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January 26, 2010 |  33 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Editorial Team

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Editorial Team: In preparation for the upcoming Atlantic Memo, the editorial staff would like to invite atlantic-community.org members to participate in an analysis of the mission in Afghanistan. Please contribute by answering the highlighted questions and giving concrete recommendations and/or policy suggestions. We welcome your input!

Atlantic-community.org members generally agreed on two major inter-related issues facing NATO operations in Afghanistan: stemming from a lack of coherent strategy and clarity of goals, insufficient engagement of the local population and failing international cooperation, ISAF is seen as being in urgent need of grass-roots, systemic reform. Our members developed the following key suggestions towards improving the ISAF mission.

1. NATO must clarify its goals and strategy.

Strategy changes are necessary, chief among them being a greater clarity of NATO’s goals (I. Davis), as the lack of a coherent strategy is one of the most important obstacles facing the mission (Chubyk). Continued, credible consultations amongst all contributing nations are necessary to achieve a viable plan (Michel & Hunter). The Goals of the mission must be the development of a non-corrupt Afghan state with full domestic engagement and a definition of success that is culturally appropriate to the Afghan context – and does not merely mean an emulation of western-style democracy (Sontz, Reuther-Fix, Swierczynski). A reformed ISAF mission must focus on counter-terrorism, corruption (especially in addressing the political and human dimensions of the drug trade), as well as providing real, lasting security (Lucke).

Furthermore, the new approach must explicitly recognize civilian efforts, thus creating an effective, multi-dimensional operation (C. Davis). The new strategy must allow local groups to grow into an effective anti-Taliban force (Lawson).

What are some concrete suggestions regarding how the international community can fight corruption? Should western aid be contingent upon certain standards of development?

A recent poll suggests that support for international troops is up amongst Afghans. What projects and policies need to be undertaken to continue to improve ISAF’s image amongst Afghans?

2. The international community must win the support of the locals.

NATO needs greater support from the local population, and must get Afghans actively involved and invested in civil and security apparatuses (Marton). Training new security personnel, as well as updating the Afghan National Army’s weaponry must top the list when it comes to security reform (Vicenzino).

Reducing the Taliban’s support base is crucial in order to reverse the insurgency. There is some debate as to whether negotiating with the Taliban is a viable policy option now (Daiyar, Singh), though in the long run, some political agreements will have to come about (Sajjad). In the medium term, offering positive incentives, such as secure salaries or lower-level positions in government institutions to non-ideological combatants is necessary: by encouraging these groups to become invested in the political development of Afghanistan, the mission will affect lasting military and political stability (Kahn).

While this is a way to reduce the pool the Taliban draws its combatants from, preventing the higher echelons, namely militia leaders and those with proven records of human rights violations, from prominent roles in governments – local and national – is essential towards the development and improvement of the rule of law. Thus, the international community must demand that the Afghan government consults with its citizens and “supports justice-focussed political debate in Afghanistan” (Kuovo).

There is a general consensus amongst members regarding the harmful effects of warlords in parliament, as well as holding regional influence. What practical steps should be taken to improve this situation? How can their hold on power be reduced/weakened? How can the international community empower new politicians?

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Unregistered User

January 27, 2010

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The major cause of corruption is the infusion of local society with exessive external caiptal and the absense of local structures to effectively and effeciently absorb external material and non-material resources. For local institutions to efficiently and meaningfully absorb foreign capital they must be constructed with local cultural ingredients and local initiatives.

The construction of local institutions must precede the introduction of external "developmental" capital. Otherewise the wasteful effect of the "cart before the horse" is the guaranteed outcome.
Tags: | corruption | Afghanistan | development |
 
Unregistered User

January 27, 2010

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The extent to which this discussion replicates the one which took place in Washington in the second half of the 1960's regarding the government of South Vietnamese President Thieu is astonishing. Like the Karzai regime, Thieu's government was also utterly corrupt, illegitimate and incompetent, and also dominated by warlords deeply involved in the opium trade, which in both wars the CIA protected.

The ludicrous delusion now rampant in the West regarding "negotiating with the Taliban," as if it were some sort of unified political movement like Sein Fein, is another recreation of the Vietnam War, where, like Afghanistan, Western political and military leaders wthere utterly and totally ignorant of the country, the culture, the people, and the nature of the enemy. The West is fighting a secular counter-insurgency in Afghaniastan against an enemy who is fighting a completely different war, a jihad. There is no overlap at all between the way insurgencies end and the way jihads end. It's hard to end a war, let alone win it, if you don't understand the first thing about your enemy, or what kind of war you're in.

South Vietnam would fit inside Afghanistan four times, with room for a few mountains left over. It had 2 million armed security personnel (including contractors) to a population of less than 18 million, a ratio of 1:9. And the United States lost badly. To have the same ratio of troops per square mile in Afghanistan, there would have to be approximately 8 million armed security personnel there. By the end of the current escalation, when all 30,000 American forces have arrived at the beginning of 2011, there will be about 430,000 personnnel (US, ISAF and Afghan, againcounting contractors) in country (using reallistic numbers for the ANA and ANP, not the ridiculous Westmoreland-like fabrications being used now), a ratio of about 1:84. Does anyone seriously think where the United States failed with a security provider-to-population ratio of 1:9, ISAF, cowering in its bases and armored vehicles, will succeed with 1:84?

As a postscript, I would like to give my regards to Dr. Janifi. Although we have not yet met, his work had deepened my understanding of Afghanistan greatly, and I have used a quotation from one of his books published in 1978 in many, many lectures on Afghanistan: "The continuity of the monarchy has been instrumental in providing a degree of stability necessary for modernization." The elimination of a ceremonial monarchy in Afghanistan, orchestrated by the CIA at the Bonn conference, the ELJ and the drafting process for the constitution, guaranteed the failure of the Karzai regime by eliminating the supporting secular legitimacy it would have confered. In this sense, it was the biggest blunder of the war (a high bar indeed), and it was the exact equivalent of the Diem Coup in 1963: a fatal error from which there was no possiblity of recovery and after which there was no possibility of success.
 
Claudiu Dan Degeratu

January 28, 2010

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Q:What are some concrete suggestions regarding how the international community can fight corruption? Should western aid be contingent upon certain standards of development?or

A: The major factor seems to be the poverty. There is a need for long term and substantial support for an independent justice & legal system and altenatives farm models for poor people.

!Q: A recent poll suggests that support for international troops is up amongst Afghans. What projects and policies need to be undertaken to continue to improve ISAF’s image amongst Afghans?

A: Projects wich deliver vital services in term of mentoring and enabling afghan security forces.

Q: There is a general consensus amongst members regarding the harmful effects of warlords in parliament, as well as holding regional influence. What practical steps should be taken to improve this situation? How can their hold on power be reduced/weakened? How can the international community empower new politicians?

A: Warlords play major role in 3 areas: provide protection, control resources and offer opportunities for manpower, in a way, they replaced the local institutions on these 3 areas. International community should aim to help central and local governments to regain their place.

 
Unregistered User

January 28, 2010

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Q: What are some concrete suggestions regarding how the international community can fight corruption? Should western aid be contingent upon certain standards of development?or

A: Economic prosperity to end desolate poverty among government employees, coupled with the culture of immunity, can bring real results.

Q: A recent poll suggests that support for international troops is up amongst Afghans. What projects and policies need to be undertaken to continue to improve ISAF’s image amongst Afghans?

A: ISAF has so far been concentrating mostly on cosmetic projects that only deliver short-term results. Emphasizing on log-term results and implementing projects to that effect can produce better results.

Q: There is a general consensus amongst members regarding the harmful effects of warlords in parliament, as well as holding regional influence. What practical steps should be taken to improve this situation? How can their hold on power be reduced/weakened? How can the international community empower new politicians?

A: The warlords are in the parliament for a reason: the people elected them. Sure, their presence is harmful, but it is democratic. To combat their popularity, the best way is to help promote secular, liberal, multi-ethnic and broad-based political parties. A large number of political parties has already sprung up since 2001, but none of them has gained root because they have not been supported. Some of these parties have had candidates in elections, including in the presidential races. All the warlords, on the other hand, ran independently, thanks to the heaps of cash they had, which they used to curry favors among the population.

So, strengthen the political parties. This fosters genuine debate, competent leadership and competition that benefits the masses by undercutting the warlords.

