has been tried with varying success in countries such as Somalia, Bosnia and Chile.

South African president Thabo Mbeki has spoken of the difficulties of rebuilding his nation in a speech to the African National Congress convention.

He says that the bulk of the economy, including the land, remains predominantly white-owned, nine years after the end of apartheid

Meanwhile, the United States has spoken of regime change as an objective in any action against Iraq.

President Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive action requires the US to engage in rebuilding a nation it has chosen to strike - otherwise the same threat which led to an intervention might return.

Is it possible to rebuild a country? Is regime change desirable in Iraq?


This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Japan was run by a US military government after 1945. This achieved stability. The US mistake with Afghanistan was not installing a similar military government.
Peter, New York, USA

It certainly is possible to rebuild a country, just so long as you do it within the confines of U.S. interests.
Matthew, UK in USA

Nation Building will be an easy task for Afghanistan, as soon as the warlords are disarmed or brought under the government's control. Afghanistan's major problem is the neighbouring countries interference, arming and supporting different warlords, due to their ethnicity, like the Tajiks with Iran, Pashtuns, with Pakistan, and the Uzbeks with Uzbekistan, and so forth. Afghanistan will only be stable when there is United government of all different ethnic groups, respecting each other.
Abdul Wali Akberzai, Connecticut, USA

Tribal and clan forces will play an important role

Luc, Antwerp, Belgium
An Afghan nation will develop on condition that a strong leader emerges in the near future. It will not be a western style democracy rather a theocracy and the West open-minded to different cultures can only accept such a different organisation of society. The level of development as calculated by the UN in the human development index will remain low as elsewhere in the region even in the oil rich Arab countries. Experiences in Somalia, Yemen etcetera show that tribal and clan forces will play an important role and finding an acceptable equilibrium of power a continuous exercise. Iraq is a strong nation at the expense of Kurdish and Shia people. Afghanistan shows a similar mosaic of different populations.
Luc, Antwerp, Belgium

Yes. Afghanistan has a future. Lets give them a chance by helping them with liberal aid and guidance yet without appearing too intrusive into their political affairs.
Jagan Mohan, Pondicherry, India

I believe nation building can be achieved if it is not done in accordance with the benefactors interests. It also requires the support of the local people (obviously). In Afghanistan the first priority must be education, educated people are far less likely to be seduced into a violent or prejudicial course. It will also require long term commitment - the kind not seen since the Marshall Plan. Unfortunately the benefactors in this case (the west) have very short attention spans and our populations, ignorant of the cost to the world of our present soft lives, are selfish when it comes to sacrifice for the good of all. The building of this nation will depend upon the level of commitment from the west as well as from within and cannot work as long as only one city, Kabul, sees the fruits of this leaving the bulk of the populace to the machinations & propaganda of the warlords.
Derek, Auckland, New Zealand

In the end you will see Afghans naturally revert back to tribal war.

Michael, Australia
Nation Building has been discussed and written about at great length. What people need to realize is that both Japan and Germany (recent success stories) had substantial infrastructure - even after the war - and ethnic, cultural, and social cohesiveness. Both had already settled tribal wars centuries before the war and the subsequent "Nation Building". None of these parameters can be applied to Afghanistan; which like the whole of the Middle East has never never never had a history of democracy. So in the end you will see Afghans naturally revert back to tribal war. It was part of our history and it is still part of theirs. Open a book and read Roman history and see how they tried to Civilize/Romanize the "barbarians"(read: Europe) and you'll see striking parallels with our own experiences.
Michael, Sydney Australia

Some nations cannot achieve successful democracy and separation of "Church" and "Parliament" because they believe in rule-of-religion and not rule-of-law enacted by elected lawmakers. Unfortunately, some democracies support these theocracies for political reasons. Rebuilding a nation needs capitalism and free-market, which needs democracy. So, till religious law is replaced by law made in parliament, no nation can be rebuilt.
Atanu Lahiri, Rochester, NY - USA

Rebuilding is always an option, but from the top down. Local law enforcement has to recognize change and allow people to make it. More freedoms as they apply create trust from the people to authority and therefore people start to feel better about the way things are as opposed to what they used to be.
Ken, Niagara Falls, USA

What Bush and the west need to remember that there is huge difference between reconstruction and development. We can bomb countries, and then flood it with aid to reconstruct buildings and roads, but the development and rebuilding of a nation involves the building of democratic institutions, educational institutions, legal frameworks, the protection of civil liberties and human rights, the removal of poverty etc. We need to have a rethink on our foreign policy to take into account these considerations.
Puneet Gupta, London, UK

Democracy is all about experience.

