Afghanistan – to be or not?

“democracies make elections, elections don’t make democracies”


After Afghanistan’s fraudulent elections President Obama’s future politics in failing state is still foggy. Conflicting views of Obama’s staff, escalation of War to Pakistan, lack of clear vision and strategy are not making choice easy. The rest of the world is waiting U.S. leadership and considering same time their exit strategies. For EU latest now it is time for a rethink (European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and crisis management practice.

After catastrophic first round there is a plan to have a bit more fair second round on 7th November. However Karzai’s opponent former FM Abdullah Abdullah has indicated that he does not believe election system and is planning to withdraw his candidature. After that people can make the democratic choice between one candidate only. This mess with elections shows clearly that central government in Kabul can not be effective partner while seeking new strategy for Afghanistan. It also underscores how ridiculous it is to import desk drawer plans from Brussels or Washington to totally different environment. On the other hand on country side the Taliban are the residents of that place and historically they have proved how resistant they are towards the foreign invaders and their ideas.

Some historical background

In Afghanistan, prior to the Russian invasion, the PDPA or ( the Peoples Democratic Party of
Afghanistan) invited the USSR to assist in modernizing its economic infrastructure, mainly exploration and mining of minerals and natural gas. The USSR also sent contractors to build hospitals, roads and schools and to drill water wells. They also trained and equipped the Afghan army. The country was then renamed the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), and the PDPA regime lasted, in some form or another, until April 1992.


Once in power, the PDPA moved to permit freedom of religion and carried out an ambitious land reform waiving farmers’ debts countrywide. They also made a number of statements on women’s rights and introduced women to political life. A prominent example was Anahita Ratebzad, who was a major Marxist leader and a member of the Revolutionary Council. Ratebzad wrote the famous May 28, 1978 New Kabul Times editorial which declared: “Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country … Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention.”

As part of a Cold War, in 1979 the United States government began to covertly fund forces ranged against the pro-Soviet government, although warned that this might prompt a Soviet intervention. The secular nature of the government made it unpopular with conservative Afghans in the villages and the countryside who favoured traditionalist ” Islamic” restrictions on women’s rights and in daily life. Many groups, led by members of the traditional establishment were formed, some of them resorting to violence and sabotage to the country’s infrastructure and industry. under the umbrella of Mujahideen, or ” Holy Muslim Warriors”. The Mujahideen belonged to various different factions, but all shared, to varying degrees, a similarly conservative ‘Islamic’ ideology.

The Soviet Union intervened on December 24, 1979. Over 100,000 Soviet troops took part in the invasion backed by another one hundred thousand and by members of the Parcham faction. For over nine years the Soviet Army conducted military operations against the Afghan Mujahideen rebels. The American CIA, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia assisted in the financing of the resistance also because of the anti-communist stance. Among the foreign participants in the war was Osama bin Laden, whose MAK ( maktab al-Khidamat/Office of Order) organization trained a small number of Mujahideen and provided some arms and funds to fight the Soviets. Around 1988 MAK broke away from the Mujahideen to expand the anti-Soviet resistance effort into a world-wide Islamic fundamentalist movement.

The Soviets withdrew its troops in February of 1989, but continued aid to the government led by Mohammed Najibullah. Massive amounts of aid from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to the Mujahideen also continued. Fighting continued among the victorious Mujahideen factions, which gave rise to a state of warlordism. It was at this time that the Taliban developed as a politico-religious force, eventually seizing Kabul in 1996 and establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. By the end of 2000 the Taliban had captured 95% of the country.

During the Taliban’s seven-year rule, much of the population experienced restrictions on their freedom and violations of their human rights. Women were banned from jobs, girls forbidden to attend schools or universities. Communists were systematically eradicated and thieves were punished by amputating one of their hands or feet. Opium production was nearly wiped out by the Taliban by 2001.