===

On a different note, does the captcha give everyone else trouble? I typed it in 10 times, each time it came back with an error. Surely I couldn't have made mistakes all those times, especially when I double-checked my entry each time. And I don't have a vision problem.
 
Greg Randolph Lawson

January 28, 2010

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As I argued in my piece on regaining strategic flexibility, American core security concern in Afghanistan is to prevent al-Qaeda or groups affiliated with it to have easy run of the nation as they did for years in the run up to 9/11.

Building a stable nation, despite all of the talk about saving "failing states" around the world, is a daunting task that democratic polities are not capable of engaging in for the long haul. The costs in both money and life is simply too much, especially at times of domestic unease as there is in the U.S. and to a large extent Europe as well. Even with current increases in Afghan support for the ISAF, it is questionable whether this will translate into a long-term level of support.

Despite these very real challenges, Afghanistan cannot be ignored or abandoned. However, neither can it soak up as much bandwith for the U.S. as it is now.

As I argued before:

"With all choices in the region deeply problematic, it seems the least bad one is to focus on preventing Afghanistan from being an easy base of operations for terrorists while shifting to regional diplomacy to dry up the wellspring from which al-Qaeda grows. This could be done by taking several steps:

* slowly disengage most current ground forces in Afghanistan without telegraphing specific time lines;
* retain an intelligence presence complete with financial incentives to maintain relations with various tribes;
* retain a rapid strike capability with naval and air assets that can act upon any intelligence;
* work to develop public/private partnerships with NGOs to continue an influx of capital into Afghanistan to construct schools and basic infrastructure"

Additionally, India needs to step in. A complete breakdown in Afghanistan will only decrease Pakisani stability which is a very big negative for India. It may seem unlikely that India could play any ground role there, but in the long run, it may need to.
Tags: | Afghanistan |
 
Péter  Marton

January 28, 2010

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A good day to all!

My overall answer to the questions listed above: unfortunately, much as I would like to offer constructive answers, this list of questions, typical as it is, is a problem itself.

The focus on corruption simply infects the discourse, with many echo chambers picking this up without those voicing concern having even an anecdotal grasp of what this "corruption" means. There are clearly more pressing problems (think insurgency), and more fundamental hindrances (e.g. a poorly thought out Afghan polity) to state-building as well. Also, it is not really that both South Vietnam and the Karzai government are equally corrupt as it is claimed above, it is that the careless injection of resources is equally corrupting (and for many reasons, not only because it is not absorbed adequately). Also, there is plenty of "corruption" independently from the Afghan government, with insurgents and armed groups earning a protection racket even on military logistical contracts. And judges', policemen's and others' corruption is not, strictly speaking, the corruption of the Karzai government.

A real game-changer on the macro level would be to give formal, institutionalised primacy to local levels of governance (change the polity), but now neither the security situation, nor many vested Afghan interests, nor Western imagination allows for that.

Of conditionality there is arguably already enough.

Polls...? The obvious issue is reliability. It is not a good metric. Having been through conversations there myself where the other side "went out of his way" to be a "partner to the conversation" so to say, trying to give "appropriate" and thus mostly approving answers to whatever I raised, I don't think these polls will necessarily produce something meaningful, even if the organisations involved do a lot to improve reliability in strictly methodological terms. I just do not feel I could afford to look at these polls as a truly useful metric.

Warlords? Here the obvious question is, who do you mean? Who? Name names. When I hear complaints about warlords, I find it hard to believe there is something concrete behind it. Alternative possibilities are that the person saying this will remember the name of Rashid Dostum for some unspecified reason, or that warlords refers to the Northern Alliance commanders, all included (our former partners, remember). I don't mean there are no ugly personalities in the parliament (elected to be there), but as long as 99% of those talking about warlords cannot name them, there is something wrong with the complaints themselves.
 
Unregistered User

January 30, 2010

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This Newsweek article from yesterday is absolutely spot on. It should be required reading for everyone engaged in Afghanistan in any way:

http://www.newsweek.com/id/232825
 
Unregistered User

January 30, 2010

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Per your request, here are my two cents for 2010:

NATO/ISAF OPTIONS:

1. Pack your bags and GO HOME. Leave the "elected" Emperor (Karzai) and his cadre to rule as they please, to include bearing the consequences of their poor choices.

2. ENCOURAGE THE EMPEROR and his entourage (Karzai, Dostum, Fahim, Ismail Khan, Wardak etc) to go into exile. Reinstate the relatively popular (lax) rule of the late Amir Zahir Shah Durrani (Barakzai/Muhammadzai) via one of his close relatives, who best fits the mold of his late father/uncle/cousin. At Bonn in 2004, two thirds of the Afghan delegation wanted Zahir Shah to be reinstalled as Amir, but this idea was nixed by the West in favor of instituting "democracy."

3.BUY OFF the motley crew of Taliban operators. Problem: when the money bags are opened, every Afghan Tom, Dick and Abdullah (Pushtun or otherwise) will step forward for his "share" of the spoils as a "taliban." Once the largess has been disbursed, it will be back to business as usual.

Ad hoc band aid measures do not constitute a viable strategy. Some would postulate that the US led effort in Afghanistan has never had a clear mission. The absence of mission clarity, coupled with absurd ROE on all levels, has been a recipe for disaster. It only served to exacerbate quagmire conditions on the ground. Worse,the only "winners" (foreign and domestic) are those who have made a killing on the backs of the Afghan people in a "stabilization and reconstruction" effort mostly funded by generous US tax payers.

 
Unregistered User

January 31, 2010

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My hat is off to you, Peter Marton. The very nature of the questions being asked indicates that most of the audience doesn't understand the nature of the problem.
One might wonder, have any of the audience ever gone to a bank to ask for a small business? Such a process involves working hard to justify to the bank the reasons why your business will succeed, where many others haven't. There has rarely been a case where the bank apporaches the individual, begging him/her to take uncounted millions of dollars in funds, with no oversight or hard decvision points, with the bank merely hoping the selected inbdividual succeeds. Banks don't work that way with funding, yet the entire "charitable world" providing "aid and assistance" to Afghanistan seems to be working on such a lamentable premise.

First, as stated in an earlier missive, nobody in the world "owes" Afghanistan anything. Starting in the 1950s, Afghanistan did more than enough to contribute to its own self-destruction, such as the fecklessness of the Saur Revolution to the Warlord Era. Yes, the Soviets contributed greatly to the destruction of the fabric of Afghan society and culture, much less the fragile economy, but if anyone hasn't noticed, the Soviets haven't been around for almost 20 years now. Sure, it is easiest to point a finger at America and say, "they are to blame, after all, if they hadn't provided money to resist the Soviets, then none of this would have happened." Well, that would just be revisionist history justifiying anti-US feeling. The real culprits, even if it is unpolitic to say it, would be the Pakistanis and the Arab (read Wahhabi) "charitable" foundations and fronts.

Anyhow, in approaching the "problem" of Afghanistan, should it be dealt with in a Westphalian manner or not? If yes, than the easiest course of action would be to withdraw completely from Afghanistan, stating that the internal problems of Afghanistan are for them to deal with. If a Taliban government comes to power, it is dealt with as the governing entity. Does it matter if it oppresses and kills its own citizens, forcing them into extreme poverty and deprivation of 50% of its population (females) of literally any "reasonable" civil rights? After all, the community of nations has lived with many extremely murderous regimes in the past (Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Pol Pots Cambodia, Husseins Iraq, etc. etc), without always resorting to war or intervention. If this is the case, then the entire question of NATO/ISAF strategy, of warlords and of "winning the population over" becomes moot. As Greg Lawson above intimates, the international community merely retains means to inflict punitive damage upon Afghanistan (say, cruise missile strikes, air strikes, commando raids, etc; all fairly blunt instruments of foreign policy but rather expressive) if there is disapproval of Afghan foreign policy (either voluntary or involuntary).

On the other hand, if the international community continues to express its "concern" over Afghanistan and keep external foreign forces in the country, then maybe there should be an acknowledgement of assumption of imperial interest and openly acknowledge Afghanistan as a word of the international community (the UN, NATO, ISAF, EU, OIC, ASEAN, OAS, whatever) and recognize that status as colonial. thus the problems of Afghan governmental corruption, warlords in the Wolesi and Meshrano Jirgas, rampant instability due to corrupt provincial governance, insurgency, poor economics, etc; all can be addressed by replacement by "disinterested" non-Afghans who would "ensure" prpper nation building, fair and equitable distribution of resources, etc, etc. Might not sit well with the Afghans themselves, nor their neighbors in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it would make the work of the international humanitarian gypsies much easier.