Ozgur Sever, US/Turkey
Political and economical stability will take a long time. Democracy is all about experience. In theory it sounds fair but in practice its hard to achieve. In a country like Afghanistan you may have to protect democracy from itself. However, democracy imposed with oppression will not work in long-term. Karzai was not elected with democracy, thus he should not stay there for long. The question we should ask ourselves is do we really mean it when we talk of democracy and do we want a stable Afghanistan?
Ozgur Sever, Boston-US/ex-Turkey

Nation building is extremely difficult and no nation can honestly claim to have done it successfully. Even in old democracies like the UK there are secessionist movements. However, national stability can be achieved. One way is through brutality and repression, the Taleban have already applied this. The other is through massive financial and administrative assistance over a period of many years. The US did this with the Marshal plan for Japan and Germany.

Afghanistan, sadly does not have the assistance it requires. Promises of aid, especially in the form of consultants, will rarely build a nation. Instead it is more likely that Afghanistan - like so many post colonial countries - will slowly revert to its tribal roots with local fiefdoms perpetually fighting (both politically and physically) over old wars and new territories.
nik, Port Vila, Vanuatu

I think that it's possible to rebuild a country, the only thing that you must be very careful with is not to change its customs, do not impose your customs to those people since you will fail, and this is what the U.S. is trying to do, and they will also fail in Iraq.
Gabino, Panama

If the US fails to commit adequate resources to the effort, it will have won the battle and lost the war.

Michael Brenner, New York
Nation-building is essential to the success of any invasion of Iraq. The single greatest shortcoming of President Bush's War on Terror is the failure of the his administration to commit the resources necessary to properly rebuild Afghanistan. Nation-building is a sound and ethical investment that is critical to making the world safe for democracy; if the US fails to commit adequate resources to the effort, it will have won the battle and lost the war.
Michael Brenner, New York, USA

I think there are at least a few good examples of successful nation building. The two most impressive happen to be what today are the second and third largest economies in the world, Japan and Germany. Both of these nations came out of WWII in shambles but with patience and a lot of help from the Allied victors they have not only survived for fifty plus years but have prospered. Most importantly they have prospered as democratic nations offering a great deal of freedom to their citizens.
Jason Gibbs, Flint, MI USA

Countries are not toys. Countries represent a unity, a way of life of each culture. In my opinion, everything that the west offers (either bad or good ) as long as it feels like something imposed will not work. You can't force a country (or a culture better said) to your ideas no matter how productive they have been to you. Yes it is possible to rebuild a country, but the rebuilding has to come from its own people. not from imposition no matter how strange the ideas or their ideology may seem.
Georges F Hersang, Guadalajara, Mexico

It is much easier to rebuild a Germany or France, countries which share somewhat similar cultures and beliefs with the US. Iraq and Afghanistan will be much more difficult. Most people in those countries strongly dislike the United States, and want no part of our culture or economic system. We must consider that an attempt to "rebuild" these countries in our own image may very well result in a generation of Middle Easterners ready to take up arms against America. It would be wise for the US to reconsider its policy, which is to shape the world in the way that suits it best.
Greg Waldmann, Boston, USA

Forcing people to bend to Western ideals on their own soil is rather arrogant.