Now war in Afghanistan has slogged on for nearly nine years, making it longer than America’s involvement in World Wars I and II combined. U.S. has already spent $228 billion, almost 1000 Americans have been killed (nearly 200 so far this year), and Obama’s summer surge has muscled up America’s Afghan presence to 68,000 troops (plus another 42,000 from NATO. After last elections there is some base to claim that Obama is strengthening a central government that is “infamously incompetent, openly corrupt, criminally abusive, and thoroughly despised”.

Interactive tracking the U.S. War in Afghanistan here!

COIN: McChrystal’s plan

“Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. In the struggle to gain the support of the people, every action we take must enable this effort.” (Gen. McChrystal)

The integrated counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy that McChrystal wants to pursue has many components: protecting Afghan civilians, rapidly expanding the Afghan army and police, reforming government, providing economic development assistance, weaning Taliban fighters and leaders away from Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, reconciling them into the new government, and targeting those who refuse. This makes it a demanding strategy that McChrystal reportedly believes will require providing at least an additional 10,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops and more than doubling existing Afghan forces to a total of 400,000 indigenous soldiers and police.

McChrystal says that, “Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. In the struggle to gain the support of the people, every action we take must enable this effort.”

McChrystal’s strategy can be seen as an applied version of Gen. Petraeus’ strategy in Iraq. However when in Iraq could be found an inner conflict between Shia and Sunni factions, between Kurds and other ethnic groups in Afghanistan there is no popular revolt against the Taliban, only a culture in which dominant local warlords flit from one allegiance to another. It defeated the British in 1842 and the Soviets in 1989.

Now the coalition has enough troops to carry out a “clear, hold and build” strategy – but only in a few districts. Overall force levels remain far below what they were in Iraq during the surge – when 174,000 foreign troops worked with 430,000 Iraqi security personnel. Afghanistan, which is bigger than Iraq, has just 102,000 coalition troops and 175,000 local security forces. More from article by Max Boot “There’s No Substitute for Troops on the Ground” October 22, 2009/New york Times.

Integrated COIN is itself no guarantee of success. Social scientists have estimated its success rate at somewhere between 25 and 70 percent at best.

Other alternatives

Today, the war in Afghanistan is at a historic juncture. At this crucial stage President Obama is set to take a risky decision. He has to decide between sending more troops in line with General McChrystal’s demand or to reduce forces in accordance with an exit strategy. There is alternative strategies and quite comprehensive analysis can be found e.g. from article “Is There a Middle Way” by Stephen Biddle in The New Republic on October 20th, 2009 which has been my main source with options below.


1) Use Drones

Another popular middle way is to rely on drone attacks, of the kind now ongoing in northwest Pakistan, to suppress Al Qaeda without a major ground commitment in Afghanistan. By killing key leaders and limiting the others’ freedom of action, it is argued, the drone strikes make large-scale terrorism much harder. Drone-based counterterrorism cannot destroy Al Qaeda outright, but it might be able to constrain it far more cheaply than a major counterinsurgency campaign could.

The biggest challenge to relying on drones is the need for intelligence. Drones are not wonder weapons; in particular, they require information on targets’ whereabouts that is normally provided by other assets–and especially by host government cooperation on the ground. It was Pakistani government penetration of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, for example, that reportedly enabled a U.S. Predator drone to kill terrorist leader Baitullah Meshud in August 2009. In general, such spies, informants, and other tipsters are key intelligence sources for drone attacks on secretive terrorist groups. This “human intelligence,” however, is very hard to get if the government on the ground decides to deny it to the United States.


According to media reports, significant elements within the civilian leadership of the government, led by Vice President Joe Biden, have opposed McChrystal’s plan for an intensified counterinsurgency campaign aimed at breaking the resistance of the Afghan people to US occupation. Instead, Biden and others have proposed an alternative strategy, which reportedly relies on air strikes, accelerated training of Afghan puppet forces and the use of US special forces troops to strike against insurgents across the border in Pakistan.