So, is there a need for a coherent strategy in regards to Afghanistan, specifically in regards to those countries composing ISAF? Why are these countries in Afghanistan in the first place? Does Germany or Netherlands or Japan have any real interests in Afghanistan, or is just "humanitarian" impulses that drive them there? These all need to be examined, before any decision can possibly be made about what to do.

What is the end goal? Why should Afghanistan be a democracy? If the royal family had been re-instated, it is likely that many of the problems from 2004 on would not have opccurred, or been less dire. Is there a reason to assume that Afghanistan should function as a political entity commensurate with, say, the Czech Republic or Ireland? If so, why? The traditional isolated cities and fairly independent provinces has worked well for Afghanistan, why should that change? Afghans are not Norwegians, Americans, South Koreans, Latvians or even Emiris; they are Afghans.

The Afghan culture, for anybody who cares enough to study it, is basically one of zero-sum resourcing. If a neighbor gets something and you don't, then there is favoritism and malice involved. If you (as an Afghan) are in charge, then you will work to get as much as you can as quickly as you can, sure in the knowledge that if your neighbor (or anybody else, actually) was incharge, they would be doing the exact same. There is a clear trust deficit among Afghans, likely for good reasons but one that we in the ISAF/NATO community do not acknowledge in our humanitarian efforts. Instead, we strive to accomodate those Afghan qualities, placing ourselves in the role of victimized cash cow and then hand wringing sophist, bleating, "Can't we all just get along!"

This statement was posited by the Atlantic-Community above: "The international community must win the support of the locals." Why? Why is it that "we" must win the support of the locals, who are doing most of the killing, drug smuggling and corruption? Referring to my first example, shouldn't it be they who are trying to win our support and trust? After all, the funding and material, as well as much needed expertise, resides with "us," which "they" need. Do we expect so little of them, consider the Afghans to be so irresponsible, that we treat them as children or grossly immature? To be feed and taken care of them, despite their own self-destructiveness. If so, we are not helping them, we are enabling them to continue their "pet" wars, unjustified sense of self-victimhood and inability to see that they need to work themselves to fix their own problems.

As can be read, I do not hold with the majority, mainly academic and humanitarian, views. I do not understand how poverty breeds war, as I have seen many poor people who live in peace. Malnourished destitiue people make poor soldiers and even poorer warriors. It is money and resources which enable conflict. Money and resources being poured into Afghanistan, unsupervised and unregulated, shows that. Political correctness in the West will not change that.
So, stop feeding the violence, let the pain be felt, and the situation will rectify itself, eventually. Let the Afghans fix Afghanistan, then there can be talk of assistance.

 
Unregistered User

January 31, 2010

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Sorry about the misspellings, was thinking faster than my fingers can go, and too used to Spell-Check. Mea Culpa.
Also omitted a few words, like in the second sentence. Meant to say "bank Loan."
Again, Mea Culpa.
 
Joerg  Wolf

February 1, 2010

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@ Petér

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I beg to disagree with some of your arguments.

According to a UN survey, 60% of Afghans consider corruption a bigger problem than insecurity. Afghans paid $2.5bn (£1.5bn) in bribes over the past 12 months, or the equivalent of almost one quarter of legitimate GDP, a UN report suggests. The survey was based on interviews with 7,600 people in 12 provincial capitals and more than 1,600 villages around Afghanistan. See my interview here:
http://www.atlantic-community.org/index/articles/view/Civil_Project...

The big and small warlords are another major problem for good governance and state building, but they won't disappear any time soon so we have to accept that to some extent and deal with it.

You described as "more fundamental hindrances" to state-building the "poorly thought out Afghan polity." What do you mean exactly? And what can be done about it?
 
Unregistered User

February 1, 2010

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I think the new strategy must certainly concentrate on Afghan Leadership and International Partnership and not the other way round. As it was clearly one of the outcomes from the Afghanistan- London Conference 2010. More and More Qualified Afghans from Europe, US and Australia should be encouraged to become involved in the process. Think ahead of the country's infrustructure and how it can sustain in the long term, especially the sustainability of the Afghan National Security Forces in crucial once they become fully responsible for looking after the country on their own.
 
Péter  Marton

February 1, 2010

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@ Jöerg,

I don't think there is disagreement between us regarding whether an experience of corruption on the side of the one having to pay a bribe is negative or not. I couldn't even have implied that.

Now, I understand that you are quoting the survey's results primarily in order to prove that corruption is the biggest problem compared to the insurgency. But there are obvious objections to what you are saying:

1) This was a survey. In Afghanistan (in Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan...). And not by an uninterested party, but by an organisation speaking for a number of donors.
(Btw, there were other surveys with very different results, but my point is that this is no real evidence regarding anything.)
2) What were the alternatives? What else were Afghans allowed to name as the biggest problem? Did they have the chance to elaborate on what they meant by each option they preferred, or dispreferred, for an answer?
3) Do you think respondents interpret all the concepts used in the survey exactly the same way as the ones assembling the survey would?
4) The West communicates 24/7 that corruption is the biggest problem. The Taliban communicate similar things, too. Don't you think this might in the end influence people's views a little?

Corruption is a problem, sure. But policemen earn a salary that is ridiculous compared to the average salary in Berlin. Same for judges. Recent pay rises only partly remedy the problem of underpayment. By now corruption is in many ways institutionalised and an overhaul of the entire ANP would be necessary to root it out just there. This is something that not many may have the will or even the resources to do now.

I also warned against taking "corruption" as directly equal to "the corruption of the Karzai government." A policeman takes a bribe... So Karzai is corrupt? A U.S. military contractor pays 20% of the contract value to local bandits somewhere, buying operational security... So Karzai is corrupt? A lot of NGOs do the same, from the Western aid resources, the majority of which still passes around the Karzai government... So Karzai is corrupt?

Something that I haven't yet mentioned above in my earlier comment (and this is very significant with regards to corruption): the drugs trade. That permeates everything. In a country where after decades of devastation such an informal economic sector is the dominant one, you need to do something first for real prosperity. You have to signal resolve, you need to disarm all spoilers, you need to deploy in sufficient strength on the ground, and you need to execute a carefully sequenced transition so you can set up working institutions. This wasn't done in Afghanistan. And it wasn't done even though it would have been in Western interests.

That leaves me with two more topics to discuss, warlords and the Afghan polity.

On warlords, I will just pass the ball back to you, Jöerg. What is a "warlord"? Who are the Afghan warlords? What are their crimes? Catalogue them, demonstrating as it has to be in a court, with evidence, who is individually responsible for what and so on. I will also need to ask, however, who would not have had anything to do with war after three decades of war? Do you have a list of 300 clean Afghan politicians you want to work with? And do you think that would be legitimate even if you had such a list?

On the Afghan polity: you have a president who appoints the government. He is not just an institution, he has a name: Hamed Karzai. He was chosen by the West. He didn't just win a popularity contest, not even in the Loya Jirga, even while he is still more popular than many others, like it or not. He appoints governors to provinces where he can send really unpleasant people if he wants to; he has some negative power. You also have a parliament where parties play a negligible role. So in the end you have an overcentralised polity with no subtle interest aggregation in the form of party politics.

This is what we have today. Creating an alternative at the time when it was set up would not have been easy without a sufficient commitment of foreign troops. That dream monarchy some of the commenters seem to find appealing above would not have been ok with the guys (Norhtern Alliance troops) effectively controlling Kabul at the time, and I presume it still would not be very fine with them, even though they are now not in effective control of the capital as they were back then.

Meanwhile, given what we have, the West lobbies Karzai 24/7 to "speak the right words," at the same time as he has to maneouvre well among non-Western powers that use all sorts of covert means to alter the reality on the ground, or might do so. He also needs to answer to demands "from below," from the warlords, or former mujahedeen commanders and other strongmen. Of course he ends up promising everything to everyone.

Péter Marton
 
Unregistered User

February 1, 2010

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@ Peter
Quote: That "dream monarchy" some of the commenters seem to find appealing above would not have been ok with the guys (Norhtern Alliance troops) effectively controlling Kabul at the time.

