Hillary Clinton says the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan are our "partners". Did you know that?
“I will be the first to admit that working with our Afghan and Pakistani partners is not always easy,” Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “But these relationships are advancing America’s national security interests, and walking away from them would undermine those interests.”
The US government goes to considerable lengths to avoid offending Afghan President Hamid Karzai. A US Army general who made frank comments about the Afghan government got fired for criticizing our "partners".
Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller, the deputy commander for programs at the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, based in Kabul, was relieved of his duties by the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, after comments Fuller made to the news Web site Politico.
WPost reports these comments probably will lead to him being retired - i.e. booted from the Army.
Then there's our other partner Pakistan. Read the piece by Marc Ambinder and Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic entitled The Ally From Hell.
Pakistan lies. It hosted Osama bin Laden (knowingly or not). Its government is barely functional. It hates the democracy next door. It is home to both radical jihadists and a large and growing nuclear arsenal (which it fears the U.S. will seize). Its intelligence service sponsors terrorists who attack American troops. With a friend like this, who needs enemies?
Feel like being scared? Check out how Pakistan moves its nukes around:
Nuclear-weapons components are sometimes moved by helicopter and sometimes moved over roads. And instead of moving nuclear material in armored, well-defended convoys, the SPD prefers to move material by subterfuge, in civilian-style vehicles without noticeable defenses, in the regular flow of traffic. According to both Pakistani and American sources, vans with a modest security profile are sometimes the preferred conveyance. And according to a senior U.S. intelligence official, the Pakistanis have begun using this low-security method to transfer not merely the “de-mated” component nuclear parts but “mated” nuclear weapons. Western nuclear experts have feared that Pakistan is building small, “tactical” nuclear weapons for quick deployment on the battlefield. In fact, not only is Pakistan building these devices, it is also now moving them over roads.
Pakistan, America's biggest foreign policy nightmare. Does fighting in Afghanistan make it harder or easier to reduce the chances that Pakistan's nukes will fall into the hands of terrorist groups?
The US intervention in Afghanistan props up a thoroughly corrupt government which is fighting a corrupt Taliban. An AP story highlights the pervasiveness of corruption and bribery in Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON — The farmer picking apples in the outskirts of Kabul must pay the Taliban $33 to ship out each truckload of fruit. The governor sends in armed men to chase workers off job sites if the official bribes aren’t paid. Poor neighborhoods never get their U.N.-provided wheat, long since sold on the black market.
Read the whole thing to see how bad it is. Also see this WikiLeaks US diplomatic cable about corruption in Afghanistan. We can't lift up the Afghans into a democratic republic. But why? With one of the world's highest rates of consanguineous (cousin) marriage they lack the attributes necessary to build an uncorrupt society. Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development The US-European intervention in Libya runs up against the same problem with high rates of cousin marriage. What has made Europe so different than the Middle East? Multiple causes no doubt. But "hbd chick" says Europe was able to develop democratic nation-states because the Catholic Church banned consanguineous marriage a long time ago. Critics of the Popes should take note.
Here's a previous explanation I've given on why cousin marriage is the enemy of civil society.
The need for alliances: First off, people are more willing to help their brothers and sisters than their cousins. But they are more willing to help their cousins than to help strangers. Okay, so suppose a man marries his female cousin. Now both he and his wife can go to her brothers and ask for help. They are far more inclined to provide that help because they'll be helping not only their cousin but also their sister with the same act of help.
But if you are married to your male cousin's sister and he is married to your sister you are both far more loyal to each other. But if you are far more loyal to each other you are far less loyal to everyone else. This creates problems in the society as a whole because then there's less motivation to treat all people fairly and do perform acts that benefit everyone.
Middle Eastern societies are very corrupt. Their governments are very inefficient and have bureaucracies that are hard to deal with. You have a hard time getting fair treatment from their bureaucracies and court systems. Why? Lots of the workers in those organizations have primary loyalties outside of the government that are very demanding on them. They've got to cheat and steal from non-relatives in order to fulfill their extended family obligations.
The need for alliances grows out of the lack of ability to deal anonymously with organizations. You've got to have family connections in order to get by. This feeds on itself in a vicious cycle. If you need cousin marriage then you engage in it to help yourself. But that makes you more inclined to screw others which means they need cousin marriage too.