2) Reconcile with the Taliban


“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to have good and positive relations with all neighbors based on mutual respect and open a new chapter of good neighborliness of mutual cooperation and economic development. We consider the whole region as a common home against colonialism and want to play our role in peace and stability of the region. “

The quote above is from open letter of Taliban leader Mullah Omar to Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit on 19th September 2009. The letter indicated a shift in Taliban’s general policy and approach towards neighboring countries, the US and Europe.In the same tone, he assured China, India and Russia that the Taliban is going to play positive role in establishing peace and stability in the region. According to some observers who closely monitor the Taliban’s activities, these are new efforts to set out their priorities by focusing on Afghani interests rather than holding to a wide global network.

Recently the Taliban have become more watchful of the foreign Jihadists in Afghanistan. They require foreign militants to work the under supervision of the Taliban provincial commanders. Foreign militant are now not allowed, like before, to carry out their activities. independently.

Another common proposal is to negotiate a power-sharing deal with some or all of the Taliban as a means of ending the war without the escalation embodied in the McChrystal recommendations. America’s real interests are quite limited, it is often argued, so why not pursue a settlement to bring the Taliban into a coalition government on the proviso that they keep Al Qaeda out and deny the use of Afghan territory for destabilizing Pakistan?Karzai has reportedly been reaching out to the Quetta Shura and Hekmatyar factions of the Taliban via Saudi intermediaries for some time now; the talks have never made real progress because the Taliban insist on a total withdrawal of foreign forces as a precondition for negotiation.


3) Buy Off Warlords


It is sometimes argued that the West should stabilize Afghanistan and control Al Qaeda by paying warlords, tribal leaders, or other local power brokers to police their own turf, rather than relying on the national government in Kabul to control the entire country. Afghanistan has never had a strong central government, and order in the provinces has often been maintained by local authorities, legal and otherwise. The British, it is said, found direct control impossible but managed to wield influence by paying tribal or factional leaders. If the United States is willing to settle for government-by-warlord, then it could avoid the expense and risk of an orthodox counterinsurgency campaign while still denying militants access to Afghan havens.The traditional tribal leadership is one thing, but many of Afghanistan’s former warlords and current narcotics kingpins are hated figures whose predatory rule is disliked even more than that of the Taliban.


About a month ago there was stories that some Nato troops bribed local Taliban in exchange for safer environment. Now same idea is considered also by U.S. Americans believe that local Taliban fighters are motivated largely by the need for a job or loyalty to the local leader who pays them and not by ideology or religious zeal, so there could be change to attract these fighters to the government’s side.

The idea of bribing people, local guys, is one of the most cost-effective ways to get people to lay down their arms. It’s based to believe that most Taliban are not politically motivated but are operating for pay or due frustration. However while the plan has a reasonable chance for some success it may not be a long-term solution, it’s more a temporary allegiance.

4) Send Aid, Not Troops

Another proposal would shift the international contribution from combat to development assistance. Prosperity and an economic stake in the government, it is argued, can wean the population from the Taliban more effectively than force, which inevitably causes collateral damage and kills innocent civilians.

Aid is inherently political and is clearly understood to be so by the Taliban, who systematically target Western aid projects for attack. Without large security forces to defend them, aid projects cannot survive. In fact, development projects in Afghanistan are often destroyed even when they are defended, if those defenses are inadequate. No sensible Taliban would allow aid projects to undermine their control over the population when insurgents have the means at their disposal to destroy them or to intimidate their staff. Aid without security in Afghanistan would be fruitless.

EU’s role

EU Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL Afghanistan), launched June 2007 has a mandate to support the Afghan government in establishing a police force that respects human rights. Intended to employ 400 police officers, the mission has struggled to attract 280 and has seen its leadership change three times in two years. The mission’s mandate is due to expire in June 2010, though is likely to be extended.

European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) report “Can the EU rebuild failing states?” is a critical analysis about EU’s ESDP practice and I have used it as my main source related to EU’s role in Afghanistan.