Dan, Houston, USA
Building a nation after years of war is difficult, especially if the country isn't unified in a quest for peace among all the inhabitants. Once warlords have been removed from the picture and basic needs of people have been met, then the process of 'building' can begin. That process doesn't have to be stylized after the West. The goal is to stop suffering, death and economic instability due to warring factions. Assess the national resources, devise a plan for the people to exploit those resources. Does it matter if only the men of the country are allowed to lead and work those facilities? Forcing people to bend to Western ideals on their own soil is rather arrogant. Through the West's support, however, their mind and hearts would be more receptive to our point of view, if we would come through on something... for a change.
Dan, Houston, TX USA

All it takes is money... and where will that come from? Where will the money to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq come from? Do the UK and the US have an obligation to rebuild what they destroy? My point is that those countries with the power to enforce through violence do not have the resources to rebuild. Our government in the US has refunded tax money, re-instituted deficit spending, embarked on a multi-billion dollar missile defence program, and a multi-billion dollar Homeland Security program... so I'm really curious about where George and Tony plan to get the money to restore what they tear down. I'll make a guess that they'll turn that job over to the "private sector"- the IMF and big corporations who get those delicious tax breaks.

But on a human level, is it possible to rebuild the lives utterly destroyed by violent regime change?
Bruce Killingsworth, Los Angeles, US

We are currently trying to rebuild Afghanistan. In a few years, when Afghanistan has long faded in the memories of the voting public, the West will have no reason to spend millions and millions supporting its economy. Bush is lying when he says he wants to rebuild Iraq. He just wants a friendly US installed dictator/government, only for oil. The children of Iraq will pay, once more, with their lives.
Asad, Burnley, England

Nation building has to sprout from within and not be enforced from the outside.

Abhi Sharma, Albion, USA
Nation building is a very utopian concept. It assumes that countries from outside can build a nation. Unless the people in those countries themselves want to build their countries there is nothing the intervening countries can do. Nation building has to sprout from within and not be enforced from the outside.
Abhi Sharma, Albion, USA

Of course it is easy to rebuild a country. It only takes a leader with guts and daring, men and women working together as equals side by side. Give them tools and training in how to use them. And bestow on them the blessings and protection of the USA, Russia, England, and perhaps Germany, Japan, and China. Enrol only those countries who want to put their money where their mouths are. Put the warlords, mullahs, and fundamentalists in jail. And give the new country a date to show improvement. If there is no improvement, cut all foreign aid. But above all, forget about the bureaucrats of the UN. Instead, use NATO for protection.
Ramon V. Elizarraras, Gardena, CA USA

Nation re-building is possible when the people in the region welcome the regime with open arms. If that does not happen early on in the process things will end up just like Somalia. In the case of Afghanistan people see the new administration as imported government sponsored by the west. That is why the interim president has no influence on most of the country. Solution: the west must stop directing the new government and hand over power to the people of Afghanistan because that is where it belongs.
Ahmed Hussein, Boston MA USA

Rebuilding was possible in Japan and Europe after WWII only because the societies were advanced enough to accept progress and the idea that they NEED to rebuild. The Islamic world operates on the belief that they are already perfect, and that Allah will grant them their wishes. You cannot rebuild a society that wishes to remain as it is.
Eugene, USA

We have to take the local factors into consideration

M W Malik, Reading
Nation building in Afghanistan is quite possible. When we talk of nation building, we have to take the local factors into consideration. There are certain difficulties in integrating different ethnic groups but this is a relatively recent problem caused during the aftermath of Soviet withdrawal and subsequent lack of interest by the world powers to engage them in Afghanistan. World powers will have to help Afghanistan re-build by strengthening the Karzai Government but without any personal agendas. A sincere effort is needed here
M W Malik, Reading, UK

Nation building in Afghanistan is difficult process. The citizens of Afghanistan show more loyalty to their tribe and ethnicities. A more national feeling has to evolve.
Suresh, Los Angeles,USA

Nation building is certainly possible if there is will from all affected parties. For example I can see this happening in Sri Lanka where the affected parties, both the Jaffna Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority have decided, enough is enough. During my two visits this year I have noticed the country is moving towards inter communal peace and understanding. This is only possible if they are willing to forget about "yesterday" and concentrate on "today" and "tomorrow". In the case of Afghanistan and other predominantly Muslim countries the problem lies with the interpretation of Islam and how deeply or moderately it is practiced. I feel that any country or political parties intending to embrace fundamentalism is going to be isolated from the rest of the world. The West would interpret it as suppression of human rights - as you can see from what is happening in Iraq.
Chandran Sukumaran, Malaysia

