Monday, April 21, 2008

Fighting the Past in the Future

The American general in command of NATO forces in Afghanistan confidently predicts that, in just a few years, the Afghan army and police could be able to shoulder the load of defending the Kabul government. General Dan McNeill told KanWest news, however, not to expect too much before 2012.

Is the general's optimism justified? There's no way of knowing but it is fair to point out that western military assessments have often been wildly off mark since this misadventure began in 2001.

A key problem is our constant inability to predict what we'll have to confront in the coming years. Who are we going to be fighting in 2011? I don't know, do you? Afghanistan is the very definition of confusion. Wheels spinning within wheels. Today's good guys may be tomorrow's bad guys but we can be pretty sure that today's bad guys won't be switching sides anytime soon.

The Afghan National Army? National? This is a "country' that's never been more than a lose amalgam of its four principal ethnic groups and their subgroups. There isn't one of these tribes that hasn't fought with and against each of the others over the past two generations. These are not conditions out of which a national identity is forged. Will an Uzbek corporal in the ANA heed the orders of a Pashtun colonel to take up arms against an Uzbek warlord and his fellow tribesmen, his own cousins? Until you can answer "yes" to that, the very idea of a national army is an illusion. That is an illusion that may be tested long before NATO is in any position to hand over the security mission to the Afghan National Army.

General McNeill's assessment also assumes the continuing viability of the central government now headed by Hamid Karzai. Mr. Karzai may still command the loyalty of those Pashtun not already supporting his Pashtun rivals, the Taliban, but he seems to be losing the support of the other ethnic groups who've coalesced into an opposition group, the United National Front, and are separately seeking reconciliation with the Taliban. The viability of a pro-western, pro-NATO central government in 2011 is anything but certain. If the opposition groups - the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara - unite with the Taliban what do we do, just fight the entire damned country? If you want to know how well that works out, the Brits tried it twice and, after them, so did the Soviets.

General McNeill doesn't have a gameplan to fight a wider war in Afghanistan. He doesn't have enough troops to win the limited conflict he's already fighting. Perhaps our biggest mistakes over the past seven years were 1) failing to crush the warlords when the opportunity existed in 2001 and 2) revealing to those warlords ever since the narrow limits of our power and the flimsy underpinnings of the Kabul government we created.

Here's something to watch out for over the next two years. It's been reported that the Taliban are planning to move out of their home turf in the south and carry on operations in the east and north. If they do, that will mean they're operating in collusion with the National Front warlords. The Taliban are Pashtun, quite ethnically distinct from their former mortal enemies, the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbeks of the central and northern regions. If they can safely operate in these areas, we are in a brand new ball game.


Anonymous said...

There's clearly an array of powers at work creating the case right now for a war on the Pashtun tribal regions. These things don't just happen in a vacuum. Wars seem to start with the careful choreography of the news. The war masters, the maestros, start feeding their lap dogs, the press. The music is then played by the press for the rest of us to hear.

Notice how all the papers are beginning to play the same thing about the Afghan and Pakistan border? The theme of "lawless frontier" is being played every week. The sound drowns out the reality of a noble 5000 year old culture of some 27-million people.

We hear instead about the vilified denizens of a "lawless tribal frontier."

What you missed it? Well, it's only been playing for about two weeks. You need to tune in to the inside pages. The maestros have been composing for a while longer…. Their creative juices kicked in about the time Sen. Obama, answering one of those deadly sucker-punch sound bite questions showed us his war face telling us he would take action on "high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf "won't act.

That's the sunshine it took to start the war-sap flowing. War-sap is sticky stuff, its residue has been known to encapsulate the creatures that get too near and preserve them there for posterity.

There is a legal system in place of course, in this lawless frontier. It's been there for 5000 years. The Pashtun call the system the jurga. But its not part of the sharia law, it's unique to the Pashtun and precedes Islam by thousands of years. But we don't sing about that just now.

Please, I definitely don't want the Pashtun to start signing their homeland song either. I don't want to learn that an 1893 border line drawn with the blessing of Queen Victoria divided a group of mountain dwellers along the Afghan and Pakistan boarder in two.

I thought mountain ridges where proper borders. Everybody uses them. I just can't handle the sound of another this-a-stan or that-a-stan popping up. So please, I don't want to know about a Pashtunistan. And I definitely have no interest in anything 5000 years old, if it means Obama can catch Osama on good intelligence, bring it on! That should be Commander Obama's war face call: "Bring it on!" Hmmmm, that sounds familiar.

What is this Pashtuni-whatever, Pashtunwahli, anyway?