The next generation of ESDP missions are likely to look more like Gaza, Afghanistan and Somalia: fluid, violent and with few clear-cut good and bad guys. To ensure that speed, security and self-sufficiency are at the heart of future interventions, the EU must scrap the idea that civilian missions are best designed by diplomats and European Council officials in Brussels. Responsibility must shift to civilians on the ground, whom the EU should deploy early to develop scalable assistance partnerships with unstable countries.

The European Union prides itself on being able to deal with fragile and failing states outside its borders, from Kosovo to Kabul, through what it believes to be its distinctive combination of “hard” power – coercion by military or other means – and “soft” power – persuasion through trade, diplomacy, aid and the spread of values. The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), launched in 1999, exemplifies the EU’s commitment to the so-called “comprehensive approach” – a strategy that emphasises the importance of combining civilian and military tools when dealing with external security challenges. The new mission concept can only be effective if complemented by developments in Brussels. First, assuming the Lisbon treaty is passed, the new high representative for foreign policy should appoint a senior deputy to oversee the EU’s policy towards fragile and failing states. Second, the new External Action Service (EAS) should be structured to support integration in the field. Each mission should have “best practice” officers, reporting directly to the EUSR, who would draft reports on how to avoid past mistakes. Additionally, a “lesson-learning” unit should be set up in the Council Secretariat to synthesise reports from the field. Finally, each intervention must work to a set of benchmarks, progress of which should be tracked regularly.

While the total Afghan population is 28,150,000. Some 3.3 million Afghans are now involved in producing opium. A low estimate of the amount that the Taliban earn from the opium economy is $10 million, but considering the tradition of imposing tithes on cultivation and activities further up the value chain, the total is likely to be at least $20 million. As part of EU’s soft power one priority is developing agriculture in Afghanistan. One concrete project could be investigate a licensing scheme to start the production of medicines such as morphine and codeine from poppy crops to help it escape the economic dependence on opium. As much as one-third of Afghanistan’s GPD comes from growing poppy and illicit drugs including opium, morphine and heroin as well as hashish production. Proposed development project however can be difficult to implement politically as Ahmed Wali Karzai – The brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai – is a suspected player in Afghanistan’s opium trade and has been paid by the CIA over the past eight years for services.

Democracy?

The history of Afghanistan shows that they’ve practised pure Greek democracy at the village level for two millennia – to export today’s western democracy idea to Afghanistan without understanding this background may work in cabinets but not on the field. It’s arrogance to think that West easily could come in and install Jeffersonian representative democracy on Afghanistan.


Maybe the best democratic idea could be use an emergency loya jirga (a temporary council traditionally made up of representatives from Afghan tribes and opposing factions used decide matters of national significance). Loya jirga with 1,500 to 2,000 delegates representing all of the major players and parts of the countries could resolve today’s problems like they have traditionally resolved them in the past.

Real U.S. Motives?

It appears that the U.S. military may be a wholly owned subsidiary of the international (i.e. American and British)oil companies). U.S.military’s involvement in Afghanistan is directly related to the large reserves of natural gas in Turkmenistan. It seems that the U.S. interest in increasing troop levels in Afghanistan jumped a notch along with the recently publicized discovery of the very large large natural gas reserves in the Yoloten-Osman gas field in southern Turkmenistan. The TAPI gas pipeline can be one answer why U.S. invade Afghanistan. The wider picture is that U.S. tries to implement its Silk Road Strategy (SRS) by securing control over extensive oil and gas reserves, as well as “protecting” pipeline routes and trade on Eurasian corridor. This militarization is largely directed against China, Russia and Iran. More about SRS in my article “Is GUUAM dead?


