Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The Afghan National Army - A Square Peg for a Round Hole
Fact: Afghanistan is deeply rent along ethnic lines. Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek, Tajik, Baloch, Turkmen and more. There are real linguistic, cultural and, yes, ethnic divides that have, for centuries, denied Afghanistan the cohesive nationhood other countries enjoy.
The Taliban are the home team of the Pashtun. The Northern Alliance represented the other ethnic groups. There's an enormous amount of bad blood between them from decades of ethnic violence and atrocities. We haven't begun to sort that out and yet we expect Afghanistan to be able to field a truly "national" army. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, that's not really working out.
"...in southern Afghanistan, the focus of the US war effort, nearly all the Afghan soldiers are foreigners, too. Few even speak the local language. Despite ethnic quotas and recruiting drives, the Afghan army is still dominated by northern minorities who were oppressed by the Taliban.
Nearly all Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns, the country's biggest ethnic group. Although many Pashtuns are not connected to the Taliban at all, the rift between the northerners and the southern Pashtuns runs deep.
Now this ethnically skewed army is pouring into southern Afghanistan as part of an operation to squeeze the Taliban out of strongholds and win the loyalty of the Afghan people.
...''We can be here in the Pashtun area for 1000 years, but they will never be our friends,'' said Lieutenant Gulagha Haksar, a 30-year-old soldier teamed with US troops in the strategic Arghandab Valley. An ethnic Tajik, Lieutenant Gulagha remembers the killing rampages by the Taliban in his home town in the north-eastern province of Takhar.
...When the Afghans go on patrol in surrounding villages, they are treated as outsiders.
''When they see us, the old men say, 'They are the sons of the British,''' Lieutenant Gulagha said, explaining that villagers equate the US and the Afghan soldiers with the British attempt to colonise Afghanistan in the 19th century.
There you have it. How is anyone going to make the Afghan National Army work in a country this divided? It truly is a square peg for a round hole. Yet this is the very force we're counting on so that we can withdraw from that country. See anything wrong with that idea?