They openly express somewhat defiantly, total cultural independence and have seen conquering armies and powers come and go through the millennia. Probably because of their original geographic high mountain foothold they could stand off vast armies with terrain advantage. Well it's about time maybe for all that to stop.

And, how come they sound more like American cowboys than foreigners? Darn it, if we are going to start another little war, can't we start it with some body that doesn't live like my great, grandfather?

Setting aside the Pashtun mostly pray to the same God I do, grandpa did, and great grandpa too, how on earth did they adopt the same code as the old cowboy code of the west?

According to "lawless frontier" musical score, the first impressions I hear is Pashtun love rifles, chewing green tobacco, and appreciate a good sense of humor. So what's not to like? I can't go to war on that.

If I fell out of the sky and landed in a group of people like that, I'd get along just fine, especially if I were being chased by the law. What they call Nanawateh we call asylum. Nanawateh is extended even to an enemy, just like the Cowboy Code of the Old West. Except if you are granted asylum (called Lokhay Warkawal) by the Pashtun elders as a group you're in like Flynn! They protect you even if it means forfeiting their own lives. Man that is lawless. Imagine a code of living where a principal was so honored, that it exceeded my duty to the state. Hmmm. Now that is lawless. Isn't it?

Better to just seek hospitality, then they'll treat you like a king, which makes me want to open a 5-Star hotel somewhere in the snowy peaks along the boarder if I can find a few acres for a ski-lift not planted in opium poppies, viewed on Google Earth satellite, not that anyone is actually checking the carefully cultivated fields above 6,000 feet along the borders. I would feel right at home there, not unlike parts of Tennessee or California.

Look at the forces arrayed here. My little fantasy war is going to happen.

The Democrats need to show they can be trusted with national defense again, be it Hillary or Obama. And McCain says fight to win.

The second verse of the song is still being written: Floating the contingency balloon. Up, up, and awa-a-a-ay, in my beautiful ball-o-o-o-on….

Obama or Hillary, or McCain get sworn in January 20, 2009. By mid June, whoever is President is going to make a push into the boarder regions the so-called "lawless frontier tribal zones" and "on good intelligence," unless of course my leader does it first before June 20th. The operation will be Pakistan's (well okay we'll give them a few billion). It will be a fast coordinated air-ground attack with airborne US intelligence and lots of surrounding US air cover as a safety check to insure the operation stays within operational parameters. Pakistani's will not go into Afghanistan and vice a versa. Meantime the Pakistan Navy will be backed up (some would say surrounded and outgunned) by the US Navy to keep a lid on the operation seeing to it they don't launch an attack on India by Pakistan Islamic fundamentalist-leaning ground forces. We'll hold India's hand throughout the entire episode and offer security where needed.

Up, up and awa-a-a-ay in my beautiful …. This thing's going to happen regardless of who wins.

You can't deny the poetic justice in someone with a Muslim name (Obama) catching a renegade terrorist (Osama). Can you imagine the songs that we could write about that? To the tune of "Froggy went a courting."

Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, uh-huh

Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, uh-huh

Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, he hunt Osama on the Mount

Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, un-huh. …..

The best time to wage this little war would be during the Chinese Olympics. China would likely remain quiet with their hands temporarily full with the Olympics.

So my fantasy, glorious, contingency war needs to be brief, violent, and force the Pashtun jurga to rethink their long term cultural interests. It needs to end with Osama in a holding tank, brought up on charges in the world court.

If it fails? Well what do you expect from the lawless tribal frontier area in Pakistan with questionable army allegiance? Corruption is everywhere.

I'd still like to open a 5-star hotel with some good ski-runs. You don't suppose the opium production their so good at, has anything to do with the foolishness of some of our drug laws? Nah.

Victor Davis Hanson says you have to look at war with a long term perspective in order to understand its meaning. Long term is real long term. It may well turn out that while many say Bush's legacy must be a failure, history may have a completely different take on things, long after both you and I and our great grand children have come and gone. It may turn out, that doomed legacy of a Bush Presidency we hear so often this campaign-cycle ends up being written 1000 years from now as the President who started Islamic Reformation and brought freedoms that enabled thinking people to ask questions about religious practices that eventually changed the world and started the east and the west talking again.

The Ritz, I like that franchise. A 5-star Ritz, mini-conference center and ski resort. A Pashtun bagpiper playing my old favorite, "The Ass in the Graveyard" with double malt scotch, in the bracing night air.

The Mound of Sound said...

Awesome comment, thanks. Interesting perspectives, some well above my head.