Snide comments aside, its time the feringhees stopped looking at Afghanistan through their Western/Christian/Secular prism. Hubris from the comfort of your armchair will not resolve anything. I agree with Chris Mason in that the ball was dropped at Bonn in 2004 and it may be too late for reconciliation through peaceful means as everyone now will defend their share of the largesse courtesy of Western cash cows.

Zahir Shah was by no means perfect. In fact he was a rather mild mannered, affable, personality in stark contrast to Amir Abdur Rahman (1880-1901), known and feared as the "Iron" Amir. But Zahir Shah was fair and genuinely tried to be inclusive (most of the time, although the Nazi influence on the Afghan court in the 30s is a serious glitch to his otherwise stellar reputation). Judging from his cautious steps towards developing Afghanistan, he appeared to have learned from Amanullah's debacle and over ambition to "modernize" a people who lived in a time warp and liked it that way given their suspicion of anything "foreign" or different being shoved on them.

Lesson learned by ZS: move slowly and incrementally in matters involving societal change and leave the provinces alone in sensitive matters involving culture, mores and traditions. Daud as PM began to move precipitously in the 50s and, predictably, there was rebellion in the provinces. A key reason Daud was forced to step down in the early 60s by Amir Zahir Shah. Unlike Amir Amanullah (1919-1929), Zahir Shah read the tea leaves carefully and kept his finger on the social pulse of his people. Thus, he lasted 40 years as Amir during Afghanistan's most stable and prosperous period in contemporary times (1933-1973), only to be overthrown by his cousin in a coup. That same old pompous Daud (Saur revolution) who wanted to "socialize" Afghanistan, an anathema for Zahir Shah. It was this Saur revolution that opened the door wide for the Soviet supported PDPA led bloody overthrow and murder of Daud and his entire family. And the rest, as they say, is history.

If Afghanistan had a constitutional monarchy today as 75% of Afghans (not just the Pushtun) at Bonn wanted, Karzai could have been quickly removed for the incompetent nit wit he is by a legitimate Amir as was done to Daoud when he lost touch with reality. If Afghanistan today had a symbolic, charismatic, Amir as the head of a loose federation of provinces (rather than an attempt at strong centralized institutions), he could have started the process of healing some very deep wounds from the 90s that continue to fester between Afghan's various ethnic groups.

I don't have the time nor the energy to continue with this history lesson. Less hubris and a more careful examination of what has, and has not ,worked in Afghanistan's history might be a good start. Alas, it appears it is too late in the day for any peaceful progression towards a viable, independent (of all feringhees Muslim or otherwise), stable state. And the Taliban central folk in Pakistan know this and smell blood. They are patiently waiting as they know time is on their side. What is tragic is that the Taliban (Mullah Omar et al) core do not reflect Afghan culture or mores but represent an alien, draconian, cult movement inspired by the Deobandi/Wahhabi/Salafi ideology that has permeated the region through petro-diplomacy. Beaten this dead horse enough.
 
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February 1, 2010

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Even a ceremonial monarchy, such as Great Britain has, would have provided the secular legitimacy any government in Kabul needs, as M. Jamil Hanifi has noted. Those who have argued that the heirs of the late Zahir Shah's made a poor crop of potential regents miss the point entirely. World history is overflowing with weak and dotard kings. It doesn't matter so much who sits on the throne, merely that it is occupied. We totally forgot the lessons of postwar Japan and the Japanese Emperor in the rush to "modernity" at the CIA stage production we call the "Bonn Process." MacArthur is probably rolling in his grave.

I agree that the Northern Alliance and a handful of educated urban elite nationalists led official Washington around by the nose in 2001 and 2002, and might not have have accepted a full-fledged consitutional monarchy a la 1964, but it took an enormous amount of backroom shenanigans by Zalmay Khalilzad and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars in CIA black briefcases to subvert the will of the Afghan people in Bonn (where no one voted for Karzai in conference) and the ELJ (where as Dr. Burki notes, three quarters of the participants initially signed a petition to make Zahir Shah the interim head of state). The CIA never seems to learn from its past forays into president making.

The bottom line is, talking about "corruption" and "government capacity building" in 2010 is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The flavor of the month solution, "talking the Taliban," is more twaddle from western leaders, who, as they were in Vietnam, are totally ignorant of the Afghan people, Afghan history and Afghan culture. It's time to start talking about partition.
 
Joerg  Wolf

February 1, 2010

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@ "Reader"

Only members who are logged in can rate comments.

Moreover, anonymous comments are not allowed on Atlantic Community. Please register with your real name. Otherwise I unfortunately have to delete your comments.

Thanks
 
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February 1, 2010

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Chris Mason, Christian Bleuer, Vern Liebl, Joshua Faust among others "get it" and have the courage and integrity to tell it like it is. Unfortunately, these type of feringhees are few and far between.
Mason hit the nail on the head vis-a-vis 2010:
"The bottom line is, talking about "corruption" and "government capacity building" in 2010 is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

But where I --respectfully-- beg to disagree with Mason is that "it's time to start talking about partition."

Notwithstanding the bitter, overt, animosity, hatred, distrust and ill will that characterizes relations amongst Afghan ethnic groups, coupled with the glaring social dichotomy between the urban and rural dwellers (not to mention the haves and the have nots), the fact remains that Afghans as a group have never publicly talked about partitioning their country into ethnic enclaves. In comparison, just across the border in Pakistan, the prospect of internal --regional based-- implosion is real stoked by multiple (and not necessarily exclusionary) realities. Furthermore, Pakistan lives with an uncomfortable precedent of losing the Bengali populace along with East Pakistan in '71.
Unlike Pakistan, however, Afghanistan isn't an artificial construct based on the flimsy raison d'etre of being a "Muslim" --later ramped up to "Islamic"-- state. Pakistanis live with major identity issues; while the Afghans have never doubted their pedigree be they Pushtun, Tajik, Hazara, Aimak. Even the newcomers, the Uzbeks in the north, identify with the Afghan state. Sure there are ongoing linguistic battles and challenges at the center vis-a-vis official language (Dari vice Pushto), but I have yet to meet an Afghan who wants the country carved up into fiefdoms. Furthermore, what tends to unite them is their xenophobia and their understandable animosity towards their meddling neighbors, especially the Pakistani state apparatus.
In fact, Afghanistan since Zahir Shah's ouster has, once again, become a victim of external meddling be it Soviet/Russian, Pakistani/Arabi or Iranian; all sadly reminiscent of the Great Game. As Liebl has said above, perhaps its time to let the Afghans work things out and for the feringhees and the meddlers to just leave them the hell alone. Perhaps, only then through utter fatigue will there emerge a determination to save and rebuild the state of Afghanistan.
 
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February 2, 2010

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I have given a lot of consideration to the "just get out" solution and cannot reconcile myself to it on moral grounds. A civil war is coming, if it hasn't already started. Middle class flight is in high gear (it was reported last week that $9 million dollars a day is now being taken out of the country), and the north is rearming. The "just get out" solution might have worked in 2002 or 2003 when the country's reactionary religious forces were still in disarray. But the array of viral elements we loosely call the "Taliban" are now a force majeur. I believe if the West chooses the "just get out" option now, the coming civil war will become a reckoning, and hundreds of thousands, if not a million or more Afghans will be slaughtered.

Like it or not, we have written a lot of checks to the Afghans -- not the warlords and drug lords and educated urban elites who will take care of themselves as they always do -- but to the people. Walking away now, and leaving those people to their fate, as the United States has done so many times in the past (the Montagnards, the Hmong, the Kurds, the swamp Iraqis, the Tibetan resistance, the South Vietnamese who actually fought with us and for us -- it's a long list of betrayal) is simply unconscionable to me. Anyone who thinks the "Taliban " will "talk," or "negotiate" or "reconcile" or "take part in the peace process" (including the entire cast of the London Conference) is either entirely ignorant of what we are facing or simply delusional. Without U.S. military muscle, a reenactment of 1996 will not take much longer than it did the first time, except perhaps in the Hazarajat, where this time I think the Shi'a will go down fighting. The Taliban already control 80 percent of the countryside and have a shadow government in place in 33 of 34 provinces.