Because Afghanistan chose a theocratic governance despite being liberated by the west, three things are for sure:

  • development will be difficult because potential donors will think hundred times before helping. I certainly won't help a theocracy.
  • if left alone, the country will relapse into familiar chaos.
  • Karzai's liberal words on women's issues will have no credibility.
    Pradip Parekh, Victoria, TX, USA

    It will be very expensive

    Guillermo, Madrid
    It is extremely difficult, but I think people like Hamid Karzai are risking their lives and western countries must support them. It will be very expensive, no doubt.
    Guillermo, Madrid, Spain

    You can only help people if they wish to be helped. Will Afghanistan be better off without the Taleban? I think so, however I don't expect the citizens to thank those who ended the Taleban's cruel and oppressive regime. No one wants to turn every country into some sort of 'westernised' franchise but if they can't or don't want to set-up governments, voting, transport, health, education, equal rights and some sort of economy then they can't be forced to.
    Scott, Glasgow, UK

    The best way to rebuild a nation is to provide its people with a comprehensive and essentially secular education, and that takes many years to come to fruition.
    Jon E, France

    It is possible to build a nation, but Afghanistan is a completely different story

    Ganenthiran, Canada, Ottawa
    It is possible to build a nation, but Afghanistan is a completely different story. Its illiteracy rate is mind-boggling, it has practically no industry, there is too much drug trafficking, too many warlords and not a decent government forced to control the huge treacherous terrain. Overcoming all this will take at least a century.
    Ganenthiran, Canada, Ottawa

    I just spent three years in a country that is a true success in nation building - South Korea. A country that was under brutal Japanese rule from 1910-1945 in which the Korean society had been "converted" to Japanese. Then along comes a devastating war that ravished the country. Come a half a century later and it is one of the most powerful countries in Asia. Nation building doesn't happen overnight but if it isn't given a chance, the future is as dim as the past.
    Chad Brooking, Toronto, Canada

    Yes it is possible to rebuild a country if its people are united and determined and its administrations are skilled and loyal to its national interest.
    Hadi, Všnersborg. Sweden

    Countries cannot be rebuilt from outside, the people of that country have to rebuild it themselves, not live off aid packages from Western countries.
    Thomas, Bristol, England

    It takes at least a generation, and usually longer

    Manu, Antwerp, Belgium
    All nations are created by politics, circumstance and fortune. There are nations that were built in the 16th century; there are also a lot built in the 20th century. There is no reason why one should not be built in the 21st century. No nation was ever built in a few years. It takes at least a generation, and usually longer. We should be prepared for a long, heavy investment in Afghanistan.
    Manu, Antwerp, Belgium

    Any nation building has to include strong primary, secondary, and university education. An educated population is much better equipped to make intelligent decisions, is more open minded because due to exposure to other ideas, and is better able to communicate with the international community.
    Lisa Stiller, Las Vegas, NV., USA

    Dear Yaksan, Afghanistan, the West has a right to interfere in governments that export HUGE numbers of refugees for the West to have to take care of!
    Debbie Curnes, USA

    No one can build a nation for someone else who has a completely different culture

    Sitarama Swamy, Bangalore, India
    It is hard to imagine what life was like, both before and during the Taleban's whimsical rule. Living far away, in a distant country, it is hard to judge whether it is possible to rebuild Afghanistan again. It is possible to aid them in their effort to rebuild it, but no one can build a nation for someone else who has a completely different culture.
    Sitarama Swamy, Bangalore, India

    Japan and post WWII Europe are cases in point. However it must be stressed that one cannot build a modern nation in a country based on fundamentalist Islam. Even tones of money won't help much. Look only at Saudi Arabia.
    Mickey O'Brien, Alexandria. USA

    Afghanistan was always a peaceful country before it fell prey to cold war politics between the USA and the former USSR. I sincerely pray to God for an all round development in Afghanistan.
    Pratul Mahalanabis, India

