Monday, April 28, 2008

Afghanisnam Now (Redux)

All that's missing is Francis Ford Coppola. If we could only get him to show up with one of his enormous camera crews, we might just be able to turn Afghanistan into a real war. And maybe that's our only hope of legitimizing the furious fiasco we're foolishly waging in that country.

Big events on the weekend. The Taliban put in an appearance at a big government whoop-up in downtown Kabul and got within spitting distance of Hamid Karzai, popping a few rounds into the reviewing stand and then evaporating. Apparently no one remembered to tell the gunmen to be sure to yell "Bitch" on their way out.

Now you would think that this latest Taliban attempt on Karzai's life would have him racing about in that lovely green cape demanding NATO hunt these bastards down and kill them, kill them all. Well, not quite. In fact, just the opposite. Hamid actually told the New York Times on the weekend that NATO and the US should stop arresting Taliban suspects. Yes, that's right - Hamid Karzai wants us to leave the Taliban alone, leave them to him.

This doesn't make any sense, does it? Of course it does. All it takes is a bit of grade school arithmetic. The Taliban is (optimistically) said to control as little as 10% of Afghanistan. Karzai is (optimistically) said to control as much as 30% of Afghanistan. The country's warlords (other than those who already work for Karzai) are then left with the remaining 60%. The warlords have coalesced into the thoroughly Disloyal Opposition even calling themselves the United National Front.

Now, as for the Taliban, the opposition United National Front is conducting separate negotiations with the Pashtun insurgents. They're cutting out Karzai and the Kabul government and they're doing it because - because they can. Our guy, Karzai, is getting sidelined. If the UNF strikes a deal with the Taliban, Karzai becomes effectively irrelevant.

But what about the Afghan National Army? Yes, exactly. Other than NATO and US forces, it's the Afghan National Army that props up the wobbly Karzai government. So far it's more or less been willing to fight the Taliban but that's no guarantee that the ANA would even consider moving against the Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara and lesser tribes. More likely it would dissolve along ethnic lines into modern, western-trained militias under the command of their respective warlords.

At the end of the day, "We" (NATO and the US) may be the force of unintended national unity for Afghanistan because history shows the one thing that manages to unite the usually raucous Afghan tribes is having a foreign invader's ass to kick. Karzai can be a stand-in for the former Marxist government and we can be the stand-in for the Soviet "assistance" force. Everyone else gets to play Mujaheed on our western ass until we give up and leave. Then, as before, they can sort out their own ethno-political differences in the time-honoured Afghan fashion.

How did we get in this mess? Simple. We failed to properly constitute the Afghanistan government after the Taliban had been driven out. Then we compounded that by failing to finish off the Taliban while we had the chance, when they were in disarray and hiding in the mountains. We left Karzai weak and unable to thwart the demands of the warlords and we left the Taliban able to regroup and recover. Here are some insights from Nick Grono writing last week in The Guardian:

"The sad reality is that Afghanistan has suffered from sustained conflict for almost 30 years. The enduring paradigm is that of abusive power-holders preying on the local populations. The power-holders change - absolute monarchs, Afghan communists, Soviet military, mujahideen, Taliban, and now re-empowered warlords - but the problem remains the same: highly personalised rule, a culture of impunity, and the abuse of large sections of the population on ethnic, regional, tribal, or sectarian grounds.

The US and its allies reinforced this pattern of grievance and impunity in 2001 and 2002 by outsourcing the fighting and stabilisation operations to discredited and largely disempowered warlords and commanders. When they entrenched themselves in their former fiefdoms, they reverted to their old practices of human rights abuse, corruption and drug production, working once again to build their own networks at the expense of central government authority.

The result is festering grievances and an alienated population that often has little faith in its leadership and offers rich pickings for insurgent recruitment."

Their folks, see, what did I tell you? We lost this thing at the very start and allowed our initial failures to ripen and grow and spread to where we are today. But we're the well-intentioned, rich and supremely powerful western world, aren't we? Yes we are indeed, and so what? Rich or poor, weak or powerful, when you get into a war, you have to fight the war that's in front of you. You have to meet its demands and its challenges because it doesn't respect your wealth and your power if you don't employ them.

Back in 2001-2002 we ought to have been deploying a force of 300,000 soldiers or more to Afghanistan, enough to secure the Karzai government, genuinely crush the Taliban and completely defang the warlords. We needed to occupy and secure the countryside so that the villagers and tribal elders were protected from the predations of the insurgents, the warlords and (shudder) the government itself. In neglecting to do those things, in being miserly with our wealth and power when they might have done some good, we prescribed our own defeat.

We're treading water, barely, while the sharks begin to gather at our feet and our government's only response is to not look down.

We've lost too many fine young people in Afghanistan and we're bound to lose a lot more before this farce is over.

1 comment:

LeDaro said...

By the way MOS, I did a blog, on your request to bloggers, on the topic of "What I Can't Stand About Harper". You may check it out on my blog.