As Arthur Conan Doyle's character Sherlock Holmes once observed, "when the impossible is eliminated, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be the truth." In my mind, withdrawal is morally impossible. A political solution is also impossible. The recent escalation of 30,000 troops is going to have no effect in a country four times the size of Vietnam, where we had 535,000 (plus a million ARVN) and lost. Therefore, I think the only remaining option is some form of partition. I think western and Afghan government forces should be withdrawn from RC South, and Special Forces A Teams inserted with those Durrani tribes still resisting.

Let the "Taliban" have RC South (Oruzgan, Zabol, Helmand, Kandahar and Nimruz Provinces), and force them out into the open into overt governance roles. RC South is gone anyway, and current operations in Helmand are a tragic waste of our (and Great Britain's) blood and treasure. I say, use the forces we and the Afghans have (virtually none of the ANA is from RC South -- something like 3 percent) to hold, defend and develop the rest of the country. That seems to me to be the way to lose the fewest number of lives, and if it eventually develops into a Swiss-style federation (another land-locked mountainous country with no natural resources and stark ethnolinguisitc differences), so much the better.
 
Péter  Marton

February 3, 2010

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A note to Shireen K. Burki:

Please check out the meaning of the word "hubris" in a dictionary near you. Giving incoherent "history lessons" addressing an imaginary comment (and definitely not mine, if you read it carefully) seems to fall closer to any definition of that word that you may find.

Also: not very nice touch putting the following people, "Chris Mason, Christian Bleuer, Vern Liebl, Joshua Faust" in the group of people who "get it." This is... let me look for the word. It is hubris. Your demand that I recognize your right to represent other people as a group with homogeneous and correct views is something I reject. These people do not hold homogeneous views. You even misspelled Joshua Foust's name, but that is really not the biggest problem here.

Now, as to the monarchy, the merits of which I simply didn't discuss: if we would have some time machine, and we could go back to alter history, I would watch your attempt to convince the boots on the ground in Kabul at the time of those merits with interest, not even wishing you anything wrong, just sceptically, you see.

Anyway, you seem to have a strong opinion about Hamed Karzai. You say he is an "incompetent nit wit." On the basis of what? I can enumerate "mistakes" of his myself, sure. But I wouldn't think he is an incompetent nit wit. I am not sure who would look very different, and who would not commit what can be mistakes in the eye of the beholder, in his position. But you may enlighten me: On the basis of actually what are you saying that he is worse than a "normal" president would be, with the West in his back, local powerprokers on his toes, lots of opportunists around, at the head of an impoverished country after three decades of war? What should make me think you are not committing hubris by deriding his perforance from your comfortable armschair?

(To clarify this in advance: I am not in principle against putting pressure on the Afghan government to do better. I am addressing the maniacal aspect of the Karzai-bashing that I see from many hubris-prone corners.)

Meanwhile, also of interest to the people commenting here, could be this interview with the former NATO SCR in Afghanistan, Hikmet Çetin:
http://www.qantara.de/webcom/show_article.php?wc_c=476&wc_id=1286
I will quote what he had to say about corruption:
"Of course there is corruption, but this is a chicken-and-egg issue. If you wait for the end of corruption before assisting Afghanistan, you wait for forever."
 
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February 3, 2010

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Péter, I think the issue in regard to the monarchy should be the sandals on the ground, not the boots on the ground. It is a simple historical fact that three-quarters of the 1,600 official delegates to the ELJ in 2002 signed or put their thumbprints on a petition to make Zahir Shah the interim Head of State. It was the will of the people. Basically the CIA conducted a bloodless coup with massive shenanigans behind the scenes at the ELJ, with backroom deals, arm-twisiting, millions of dollars in bribes, and the diversion of key leaders away from key meetings, that got Hamid Karzai installed in the position instead. As at Bonn, where only one person voted for Karzai in the initial plebescite (which Zalmay Khalilzad then abruptly adjourned for the evening saying "everyone is tired," only to return the next morning to announce Karzai as the winner), the US played president-maker at the ELJ and put its man in the job. Then the US basically supervised the writing of the new constitution to permanently eliminate the monarchy from Afghan life. Even then, Zahir Shah was declared the "Father of the Country."

As a result, we now have an illegitimate president in Karzai, because his only claim to legitimacy is Max Weber's third source of legitimacy of governance, the legal source, which has never been a source of legitimacy of governance in Afghanistan. In essence, Karzai is illegimate * because * he is elected. Elections are not a source of legitimacy in Afghanistan, except perhaps among the tiny educated and westernized Kabuli elite. Elections don't make democracies, democracies make elections. Without Weber's second source of legitimacy, the traditonal, in the monarchy, to support an elected president, Karzai was on a stool with no legs. The only thing keeping the stool up is corruption. The whole government depends on it, politically and financially.

So the only remaining source of legitimacy of governance, Weber's third source, the charismatic/religious source, is making a powerful comeback in the form of the "Taliban." It is not popular, but it is legitimate. In this sense, the Karzai government differs little from the Thieu government(s) in Saigon in the late 1960's -- utterly corrupt, self-interested, illegitimate with the people, and totally incompetent. In my opinion, the notion that something strong and sustainable can be built from these building blocks in delusional.
 
Péter  Marton

February 4, 2010

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Chris, you are certainly right to say much of what you say, including your final conclusion. And I either said similar things or didn't deny this above. As I put it in an earlier comment:

(Karzai) "was chosen by the West. He didn't just win a popularity contest, not even in the Loya Jirga, even while he is still more popular than many others, like it or not."

The subject of that sentence of mine should of course be more precise. It was not really the West as such, who chose Karzai, but a U.S.-centred policy network. Not altogether without considerations as to what was workable under the given conditions, though.

So my question is concerning whether the support within the Loya Jirga, to the king, would have been enough to guarantee stability for the monarchy, even with a ceremonial role for the king...

Those boots on the ground were not literally all sandals on the ground. Of course, metaphorically speaking, they were, in the sense that they could have been blasted aside by U.S. air power. It would have been a little surreal, however, to start bombing the people (say, in Kabul proper) that one had worked with so successfully earlier on, people who were/are prospectively needed as a counterforce to the movement of the zealots. Even if the ELJ would not have been manipulated to bring the result it did. The loss of the support of the factions concerned would have made many things unfeasible - the loss of support from factions like those of General Mohammed Fahim or Ismail Khan. This is the rationalisation behind why traditional legitimisation was used only to have its stamp on the interim process. Whether this was correct or not is something I am open to debate, but you have my main argument outlined above. Without the support, to the king, of the "king-makers" who (besides air support) allowed the few SFs their relatively safe ride across the north... the support of those who took Kabul... without their support even for a ceremonial role... do you think it really would have worked? (Not to mention that one of the main king-makers from the south, besides Gul Agha Shirzai, was Karzai himself.)

And meanwhile, it also needs to be taken into account that Shah Zahir was not young, so the issue of succession (and continuity, or lack thereof, of approach towards key issues concerning Afghanistan's future) was also an issue of trust itself - trust, of which not so much remained after decades of acute conflict.
 
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February 4, 2010

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Péter, your points are well taken, but yes, I believe there could have been, and as I argued strongly at the time within the State Department, should have been a ceremonial monarchy. The Northern Alliance was exceptionally good at Information Operations and publicity, but was not nearly as strong militarily as they pretended to be. Certainly it was another dreadful mistake by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (who made nothing but mistakes) to insist on having only minimal US forces in country, but even so, clearly the US was calling the shots (as evidenced by our successfully putting a Pashtun nobody in power).

Even if the King only sat in his palace, gave tea parties, and cut a ribbon to open Parliament once a year, he would have been an ancient symbol of Pashtun pride, and would have done much to assuage the "Pashtun alienation" which famously took place 2002-2005 and planted the seeds for insurgency. How do we know this? Because 75% of the leading men of Afghanistan wanted him to be their ruler at the ELJ. He would also have been a venerable symbol of continuity, tradition and stability, as M. Jamil Hanifi has so ably and presciently pointed out. And most critically, he would have confered * legitimacy * on the President merely by being alive.

Yes, there was the issue of succession. But Zahir Shah had (and has) legitimate heirs whose paternity is not in doubt, which is what is important. None of them is particularly regal, but again this does not matter. Who sits on the throne is not important, merely that it is sat upon. Of course, one of the great impediments to this was Pakistan, which had (and has) no desire to see a strong Afghanistan which was not completely under its influence and firmly within their sphere of "strategic depth."