A realistic foreign policy would throw out the last half century of politically correct nonsense about human nature and go back to earlier wisdom for guidance. John Adams on virtue and republics comes to mind:
The Form of Government, which you admire, when its Principles are pure is admirable, indeed, it is productive of every Thing, which is great and excellent among Men. But its Principles are as easily destroyed, as human Nature is corrupted. Such a Government is only to be supported by pure Religion or Austere Morals. Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty: and this public Passion must be Superiour to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions and Interests, nay, their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in Competition with the Rights of Society.
If a people lack Virtue as Adams understood it then US foreign policy should not assume an outcome is possible which relies in that Virtue.
Why doesn't US foreign policy adopt a much more realistic view of the character of individual nations? Why not accept that factors like consanguineous marriage place severe limits on what we can hope to achieve in our many foreign interventions? Unfortunately, too many elite interests stand in the way of a foreign policy shaped around only vital US interests. Part of the problem, I suspect, is as biological as cousin marriage. Daniel Larison notes a recurring theme of invented enemies even in 19th century European statecraft. This problem is not just the result of neoconservatives trying to make the US dominate the Middle East. A bunch of guys with a large amount of military power are going to tend to look around for enemies. The might of the US military attracts people who invent enemies in their minds to the levers that control it.
The administration has accelerated direct talks with the Taliban, initiated several months ago, that U.S. officials say they hope will enable President Obama to report progress toward a settlement of the Afghanistan war when he announces troop withdrawals in July.
A senior Afghan official said a U.S. representative attended at least three meetings in Qatar and Germany, one as recently as “eight or nine days ago,” with a Taliban official considered close to Mohammad Omar, the group’s leader.
A reporter should get Henry Kissinger on record with his views about this negotiation. Who is serving as the Taliban's Le Duc Tho and will he decline the Nobel Peace Prize? Will Obama share the Peace Prize with Mullah Omar?
Themes in American foreign policy debates seem to recur with different names. "Who lost China?" has morphed into "Who lost our influence on some corrupt leader we put into power in a tribal backwater?". Of course, for the sake of political correctness the question gets asked in a way that is less revealing. Writing in Foreign Policy Ahmed Rashid has an essay How Obama Lost Karzai.
Ironically, 2010 was supposed to be a new "year one" for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, when the Americans, after years of neglecting the country in favor of Iraq, finally invested the resources necessary to defeat the Taliban and rebuild the country. Instead, things got worse. Last year saw the highest death toll of U.S.-led coalition forces since the beginning of the war, increasing civilian casualties, and the spread of the Taliban insurgency, once contained in south and east Afghanistan, into the north and west as well.
Did Obama lose Afghanistan? Or (much more likely) was it never ours to lose? Also, how did the Taliban spread into areas populated by other tribal groupings? Northern Afghanistan isn't Pashtun and the people in the north do not even belong in the same country as the Pashtun.
At the heart of the failure, both a cause and consequence of it, is the tattered U.S. relationship with Karzai, an alliance that has cost the United States more than $330 billion and nearly 1,400 soldiers' lives, but is now at the lowest ebb of its nearly decade-long history.
One cause of US foreign policy failure in Afghanistan: consanguineous marriage. Lots of illiterate cousins marrying each other with no loyalty to higher level political entities.
What's sad for the Republic: That we can waste a few hundred billion dollars and 1,400 lives (and probably 10 times or more that many with permanent disabilities, including brain damage from IEDs) over 10 years and not have the continuation of the war become a major issue of policy debate.
U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration plainly do not trust the Afghan leader, or even much like him. Apparently convinced that cleaning up the Afghan government is more important to the country's stability than Karzai himself, U.S. authorities have mounted increasingly confrontational anti-corruption investigations of his inner circle.
Okay, Barack Obama does not have great intuitions about handling other people. He is where he is mostly because of the eagerness of others to project their fantasies on him. But America was never going to achieve a great transformation of Afghanistan in the first place. So Obama's mistakes just worsen a naturally bad situation.
From the Afghan president's perspective, Washington treats him with a mixture of insult and confusion. During Obama's December visit to U.S. troops at Bagram air base outside Kabul, bad weather prevented him from flying by helicopter to the nearby capital. Rather than wait for the weather to clear -- a matter of hours perhaps -- Obama left without seeing Karzai. It was a snub that Afghans will not forget. A few days later, Vice President Joe Biden said that U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by 2014 come hell or high water -- and then told Karzai in mid-January that U.S. forces would stay beyond the deadline.
A serious US foreign policy would not have Joe Biden involved in its formulation.