Spin-offs

While Afghanistan could be an attractive terrorist base, it is not at all crucial to al Qaeda, which now has many ‘homes,’ including fiery spinoffs in Indonesia, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as in enclaves in France and England. The anti-Taliban operations launched in the valley of Swat in May 2009 forced some parts of foreign hirelings move to Central Asian states bordering with Afghanistan. This May a 100-men detachment led by the former field commander of the United Tajik Opposition Mullo Abdullo (Rakhimov) showed up in eastern Tajikistan. In late May an Uzbek check-point in Khanabad on the Kyrgyz border was attacked at night, and a few blasts later hit Andizhan. In July two operations were carried out in Southern Kyrgyzstan. All these incidents are linked with the return of some militants from the Afghan-Pakistan areas to Central Asia.


By autumn the situation in Uzbekistan worsened. The republic saw an outbreak of violent attacks aimed at high-ranking religious figures followed by a series of armed clashes and detentions of suspected criminals. The exact number of militants from Central Asia who have been staying in the Tribe Zone (on the Afghan-Pakistan border) is yet unknown. In mid September western media reported some 5.000 Uzbek militants to be hiding in North and South Waziristan. The real thread is growing terror activity in Russia’s southern borders (in Central Asia) and in Russia’s North Caucasus.


Opium etc production and politics have interactive connection especially in Afghanistan. Earlier I have studied how US foreign policy tactics helped to create logistics between markets via Balkan route and producers of heroin. This creature has been further developed by itself more strong by financial connection between Wahhabi organizations e.g. in Kosovo and international terrorism and Wahhabis as potential pool for operations. Same time there is historical and social link between organized crime groups and Kosovo’s political leaders. All this has also its international dimensions. I have described the outcome as Fourfold or Quadruple Helix Model where government, underworld, Wahhabbi schools and international terrorism have win-win symbiosis. More in my article “Quadruple Helix – Capturing Kosovo”.

Al-Qaeda does not require Afghan real estate to constitute a regional or global threat. Terrorists gravitate to areas of least resistance; if they cannot use Afghanistan, they will use countries such as Yemen or Somalia, as in fact they already are. The one issue that should be at the core of the United States’ Afghan strategy is Pakistan. It is there, not Afghanistan, where the United States has vital national interests. These stem from Pakistan’s dozens of nuclear weapons, the presence on its soil of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and the potential for a clash with India that could escalate to a nuclear confrontation.


My view

Speaking about “War on Terror” I think it is time to make a difference between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Taliban are mainly local Afghans who do not want to be occupied by any invading army, local Afghan nationalists resisting occupation. They may be ISI Pakistani agents fighting a proxy war against the US, drug smugglers and opium growers protecting their drug territories, foreign jihadists and the angry relatives of Afghans killed by coalition forces getting revenge.

One does not need to like about Taliban nor accept their ideology, but one should agree that they more or less represent their country. So if they concentrate – as indicated in last letter of Mullah Omar to SCO – Afghanistan’s inner policy without affection towards terror export to foreign countries why not give them change.

From my point of view the future strategy towards Afghanistan – if the aim is to get some sustainability – should be based on two principles:

  • Bottom-up principle, where the actions, development plans and administration are made starting from local, village level; not from high flown programmes made in Brussels or Washington.
  • Integrated approach where security, economy, local participation/commitment and administration are not separate sectors.

My conclusion is that the core question is not in or out. I would see the word with as best practice for future relations between U.S./EU and Afghanistan. The local stakeholder may or may not accept cooperation with foreigners but it is their choice as it is choice for U.S./EU to participate and invest to Afghanistan’s development plans or not.


4 Responses to Afghanistan – to be or not?

  1. [...] Afghanistan – to be or not? [...]

  2. The Rebelution is known as a Christian ministry aiming to help teenage to revolt in opposition to the low expectation of an ungodly culture. A fight for great and righteousness.

  3. [...] About U.S. strategy in Afghanistan: Will COIN work in Afghanistan? andAfghanistan – to be or not? [...]

  4. [...] About U.S. strategy in Afghanistan: Will COIN work in Afghanistan? andAfghanistan – to be or not? [...]

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