The bottom line is, the course chosen by the Bush Administration and a handful of educated nationalist urban elite Afghans (from within Afghanistan and outside it) in 2001 and 2002 has been an unmitigated disaster. The Bonn Process was a train wreck from beginning to end, as many of us warned. Now Western states, foremost among them the US, are standing dazed in the smoking wreckage and carnage of the train, and suggesting new china and cutlery for the dining car with phrases like "improving governance" and "reducing corruption." It's over. A state cannot be built from this wreckage.

The people now have only a choice between the Amir ul Momineen, who wore the cloak of the Prophet (PBOH), and a feckless, spineless, illegitimate incompetent who by all accounts is slowly losing his marbles. There are no more good options, and the clock has almost run out. Evacuating RC South, cordoning it off, and using the available forces to hold what is left and protect the people is in my view the last possible alternative to a bloody civil war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents. There's a good chance it won't work, but the current policy is certainly failing. My point is that talking about this "new china and cutlery for the dining car" in this upcoming Atlantic Memo is just silly, like the Germans sitting in their bunkers in Berlin in 1945 moving phantom armies that didn't exist around on their mapboards.

 
Stefan G.  Ducich

February 4, 2010

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@ Chris and Peter:
Thank you very much for your interesting and informative commentary on the role of the monarchy, Karzai, and the Bonn process.

It seems to me that we keep circling around the discussion of legitimacy in government (Weberian or otherwise) - and regardless of the "train wreck," in the long run, something DOES have to eventually emerge from this situation that resembles a functioning state. So, my question is: if improving corruption and good governance are too abstract, what solid suggestions do you have have that would improve legitimacy?

It was suggested above that a loose federation held together by a symbolic monarch would have been the best solution - does that option still hold without an Amir? How should this federation be organized and what steps must be taken in real time to achieve it?

Chris:
I do see a certain logic in cutting off the cancerous south and fortifying the north to reduce the hazards and casualties of maintaining the whole, but then what happens to the south? Aren't we just back at square one with an unstable zone smack in the middle of an already unstable region?
 
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February 4, 2010

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Stefan, I think, first of all, that we already have "an unstable zone smack in the middle of an already unstable region." The sole result of the last eight years in strategic terms is that Jihadistan has moved 200 miles south. Squandering more western blood and treasure in RC South is hardly going to change any of that. The solution to that problem lies in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, and the only way to make the Pakistanis stop playing their beloved "double game" and actively supporting the "Taliban" is to get a longer lever.

RC South is almost exactly the size of South Vietnam. I'm not the Duke of Wellington, but it's clear that holding a few districts in Helmand for a few months or years with 40,000 or 50,000 men is hardly going to reverse the trajectory of the war. It's just tying down resources and running out the clock. Which is exactly what the "Taliban" wants us to do. Once again, we are fighting according to their game plan. They are like a winning soccer team, passing the ball back and forth to run out the clock. Soon NATO will get tired and go home, and they know it.

Second, I weant to make clear that I am NOT advocating the establishment of a "Pashtunistan." RC East can be stabilized with the application of appropriate measures. The deal struck with the Shinwaris may be hard to replicate because of the particularities of their situation and history, but it is the first step in the right direction I've seen in eight years. During that time I have argued many times in print, including here in Atlantic (see "All Counterinsurgency is Local," The Atlantic, October 2008, for example) that the traditonal legitimacy of the tribal elders held out some hope. I am suggesting cordoning off RC South and letting the Taliban come out of their holes and run it. They will be much easier targets, for one thing. And all sorts of possiblities open up, political and otherwise. When they have responsibility for protecting the poppy fields, for example, aerial eradication becomes their problem, not ours.

"Extending the reach of the central government," which has been the cornerstone of our policy for the last eight years, is not the cure for the insurgency, it is the primary cause. I'm not sure I agree with your premise that "something has to emerge which resembles a functioning state." I think this inside-the-box devotion to the assumptions contained in the Treaty of Westphalia have hamstrung our efforts in Afghanistan for a decade and continue to do so. WHY does "something resembling a functioning state have to emerge?" So it can have a seat in the UN, so we can send diplomats there, so it can fit our western definition of what country should be without any messy disorder in our post- Enlightenment universe? I'm not so sure. If Afghanistan was at peace, didn't harbor terrorists, the people had enough to eat and were happy to live their own lives according to their own lights, why should we care?

However, having said all this, I served too many years in the State Department to think that such an out-of-the-box solution could ever be implemented. I'm also clear-headed enough to know that at this stage, it is impossible for the Constitution to be amended and the monarchy restored in any form. This is all just blue sky thinking. Sadly, Western policy-makers and bureaucracies are not capable of creative thinking and policy-making, and are wedded to the traditonal Westphalian models of state-building, diplomacy and endless Bonn/Berlin/London/Istanbul/Fill-in-the-Blank conferences until the Titanic goes down, we have helicopters on the roof again, and a lot of innocent people die. Others may feel differently, I'm sure, but in my opinion, there are no conventional solutions, and the questions this Memo asks are simply the wrong questions.
 
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February 4, 2010

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And I apologize to everyone for monopolizing this conversation! I'll shut up now and let everyone else talk. (And I'm sure this comment will get the most "I like this comment" green numbers of all!)
 
Péter  Marton

February 4, 2010

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@ Stefan,

You certainly pose an important question, and it could be tempting to say that only something radical could redefine the game as far as legitimacy/governance is concerned. But all of those radical things are routes into the unknown, so it is not easy to tell if the status quo is not preferrable to them. One of the things raised in the past, and for this a rather small window of opportunity existed in the wake of the elections, was to have an overhaul of the political system, pressuring Karzai out of the game, to then change the rules entirely (but for this the West and its partners would have needed to act in unison, and fast). Another "option" voiced by some, at times in the past, was a military coup d'état (think of vocies saying the ANA is the best-functioning institution in Afghanistan) - but my gut instinct tells me that adventure would have ended badly. Yet another option is what Chris raised, with the informal hybrid of a polity where the Taliban are brought out to try and govern the south. Which is what I shall turn to discussing now.

@ Chris,

I have already added a star to your comment - the longer one, of course... That is because it elaborates on the possibility of a laissez passer for the Taliban in RC-S, and opens up much space for creative as well as critical thinking.

I would have some critical observations regarding this scenario.

Handing over RC-S would go with a lot of killings. Our current allies would face death (if they don't flee fast enough or if they are reluctant to flee). There would be resistance against the Taliban, but probably not sufficient in the long run. Would we be able to just watch this as it plays out, however long it takes? And should we? You touch upon this consideration above yourself, and it is very relevant with regards to this particular scenario. One also has to take note of the fact that such developments would send a very bad message to our allies elsewhere. They could be the next to be abandoned: that is what they could have on their minds. Uninterested Afghan parties could put up serious opposition to such a policy by the West. Karzai, for one, would not be inclined to just waive goodbye to control of Karzai-the-village (and Kandahar) down there in the south. Neither would many within the Kabul elite (including parliamentary representatives elected from the south). They have some leverages, such as the fact that their support is necessary for foreign troops' legitimate presence and basing rights in Afghanistan. And if their will is ignored they might turn to seeking a deal of their own with the Taliban - the party on the ascendancy.

Supposing that this could still, somehow, be pushed through, would RC-S be open humanitarian space after the Taliban takeover, if the Taliban were permissive of that? I am posing the question because NGOs would make up for many deficiencies the Taliban could demonstrate in their governance, while NGO staff would also make for human shields or hostages occasionally.

Aerial crop eradication would still be at least partly our problem. There would be much protestation about it, and partly rightly so. The Taliban would not have to try to get hold of MANPADs (shoulder-fired surface-to-air systems) to stop it - they could just present the population entrusted to them as victims of external aggression. This would probably help consolidate their rule (for which I presume they would have abundant external support as well). Once their rule is consolidated, they could even just shut down poppy cultivation for a year or so, to have prices skyrocket, and meanwhile they could simultaneously sustain themselves on their donors' support, plus take credit as the world would predictably say "Wow, you killed the poppies, awesome. Despotic oriental methods, but hell, it's effective!" Meanwhile, their allies could even continue to benefit from the opium trade as it was back in 2000/2001.