Saleem H. Ali says we should accept that the Pashtun are a bunch of tribal fundamentalist Muslims and repartition Pakistan and Afghanistan to create a region between them where the nutters can practice their own form of governance. See his essay The Islamic Republic of Talibanistan.
The fact is that the Taliban and other Islamist elements are popular in the region out of which they operate, the Pashtun tribal belt between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This has always been an utterly conservative locale where the local population has generally favored Islamic fundamentalism. Even going back to the 1930s, Waziristan's rallying flag against the British was a simple white calligraphic "Allah-Akbar" (God is Great) on red fabric.
Give the Pashtuns their own sandbox to play in. Makes sense to me.
Although the West and its allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been terrified by the specter of a second Islamic republic, there is a way to mitigate the threat: the creation of a semiautonomous region where Islamists can exercise their draconian system of law -- if that is what the people agree to impose upon themselves. Just as the creation of Pakistan involved a migration, or hijrah, the radical elements in both countries who yearn for an Islamic emirate can be allowed to migrate to this hinterland and help build their new political order.
One needs an enormous cynicism about human nature to handle a place like Afghanistan. Our own national ideology of multi-cultural democracy blinds officers and civilian policymakers alike from the mental model of human nature needed to do deals in Afghanistan.
Christopher Hitchens, still alive and thinking in spite of cancer, points to a New York Times article about how Western human rights groups in Afghanistan only now have shifted the focus of their attention away from NATO troops and toward the Taliban as human rights violators. Do human rights groups attract a disproportionate number of fools? Or are they really at war with their own civilization with the rest of the world serving as useful props?
Even in a week that concentrated all eyes on the magnificent courage and maturity of the people of Cairo, a report from Kabul began with what must surely be the most jaw-dropping opening paragraph of the year. Under the byline of the excellent Rod Nordland, the New York Times reported:
International and local human rights groups working in Afghanistan have shifted their focus toward condemning abuses committed by the Taliban insurgents, rather than those attributed to the American military and its allies.
The story went on to point out that the Taliban was culpable for "more than three-fourths of all civilian casualties" and informed us that some human-rights groups are now so concerned that they are thinking of indicting the Taliban for war crimes. "The activists' concern," Nordland went on, "would have been unheard-of a year ago," when all the outcry was directed at casualties inflicted by NATO contingents.
What took the turn of heart? A big attack in an upscale supermarket in Afghanistan. So, like, if the Taliban would start attacking Trader Joes stores would that turn all of the American Left against them? I mean, I like Trader Joes. I would prefer the Taliban find some other way to turn the American Left against them. But would attacks on TJ's do it?
The turning point, in the mind of the human rights "activists," appears to have occurred in late January, when a Taliban suicide-murderer killed at least 14 civilians in the Finest Supermarket in Kabul. Among the slain was a well-known local campaigner named Hamida Barmaki, whose husband and four small children were also killed. One wonders in what sense this was the Taliban going too far—women are killed and mutilated by them every single day in Afghanistan. Yet let the terror reach one of the upscale markets or hotels that cater to the NGO constituency in Kabul, and suddenly there is an abrupt change from moral neutrality.
Where the Left is concerned could the Taliban get away with attacking chain bookstores as long as they did not attack local independent bookstores? How would the Left come down on attacks on Starbucks? Would they get upset at attacks on Nordstroms? How about Volvo dealers? Worse to attack than BMW dealers? I'm guessing attacks on local arts and crafts shows would really make the Taliban enemies of human rights groups.
So I appeal to you readers: What could the Taliban attack that would most upset human rights groups? Use your imagination. I think these people could be manipulated by building whatever kind of store they most like right in downtown Kabul or Kandahar (to better help human rights group workers living in these towns). Then when the Taliban blow it up or shoot it up the human rights groups will turn against Muslim theocrat thugs. Sound like fun?
Writing in Foreign Policy Paul Miller offers the most realistic portrait of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
But Karzai is acting fairly rationally given the constraints and pressures he faces. He is head of a government that for most intents and purposes does not function, no matter what he decides. He faces an insurgency that seems to have staying power and an international force that does not. He faces a parliament that is unwieldy at best, openly hostile at worst. He "appoints" governors who likely still have their own private armies (which he lacks), who often wield more effective power than he does, and who only recently took sides in a ruinous civil war -- the renewal of which is always a tacit threat hanging like a Damocles Sword over Karzai's head. Karzai faces an impossible balancing act.
