The angst over “success” criteria certainly reflects the tendency for western thinking to be obsessed with the need for a short term win. The issue of this being “winnable” or of “defeating anyone” is certainly the big mistake the west makes over and over again, given the historical and religious context of the region.
In my experience, I believe the key is to manage expectations and think long term, for as much as “seven generations”, to use an aboriginal term. I believe that the way forward should involve some type of a “direction-engagement-results” strategy. This concept is useful in advancing anti-corruption and integrity frameworks in governance, particularly in failed or developing countries where corruption is very serious. The direction component involves defining success as a commitment to changing the direction of governance or security or poverty, to one that is slightly more hopeful and may make life better for future generations. We think long term. Engagement means doing what one can at all levels to advance this. This may mean selecting many “early participation” projects that are feasible, small, involves a lot of people, and whose collective effect begins to make a difference. The saying “I may be one and only one, but will not refuse to do what one can do” begins with everyone. The big projects and studies can run in parallel with this. Only much later should we begin to concern ourselves with measuring or defining results.
The key is to help them define and go in some direction of their choosing, that is hopeful and has a future. Then we need to have a lot of patience and compassion, and above all, to not give up on these people. Bosnia was a hopeless disaster at the time, and now life is getting better. I believe we can save lives and contribute towards this in Afghanistan, and we should not refuse to do so.