Could all this be contained within RC-S then? There are many insurgent groups in the north now, of predominantly, although not exclusively, Pashtuns. Could the Taliban take a neutral stance towards their struggle? Would they cut off support to them as a quid pro quo for taking control in RC-S? I don't think so - and if they wouldn't, that means one would still have the same problems, but with a significantly expanded Taliban safe haven.

That safe haven, meanwhile, could also be a haven, or rather a jihadi battleground, for recruits from many, predominantly Middle Eastern, states. The Taliban could just say 1) these people are not al-Qaida, but honourable guests and comrades, 2) they would perhaps contemplate breaking their alliance with them, but only if/after the coalition led by the West leaves Afghan soil and thus ceases to be a vital threat to their emirate (a promise is a promise).

Finally, the greatest problem would be logistics. One could not sustain operations on a similar scale in Afghanistan without holding on to at least a corridor through RC-S. The Russian/CA route is not ready for that, either in a political or in a purely logistical sense.

* * *

Thus, I know I didn't eventually shed light on any radical solution from my part, almost as if I would be arguing here for the status quo... But incrementally it can still be changed in advantageous ways. If the currently emerging focus on training good provincial and district-level public servants could prepare the ground for giving provincial and district leaders (in the provincial assemblies for example) more of a say in managing their affairs without being subject to games playing out in Kabul, over their head, with viceroys appointed on top of them by the president of an overcentralised Afghan polity, that could contribute to better governance. Especially if donors moved forward towards injecting more money into this system, stopping working around Afghan institutions as much as they are at the moment.

But one would still have a battle with insurgents on one's hands, it shall be remembered - even if this supposedly improved polity (a big "if") would be governed as well as anything the reader may accept as an example of particularly good governance.
 
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February 5, 2010

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Péter,

I know I said I'd shut up, but no one else is commenting, so I will respond briefly.

All of your points are excellent, and all the concerns you raise would have to be carefully considered, something we're not good at. Some could be addressed. Special Forces or CAP teams could be inserted to protect the few tribal elements still wanting to fight in RC South, with US air cover. Friends could be evacuated. It could be done. (I differ somewhat in regard to the poppies. I think when the "Taliban" is ultimately responsible for protecting the poppy fields, and failure to do so is their failure, for which they will be blamed. The rural people would yearn for the days when their fields were protected by the foreigners.)

But to me the "bottom line" is:

(1) The "Taliban" will control RC South. Either three days after western forces leave, or at an earlier time of our choosing. The issue is not whether we cede RC South to the "Taliban," it is when. The question is merely, will we squander our remaining time, military resources, blood and treasure there until we leave Afghanistan, as the enemy is praying we will do, or will we use them in a way the enemy does NOT wish us to?

(2) Such a radical reversal of policy and strategy is simply impossible. The US and NATO have commited to this strategy, and we all know it cannot be reversed within our bureaucratic systems.

(3) The military and polital bureaucracies are incapable of learning. For example, Operation Moshatarak which is now beginning in Helmand: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE61410M20100205

is an *exact* repetition of Operation Meade River in Vietnam: http://www.historynet.com/operation-meade-river-marine-search-and-d...

Just substitute the town name "Marjan" for the town the Marines called "Dodge City."

(4) The Karzai government exists solely because of corruption. It is a kleptocracy, a mafia like the Sopranos. Karzai cannot make any meaningful change and survive politically. Talk of reducing corruption is nonsense, like talk of changing leopards not to have spots, or talk of making the Sopranos the government of New Jersey..

(5) "Afghanization" of the security forces will fail. They can't recruit enough, they can't train enough, they can't retain enough, and the force numbers being published are silly lies. The US Army knows the ANA mathematically cannot grow larger than 100,000 men, and there are barely 50,000 in the ANA today. The police are a bad joke, the most hated institution in Afganistan today. Ditto on the leopard spots for the police.

(6) Therefore, we are going to lose and there will be a civil war and a lot of innocent people are going to die. It will not be stopped because it is beyond existing political realities to stop it. I wish it were not so, but I think the logic is airtight, if wishful thinking is excluded. If someone can explain how this is not so, without using magical thinking about corruption, the Karzai government, negotiating a political solution, or Afghanization, please do. I would sleep better at night.


 
Péter  Marton

February 5, 2010

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Chris, I also want to leave room for others to comment here, so I promise a withdrawal now from my part.

I respect your arguments and I fully understand and share your frustration with the situation and your search for something that could transform it at least slightly for the better.

On certain counts, with certain conditions, we can still agree to disagree. I think one of the things that contributed to what we have today was primarily not how terrible the Afghan government may or may not have been, in control, as it is, of a minor share of the money flowing to Afghanistan, up to this day, but rather the constant signalling from the West to all strategic stakeholders, including adversaries, that Afghanistan was not interesting, unimportant, not worth it, whatever.

Over ten years, funding for Afghanistan fell back in absolute terms twice because of Iraq (the costs of which are incomparably higher so far) - first because of the 2003 invasion in Iraq, later because of the situation turning dreadful there and diverting resources. Rumsfeld was even, openly, considering a drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan as late as autumn 2005. Over these ten years the message was first that nation-building is not the concept behind the mission - then later it became a supposedly realistically scaled-back objective of just going after al-Qaida - but there was no substantial nation-building in between in reality... mostly just pushing up ANP and ANA numbers, really just the empty numbers, just as you pointed out, and that certainly wasn't nation-building.

Ironically, some of the nation-building that did go on was done by Karzai, who used Western pressure as wind in his sails to go progressively tougher on some of the people usually problematised by the West: e.g. Ismail Khan and Rashid Dostum, peripheral challengers of Kabul's authority. That Dostum is back by now is because Karzai's actually rather cooperative approach didn't pay off for him, and he needs to think of a post-Western-involvement era to guarantee his own survival.

The RC-S scenario above would need some additional planning indeed. The reliance on SFs in itself is something that military experts should have a careful look at. I would have some sceptical projections regarding the feasibility and the challenges of this, but this ought to be addressed in detail by someone else speaking with more authority on the topic.
 
Unregistered User

February 6, 2010

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The editor interjected into this energetic discourse (to Mason): “I do see a certain logic in cutting off the cancerous south and fortifying the north to reduce the hazards and casualties of maintaining the whole, but then what happens to the south? Aren't we just back at square one with an unstable zone smack in the middle of an already unstable region?”

First, it is one thing to suggest “cutting off” the “cancerous” south and another to convince an “elected” regime of a sovereign state, with a standing army (ANA), to just give up its historical capital (Kandahar) of its dominant ethnic group (the Pushtuns) by capitulating and allowing a visible Taliban takeover. After all, Kandahar, not Kabul, is the historical capital of the Pushtuns. It’s just not going to happen and the repercussions of such a selective pullout aren’t attractive to both RC South and the rest of the country. RC East would quickly “fall” and/or become more deadly to NATO/ISAF troops.

Second, one must tread carefully in identifying RC South in such negative/derogatory terms (cancerous) notwithstanding the reality and one’s views, because to do so implies that the region is beyond redemption/inclusion in the long run in an Afghan state.

Third, half measures such as selective withdrawal from particular region(s) does not solve the more critical structural concerns of building a cohesive, truly sovereign, Afghan state independent of foreign intrusion into its internal affairs.

Fourth, the impact of abandoning RC South on morale at the Afghan center and the remainder of the country would only accelerate the exodus of those most needed to rebuild this fractured state. Furthermore, such a strategy would inevitably embolden the very (external) elements that are impediments to a return to some semblance of normalcy.

Fifth, by overtly capitulating to the “Taliban” in RC South, through some sort of visible pull
out, will not restrain the “Taliban” from seeking its ultimate objective of regaining control over the entire Afghan state. Nor, given geographical realities, is there some sort of way to fence the north, east, and western regions from infiltration from the south of weapons/logistics, personnel etc. We can’t even fortify Afghanistan’s porous eastern border, so talk about doing so within is just wishful thinking without leveraging brute, overwhelming, force (which BTW, the West does possess).