Afghanistan probably can not be ruled by any group other than a bunch of Muslim clerics - and even they would rule only weakly. Afghanistan's people have loyalties to extended family and tribe (due to consanguineous marriage) that are so strong that there's little loyalty remaining to give to a central government. So Western attempts to conceptualize Karzai as a Western leader and analyze his moves and failures (and corruption) by Western standards totally miss the boat.
But in response, Karzai does not have many options. His "decisions" don't actually change reality so much as they express intent or exhibit symbols. In the face of his many challenges, almost the only tools he has are words. If he wants to protest air strikes or home raids, he makes dramatic statements about a "foreign occupation." If he feels threatened by conservatives and warlords, he starts to burnish his Islamic credentials and sound populist rhetoric. If he believes the Taliban are winning and the international community is withdrawing, he threatens to switch sides. None of these words stem from real beliefs so much as they simply reflect whichever pressure Karzai feels most urgently at the moment.
Read the whole post. It underscores how little the United States can hope to accomplish in Afghanistan other than waste blood and money.
Between June 2009 and 2010, insurgents’ use of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, rose by 22 percent. More worrying, say senior US military officials, is that the rate of effective attacks – in other words, bombs that result in injuries to NATO troops or Afghan civilians – has increased 45 percent.
Get this: The Afghans are too primitive to make IEDs that are easy to detect. They do not have the metal needed to make IEDs that military sensor systems could detect.
Afghanistan also has such a high birth rate that the Taliban can replace its losses with plenty teenagers coming of age.
Meanwhile even those not killed or externally injured by IEDs are coming back with brain damage in large numbers. Alas, these are not even the biggest costs of empire.
“Efforts to reduce insurgent capacity, such as safe havens and logistic support originating in Pakistan and Iran, have not produced measurable results,” the Pentagon said in a report on the war effort released today and covering the six months that ended Sept. 30. “Pakistan’s domestic extremist threat and the 2010 floods reduce the potential for a more aggressive or effective Pakistani effort in the near term.”
No matter how many we kill they'll just send more down south thru the DMZ or the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Oh sorry, wrong war. So easy to get them confused.
The Vietnam War was probably more winnable for a couple of reasons. First off, I suspect the Vietnamese had a lower fertility rate. Loss of sons was more keenly felt. Afghanistan has one of the highest fertility rates in the world. Think of them as Malthusian Trappers. Second, religious ideologies stir stronger sustained support than secular ideologies, especially in countries with low literacy. Think of Afghanistan as a pre-Gutenberg culture.
Uruzgan is a poor province with a strong, conservative culture. The development challenges in Uruzgan are formidable. Education is particularly poor, especially for women, and access to health care is limited. The provincial literacy rate is five per cent, and while nearly 10 per cent of men are literate, the literacy rate for women is recorded at close to zero. Less than one per cent of the provincial population (0.6 per cent) has a health centre in their village and an average of only eight to nine per cent of households have access to safe drinking water.
We are not fighting an industrialized population. Their rate of consanguineous (cousin) marriage is probably about 40%-50%. That's a very tribal population with little loyalty to higher level polities. Thi prevents political development of a modern state.
While in the home war zone American air passengers are being x-rayed or heavily frisked in Afghanistan NATO now has more troops than the Soviets did and with far more advanced technology.
In April 2009, Gates cautioned in a CNN interview, “The Soviets were in there with 110,000, 120,000 troops. They didn’t care about civilian casualties. And they couldn’t win.” Sixteen tanks do not remotely approach what the Soviets sent to occupy Afghanistan. And the proportion of civilians killed by the Taliban vastly dwarf those killed by NATO forces.
But now NATO, all combined, has 130,000 troops in Afghanistan. The numbers of civilians killed in the war is at an all-time high, despite a U.S. strategy predicated on protecting Afghans from violence.
So that's a huge war effort. Plus, the Soviets had to fight against CIA and Saudi support for the Muj. Now the US isn't facing much in the way of external funding of the Taliban.
How is this going to turn out? One key thing to keep in mind: The fertility rate in Afghanistan is one of the highest in the world. The Taliban are making future generations of warriors. Any seeming short term victory will not last long since 5 years later a new cohort of teenage males will be ready to take up the fight.
The Afghans are not inclined to support a central government since the idea of Afghanistan is at a higher level than they give their allegiances to. Plus, the Karzai government is a big family business.Fouad Ajami has no illusions about what we face in Afghanistan: bandits in government and out.
The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war—and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty—there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan. By latest cruel count, more than 1,300 American service members have fallen in Afghanistan. For these sacrifices, Mr. Karzai shows little, if any, regard.
