Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Simple Minds In a Complex World

We in the West like to keep things simple, especially when those things relate to countries on the other side of the world.  We like to reduce everything to basic math - i.e., Afghanistan + Insurgency = Taliban.   We've even based a decade of warfighting around it.

Yet when it comes to insurgencies - armed, violent nationalist movements - the Talibs share their region with several others.  Take the Balochs.   Like the Pashtun, the Taliban tribe, the Balochs have a traditional homeland divided by some Brit named Durand between Afghanistan and Pakistan.   You may not have heard much about it, but the Balochs have been waging their own insurgency against Pakistan for years.   Baluchistan has the richest store of minerals in Pakistan and Islamabad wants that wealth but the Balochs, long neglected or alternately set upon by the Punjabis and Sindhis, would rather be free.   So they've got an insurgency underway and America, at the moment, is sitting on the fence.

Meanwhile, in northern Afghanistan, other groups are on the prowl, outfits like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).  Uzbek insurgents have been linked to the late May attack that killed the Takhar province governor and the head of the Afghan National Police.  The IMU is said to be linked to both the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Just trying to keep track of these insurgent movements is like trying to herd cats.  Kyrgyzstan is complaining about a bunch called the Islamic Movement of Kyrgyzstan which is actually made up of minority Uzbek dissidents said to be currently training in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Then there's the Tajiks.  A five year civil war involving the United Tajik Opposition came to an end in 1997, sort of, but since then former UTO activists have been hunted down by government assassins, re-igniting the insurgency.

The point is that insurgency is virtually a pastime in this region.  It ebbs and flows across notional state boundaries with a broad cast of players who themselves come and go and are replaced in turn.   You can't bomb this mess into submission because there is no weapon yet invented that can resolve the underlying causes of these revolts.

We went into Afghanistan with an objective that was as fatally simplistic as it was unattainable.  We have achieved about as limited a defeat as we could have ever hoped for and that's about as good as it's ever going to get until they sort out their own problems.  We fought them off for about a decade and we kept Kabul from falling - and that's it.  We haven't changed Afghanistan.  It remains one of the worst "failed states" in the world.    Today it was proclaimed the very worst country in which to be born female.   What conceivable purpose is there for continuing to pour lives and treasure into such a place?  We did the math and came up with the wrong answer.  It's time to move on.


Owen Gray said...

And this is not the first time we've achieved such an underwhelming outcome. It would have been wise to consult Greek, Russian and British history before we marched merrily off to war.

Doz said...

Re Owen Grey comment

Or even our own. See the Boer War. Different century, different empire same type of war.