As I suggested earlier, the best chance for a functioning post-Taliban Afghan state necessitated the need to restore a constitutional monarchy (replicating Afghanistan circa 1960s) that presided over a loose federation. Instead, Afghans have what they have: a mayor of Kabul as President, whose background/affiliations make him a very distant second to Abdul Haq. Haq, a popular Muj commander from the 80s (in stark contrast to Karzai) would probably would have been “our guy” if he hadn’t been ambushed and killed in Oct’01. At least Haq (despite his HiK membership under Khalis) was the Amir Zahir Shah’s chosen emissary. That gave him all the credibility he needed and thus he was target number one for the Taliban et al, once Ahmed Shah Massoud had been assassinated. Two charismatic leaders/personalities (one Pushtun, one a Tajik) who wanted to see a united Afghan state through building bridges across ethnic lines.

Today, Afghanistan has no legitimate, unifying, figure at its helm. Second, its army (ANA) still can’t recruit enough Pushtuns (especially from RC South) notwithstanding inflated salaries (according to traditional local and regional standards); is Tajik/Hazara heavy and has its top positions filled with former warlords and war criminals affiliated with Dostum etc. These two elements alone spell disaster ahead.

Another critical misstep has been the continued existence of the “Taliban” central folk aka the Quetta shura (Mullah Omar, Ghani Baradar, Abdullah Zakir and a dozen or so others). As Afghan/Pushtun history shows, charismatic mullahs and faqirs have amazing recruitment/galvanizing abilities. Once dead, however, their “movements” quickly fizzle out. That they continue to live, many openly, speaks to the complicity of Pakistan in playing a dangerous double game. And, our willingness to look the other way.

It takes courage and vision to be willing to venture into the unknown, uncharted, territory vis-à-vis policy. But the current status quo is just delaying the inevitable…the “good” news, however, is that it is highly unlikely that Afghans (to include the Pushtuns) will offer melmastia (hospitality) any time soon to the Arabs and others in the form of safe havens if they can help it, since it was they –and not the Arabs—who bore the brunt of US badal (revenge).

Lastly, given our own growing challenges at home, Americans are not going to continue to bankroll our Afghan adventure, nor continue to stomach growing US casualties. That is just a fact that we must all reckon with.






 
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February 8, 2010

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Dr. Burki:

Yes, I agree Haq would have been a strong leader, independent of Islamabad's puppet strings. I'm equally sure the ISI was also well aware of it, and that is why they ratted him out to the "Taliban."

I think we are in general agreement that the failure to restore the monarchy in some form in 2001 was catastrophic in terms of legitimate governance, but that a restoration of the monarchy at this point is impossible.

I think we are also in general agreement that the ANA cannot possibly grow to a size and efficiency that would defeat the “Taliban” and restore order. In January less than 500 men volunteered, according to unofficial reports from the Pentagon, in the dead of winter in a country with 40 percent unemployment. Less than 3% of the ANA comes from RC South. The Durranis have never chosen the army as a profession in any numbers, and the Ghilzais (who did) were shut out of the officer ranks 2002-2007and have obviously already chosen the other side. Sixty percent of the ANA today is Tajik, the Pentagon’s silly lies notwithstanding. Karzai spoke this past week about instituting conscription, which would work about as well for him as it did for Babrak Karmal. (desertions averaged 60 percent per year during the Soviet years, which rendered the Afghan Army of the time almost useless.)

I said in my previous post I know the strategy of sacrificing RC South to try to save the rest is politically impossible to implement.

But virtually no Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Aimak, Turkmen or inhabitant of Nuristan province gives a damn about Kandahar. It's arguably the Pashtun's capital (although I think Peshawar has more claim to their hearts) and it's certainly the Taliban's capital, but apart from a few diehard urban elite nationalists like Ali Jalali, Kandahar today is politically and economically irrelevant to anyone outside RC South. Simply driving between Kabul and Kandahar is now almost suicidal. Were the 1960’s better? Yes. Can we get back there? No.

But again, the issue isn't * IF * the Taliban should retake Kandahar and RC South, it's *WHEN.* And I believe we will squander the rest of our time and most of our resources keeping a toehold on territory they will retake within three days of our departure, because like Martin Luther we "can do no other."

Where we seem to differ is that I would be willing to try radical preemptive surgery at this point to try to reduce the casualties in the north in the coming civil war by reallocating defense resources. I think our focus should be on trying to protect as many people as we can with what we’ve got to work with, rather than preserving a now-imaginary Afghanistan.
 
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February 8, 2010

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Mason quote: “Where we seem to differ is that I would be willing to try radical preemptive surgery at this point to try to reduce the casualties in the north in the coming civil war by reallocating defense resources. I think our focus should be on trying to protect as many people as we can with what we’ve got to work with, rather than preserving a now-imaginary Afghanistan.”

I again, respectfully, beg to disagree. A strategy of partial retreat from the insurgency core region (RC South) is a doomed one in the long run for reasons (partially) enunciated above in my previous post.

You know, and I know, there are ways to turn this dismal state of affairs around through some rather imaginative, out-of-the-box, bold methods that have nothing to do with troop size or funding. But, such measures will never be contemplated, let alone implemented for varied reasons.

So, as far as “saving Afghanistan” is concerned from without, that deal was shot early on in ’01 when US operators began to give money bags to the likes of Sayyaf in the hopes of buying him off from his continued support of “the Sheikh!” Furthermore, the Western arrogance to smugly envision some sort of overnight democracy vis-à-vis elections, minus a unifying figure in the form of the Amir, was the icing on this inedible cake.

We have all been the beneficiaries of a poorly thought out strategy that could have been “win-win,” but now may go down in history books as “lose-lose,” with regional implications/repercussions that we haven’t even begun to grapple with.

As to “protecting the people in the north,” in a civil war, is this what the US led NATO/ISAF mission is going to boil down to? And, do you realistically think the American public (not to mention the Europeans) won’t demand a complete withdrawal from this war zone ASAP as US and other casualties mount and the quagmire conditions become untenable?

The mood of the American public is shifting as far as our foreign adventures are concerned. They have the right to ask the question: How is all this clumsy “nation building” bolstering our national interests? Is this going to deter a repetition of 9/11? Why are we paying for this with our blood and treasure when we have dire circumstances at home to address? They have the right to ask, and demand, answers to these questions.

Without some very bold –even unpopular—measures this situation cannot be salvaged at this stage. And, that is the painful truth that we must all reckon with.
 
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March 29, 2010

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One of the critical factors about Afghan situation is looking at the Pakistan’s inter services intelligence agency‘s role, not what Pakistan military says but what they are actually doing. And while will embark on building partnerships with local community be aware not to follow the path “ISI” wants the NATO and West to follow.

ISI and Pakistan military are already celebrating West is finally going to withdraw and will be left with Afghanistan and their powerful “good Taliban” bear in mind that Pakistan has been selectively conducting military operations against what it calls bad Taliban (meaning those operating inside Pakistan).

In this situation Baloch national struggle for independence from Pakistan and stability in Afghanistan become intertwined with Independent Baloch state inhibiting ISI interference in Afghanistan and also promoting democratic and liberal way of life in the region. Balochistan currently accounts for more than 45% of Pakistan’s land has huge reservoirs of natural resources such as natural gas and oil. Creation of an independent Baloch state is critical for long lasting peace in Afghanistan.

http: balochistanandafhanwar.blogspot.com
 
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May 23, 2010

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Que. What are some concrete suggestions regarding how the international community can fight corruption?
Ans.There is only indigenous solution to this: A right and forceful head of state can change the endemic corruption. The problem is top down.

Que.Should Western aid be contingent on certain standards of development?
Ans.It should be a bottom up approach in a tribal level is the solution. Please see our “Biz Jigah” solution to this notion.

Que.A recent poll suggests that support for international troops is up amongst Afghans. What projects and policies need to be undertaken to continue to improve ISAF's image amongst Afghans?
Ans.Kandahar is the key to Afghanistan’s tribal power. Our solution to save face for the international community and restore prosperity is to remove Ahmad Wali Karzai and replace one from the ex-King Zahir Shah’s family, who will have immense popularity amongst all the tribes.

Que.There is a general consensus amongst the members of atlantic-community.org regarding the negative consequences of warlords in parliament. What practical steps should be taken to improve this situation? How can their hold on power be reduced/weakened? How can the international community empower new politicians?
Ans.There is no easy solution around to this notion; however, the head of state is the problem. He should be genuine enough to attract good people to weaken the warlords. So far he has given them immense power.
Tags: | Karzai | King Zahir Shah | Khalil Nouri |
 

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