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U.S. urged to focus on governance in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration needs to link its counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan with efforts to improve governance there to be successful in defeating the Taliban, a former Afghan finance minister said on Wednesday.

Afghan boys watch as U.S. soldiers with Alpha Company, 32-nd Infantry Regiment cross a river during a search operation near Kamron village, Kunar Province, eastern Afghanistan February 20, 2009. REUTERS/Oleg Popov

Ashraf Ghani, a contender in August presidential elections, credited President Barack Obama with taking steps to create a “second chance” to build a stable Afghanistan after lost years since the U.S. invasion in 2001.

“To commit more forces in this time is an act of both courage and statesmanship,” the former World Bank and U.N. official said in remarks at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

In a new strategy for Afghanistan unveiled last month, Obama said he would send in 17,000 more troops and make stabilization of Afghanistan and the war on Islamist militants there a top foreign policy priority.

Ghani, author of a new Atlantic Council report on Afghanistan, said, however, that “forces in themselves are not the answer. It is the strategy that is going to use them that is the issue.”

He said the troop increase needed to be wed to a counterinsurgency strategy that supported renewed efforts in four key areas to build up the governing capacity of the Afghan state.

“The game changer is to produce a legitimate election that the next government of Afghanistan can have a mandate,” said Ghani, who is seen as an outside contender in the August 20 presidential vote.

Second, the international community needs to develop a coherent strategy to reverse a situation in which development aid efforts are often wasteful, unaccountable and prone to funneling most of the donors’ money to foreign experts and contractors, he said.

Ghani said the third element was new national programs modeled on relatively unheralded successes in Afghanistan such as the National Solidarity Program for rural development and the national telecommunications network.

Finally, eight of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces should be set up as model provinces -- laboratories for reforms.

“If we can demonstrate success in eight provinces, we will regain the initiative vis-a-vis the insurgency,” he said.

Ghani's report for the Atlantic Council titled, "A Ten-Year Framework for Afghanistan: Executing the Obama Plan and Beyond," is postedhere

Editing by Eric Beech