    Yes it is possible if we work as brothers. The people who talk of the Afghans as a burden on Pakistan don't understand. We are your brothers in faith and share much, we will help the Afghan recovery as much as possible. I hope the government of Pakistan opens all possible assistance to you. I only ask that Afghanistan's people forgive the negative impact of Pakistani involvement in the past. Strength in unity - don't you agree?
    Mohammed Mohsin, Pakistan

    Hong Kong did very well, as did India. The difference is we actually cared about those countries because we had a vested interest, whereas in Afghanistan and many others, we get nothing tangible out of it.
    GN Buckley, USA

    It is possible to aid a people working hard to build a nation

    Giuseppe Romani, Italy/USA
    It is possible, as was shown in Europe with the Marshall Plan and in Japan with McArthur, to aid a people working hard to build a nation. It is not possible to build it for them as a gift.
    Giuseppe Romani, Italy/USA

    None of the people advocating regime change believe it will be a straight-forward or predictable enterprise. The factors influencing a nation are many times more complicated than is our ability to control them. Doing nothing is much easier, but only in the short term.
    Ania, UK

    Of course it is possible, look at the Japan today. Karzai needs to have authority beyond Kabul in order to bring peace and stability to the country and its people.
    Belquis Habib, Washington, DC

    Sorry Belquis but Afghanistan has no base whatsoever to build on. Japan was building battleships like the Yamato and planes like the Zero during WW2. They had a huge industrial base and huge numbers of skilled engineers. They were very close to being a superpower during WW2. Japan didn't need to start from scratch like Afghanistan does.
    Dan, UK

    Sorry Dan, UK but you have missed the mark completely. Japan certainly did start from scratch. Japan was literally recreated after it suffered the incineration of two of its major industrial cities, the loss of hundreds of thousands of its best and brightest, and the total collapse of its economy. A case in point is the change in the thousand-year relationship between the emperor and the people - nothing less than revolutionary. The real hurdles for Afghanistan are more to do with their lack of cohesion as a people that allows them to fall victim to the disingenuous maneuverings of their former imperialist overlords.
    George, Canada

    It's fundamentalism in its most dangerous and destructive guise

    Yaksan, Afghanistan
    The experience of nation building in Afghanistan clearly shows the difficulties that are involved in such an effort. Making such an effort in Iraq will certainly be much more difficult. Nation building in the image of the West seems to mean changing the way of life of a people. But the way a people lives and behaves is the result of centuries of socio-economic and cultural history, and is very resistant to abrupt changes.

    Those who are behind the grand design of the new world order seem to believe that, the West, by the virtue of its wealth and technological superiority, has reached the position where it can eliminate the diversity of cultures and value systems and impose its own on the rest of the world. This is a dangerous perception and could eventually lead to the destruction of the human race on the planet earth. It's fundamentalism in its most dangerous and destructive guise.
    Yaksan, Afghanistan

    I agree with Yaksan, the only 'nation building' going on is that of the West. I think it's sad to look at the world as a commodity.
    Andy, Australia

    It's only been a year! Of course it's possible to rebuild a country, but it takes decades, generations even. Look across the Atlantic at Trent Lott's recent comments and you could argue that the southern USA still hasn't been fully rebuilt since the civil war, as racist attitudes still persist.
    Robert, Zurich, Switzerland

    I think the largest problem with 'nation building' in the Islamic sphere is that large swathes of the population are inherently hostile to Western concepts like liberal democracy and women's rights. Many Muslims still respect ethnic or tribal leadership over elected officials. The multicultural pluralism of the West is seen as a weakness in many Muslim eyes. And the emancipation of women is viewed as spiritual corruption at the hands of the 'infidel'. How such a society is to be reformed so that it can healthily work in the world of the 21st century is truly the great puzzle of our age.
    Brad Torgersen, Seattle, WA, USA

    Wasn't the whole Middle East originally set up by the pre-cursor to the UN, The League of Nations, after WW2? If they couldn't fix it then, how do they feel they feel they can now?
    Bil, London, England

  • See also:

    16 Dec 02 | Africa
    06 Oct 02 | Americas
    22 Dec 01 | South Asia
    05 Sep 02 | South Asia
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