Saturday, September 15, 2012
Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory
It's an old phrase, oft used but perhaps never more fittingly than to describe our war in Afghanistan where we succeeded so brilliantly in failure. We defeated ourselves. We defeated the Afghan government. We defeated the people of Afghanistan.
We defeated ourselves. We were not defeated by the Taliban. Outwaiting us isn't winning, it's merely hanging on until the coast is clear. Yet that is all they ever needed to do to prevail given all the other contributions we made to that result.
Our contributions? Sure and they've got names like Karzai, Fahim, Dostum and all the other warlords, criminals and punks to whom we entrusted the governance of Afghanistan. We saddled Afghanistan with a government the country couldn't survive - and it hasn't.
Years ago the State Department warned the U.S. Congress that there has never been a successful, stable and modern Muslim country that didn't first overcome warlordism and tribalism, two forces that we actually enshrined in the post-Taliban government. By our narrative the Northern Alliance warlords were our heroic allies instead of just the other, murderous fanatics.
Where we needed to give post-Taliban Afghanistan a legitimate government we instead bequeathed the Afghan people a criminal enterprise. We allowed the impoverished country to embrace the irresistible lure of a narco-economy creating what Chatham House described as a "criminal nexus" of a corrupt government and bureaucracy, a powerful structure of drug lords and an insurgency all fueled by opiate wealth. From Eurasia Review:
The current crisis can be traced to the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy during the 1970s, which was a unifying force that helped bind the disparate ethnic and tribal groups together. Societal fragmentation has been working in the Taliban’s favor. With the death of the dynastic principle and the absence of a well-respected national leader as head of state, Afghan society now lacks a common lineal thread with the past that could unify the nation.
Polls have indicated that the Taliban are even more unpopular than the reprobate U.S.-backed Karzai government. However, Taliban popularity seems to be on the rise as more and more Afghans are alienated by corruption, civilian casualties, Koran burnings and mass murders. Thomas Rutting of the Afghanistan Analysts Network described the lack of options the Pashtuns have available: “In today’s violent atmosphere, between the anvil of the Karzai government and the hammer of the Taliban, there are no viable political alternatives for Pashtuns.”
Afghanistan has always been a dedicated Muslim society but most Afghans never embraced the Wahhabist fanaticism of the House of Saud or the extremist doctrine peddled by the Deobandi school. Afghan spiritual beliefs were always a mixture of secular tribal values and Islam. Not to mention many Afghans adhered to the Sufi mystic tradition, which is denounced by modern hardliners.
Extremists have pushed Afghan society into becoming more and more madrassa-centered as opposed to jirga or shura-centered. In short, the traditional secular power of the khan is now bowing to the authority of the mosque and the mullah, despite the fact that Pashtunwali, the Afghan ancient tribal code, predates Islam by 4,000 years.
Tribal experts have noticed a disturbing trend within the past few years. Although the Afghans have, for the most part, refused to accept the Taliban ideology at depth, the Taliban have been successful in gradually eroding traditional Afghan tribal values by eating away at the social fabric of Afghan society. Demographics point to a growing amnesia of the golden years of King Zahir Shah as upcoming generations are increasingly radicalized by the Taliban’s perverted version of Islam.
The confluence of corruption, radicalism and foreign occupation is exacerbating this trend, and until it is reversed, Afghanistan is at risk of remaining a radically violent failed state in perpetuity.
While the Western coalition has focused more time on winning militarily, we’ve lost or simply ignored the battle of the narrative, which is the jihadist’s center of gravity. The U.S. military’s entire COIN doctrine is premised on winning the hearts and minds of the local populace, yet American tactics such as errant drone strikes and humiliating night raids have continually alienated native Afghans, rendering a complete antipodal effect.
Back at home we have a political and military leadership intent on slathering lipstick on this pig and declaring victory where none exists. They will crown themselves with laurels they have not earned. For when, in 2014, we pull our forces out, we're not really handing the country over to the Afghan government and army. We're handing it back to Pakistan and the military that spawned the terrorist state we saw fit to invade.
Since the 1990s via its Taliban proxy, the intelligence and military instruments of the Pakistani state have transformed Afghanistan into an epicenter of global terrorism. Through a gradual process of destroying Pashtun tribal culture the Pakistani state has attempted to de-Pashtunize and Arabicize the Pashtuns by subjugating them to the Taliban’s ultraorthodox Islamic belief system, which is an affront to traditional Afghan sensibilities. Taliban assassination campaigns against tribal elders clearly betray the group’s maniacal designs.