Sunday, August 30, 2009

Afghanistan - Time For a New Experiment

The Guardian thinks we should take a new approach to Afghanistan, try something different - leave.

...The view that elections are the essential ingredient for a stable future is undermined in a country where President Hamid Karzai has stuffed his cabinet with war lords and where a functioning civil society is but a rumour along with the notion of justice. They appear like a fig leaf rather than the ultimate expression of democracy.

It is easy to blame the Taliban for this. But it was the west's half-hearted engagement with Afghanistan, after bringing down the Taliban regime after 9/11, that created the social tensions, particularly in the south, that allowed the Taliban to re-emerge. Promises to create an effective national police force were not followed up with resources. Farmers whose opium was destroyed were promised aid that never came. Billions were spent with little impact on a country with huge unemployment.

This failure is a problem for all of us. With so much invested by the west in the result of the elections, the outcome threatens to leave our politicians without an obvious exit strategy for NATO troops.

We need to recognise that a large part of the difficulty lies with the west's support for President Karzai. For years, US diplomacy has been expended coaxing and threatening Karzai into doing what the west would like: to be less tolerant of corruption, to secure more international investment and to be more effective in delivering services and aid to ordinary people.

Karzai's relationships with drug dealers and war lords are, perhaps, not as serious in the long run as another culpability – his presiding over a regime devoid of the development of any party political system that might have thrown up options for his country's future, rather than a system that has supervised the sharing of its spoils.

It is clear that Karzai is neither capable of nor willing to change. The democratic process has run aground. The west faces the prospect of upholding a dubious regime for a narrow strategic reason – to prevent terrorism in the UK and the US and to stop al-Qaida setting up their terror camps again.

The question now is whether this is necessary. If Nato troops leave Afghanistan, it may become easier for al-Qaida to operate there but, equally, the sense of grievance that attracts Afghans to the Taliban and Muslims to extremism elsewhere may be diminished. But for as long as our troops are in Afghanistan, British soldiers will be killed, making it an increasingly urgent political problem for Gordon Brown.

The government finds itself nailed to the logic of a failed humanitarian intervention where it is hard to abandon what it promised to redeem.

...It is clear that there will be no obvious moment for withdrawal. There are two highly risky options: a commitment to do whatever it takes to rout the Taliban, rebuild Afghan infrastructure, reconfigure Afghan politics and stick around for a generation for which there is a fast diminishing public appetite. Or to set a time-table for a staged military withdrawal.

In the end, it may be that solutions cannot be imposed by the west, but need to emerge from within an Afghan society free of the interference that has for three decades exacerbated its problems.

The writing is on the wall. We in the West cannot relieve Afghanistan of the scourge of warlordism. That failure dooms any prospect of a viable, central government and leaves the nation in a state of suspended civil war just waiting for the Western forces to leave.

We're not just treading water in Afghanistan, we're loitering and the longer we hang around in that country swatting at Taliban flies, the stronger and more broad-based grows the insurgency. Every faction that joins the insurgency is a victory for the Taliban and a defeat for us. This is a war in which time is not on our side and a war that is going badly - on the front lines and in the capital.

The Guardian is right. If Afghanistan's tribes cannot resolve their differences without a civil war and if we can't change that, let's accept the inevitable and leave before that too becomes impossible.


Anonymous said...

There is a cartoon on CBC site on Afghanistan that you will like.

Anonymous said...

It is cartoon number 8 if it does not open at the right page.

The Mound of Sound said...

The cartoon was pretty apt. Thx. I think this election fiasco has really shaken whatever support remained for the Afghan mission, particularly in Europe.

As hard as Obama tries to keep NATO committed to Afghanistan, Karzai and the warlords work harder to undermine the whole thing.

Then again, if Karzai has concluded the future of Afghanistan will be decided by a civil war in any case why would he not want to fight the insurgency openly now before it grows in strength and support? We don't trust him but is there really much reason for him to trust us either?

The Dutch are leaving, Canada is leaving, more than 50% of Americans polled say Afghanistan isn't worth it, America's new commander says (after 8-lost years) we have to start again from scratch - how would you react to all of that if you were Karzai?

At this point I'd favour a military coup not only toppling Karzai but arresting the legislature and, in particular, every warlord and drug lord. I just don't know if the Afghan army is sufficiently cohesive to allow that option.