In his latest outburst, Mr. Karzai said the private security companies that guard the embassies and the development and aid organizations are killer squads, on a par with the Taliban. "The money dealing with the private security companies starts in the hallways of the U.S. government. Then they send the money for killing here," Mr Karzai said. It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.
How can this end well? It can't. We avoid total failure by staying.
Some months ago, our envoy to Kabul, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, saw into the heart of the matter in a memo to his superiors. Mr. Eikenberry was without illusions about President Karzai. He dismissed him as a leader who continues to shun "responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and his circle don't want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending war on terror and for military bases to use against surrounding powers."
The Eikenberry memorandum lays to rest once and for all the legend of Afghanistan as a "graveyard of empires." Rather than seeking an end to the foreign military presence, the Afghans and their leader seek to perpetuate it. It spares them the hard choice of building a nation-state, knitting together feuding ethnicities and provinces, and it brings them enormous foreign treasure.
Dexter Filkins of the New York Times reports that America supports a totally corrupt regime in Afghanistan that is despised by its populace.
You don’t have to look very hard to find an Afghan, whether in the government or out, who is repelled by the illegal doings of his leaders. Ahmed Shah Hakimi, who runs a currency exchange in Kabul, had just finished explaining some of the shadowy dealings of the business and political elite when he stopped in disgust.
“There are 50 of them,” Mr. Hakimi said. “The corrupt ones. All the Afghans know who they are.”
“Why do the Americans support them?” he asked.
Mr. Hakimi, a shrewd businessman, seemed genuinely perplexed.
“What the Americans need to do is take these Afghans and put them on a plane and fly them to America — and then crash the plane into a mountain,” Mr. Hakimi said. “Kill them all.”
If we weren't there then the corruption would not be associated with us or blamed on us. Are we really furthering US national interests by supporting the current regime? Hamid Karzai might wear very fashionable Third World clothes. He might sound nice in the West. But he oversees a thoroughly corrupt government.
Does the high level of consanguineous marriage make corruption in Afghanistan inevitable? Or could we force the Afghan government to fire the most corrupt leaders and substantially improve the national government.
If we just pulled out would we really be at greater risk of terrorism? Wouldn't it just be much cheaper to improve our safety by making it harder for Muslims to come to the United States? Can't we just reduce our exposure to Islam and Muslims as our chief protective strategy?
Practice makes perfect. US forces are going to try to gain control of Kandahar again.
In theory, the Afghan government is in place in Kandahar, but its authority is nominal. Bombings and assassinations have left the government largely isolated behind concrete barricades and blast walls. In the latest burst of violence, a suicide squad struck across the city late Saturday, detonating bombs at a recently fortified prison, the police headquarters and two other sites, the Associated Press reported. At least 30 people were killed.
For the first time in years, however, the U.S. military again has Kandahar in its sights.
American troops are seeking to reclaim the city and surrounding province, where the Taliban has proved resurgent, more than eight years after the U.S.-led invasion forced the group from power. But a visit here last week made clear that American forces will face an insidious enemy that operates mainly in the shadows and exercises indirect control through intimidation and by instilling fear. The provincial governor remains mostly behind barricades. The provincial council has trouble convening because many members have fled to Kabul. The police are viewed as ill-trained, corrupt and possibly in league with criminal gangs.
"We will begin that transition no later than July 2011, but the pace will depend also on conditions on the ground," Gates said after watching training exercises at Camp Blackhorse, where U.S. and British forces train Afghan soldiers.
Also, the violence in Afghanistan today is far less severe than it was in Iraq. Before the troop surge in 2007, more Iraqi civilians were killed every month than have been killed from war-related violence in Afghanistan each year. In other words, Afghanistan is less than a tenth as violent as the Iraq of 2004-07. Communities were displaced and sectarian tensions were inflamed far more in Iraq than they have been in Afghanistan.
But low level violence is more business as usual in Afghanistan than it is in Iraq.
The major US goal in Afghanistan appears to be to leave a government in power that won't be overthrown by the Taliban when the US leaves. I do not see how the US can accomplish that goal. The Taliban families make new babies in large numbers. Defeat them now and in a few years a new generation will be old enough to take up the fight.
Why should defeating them this time be more effective? The creation of the Afghan Army is supposed to be the crucial difference that will allow US and NATO forces to withdraw. But will that army become an effective and loyal fighting force?
The Marine approach -- creative, aggressive and, at times, unorthodox -- has won many admirers within the military. The Marine emphasis on patrolling by foot and interacting with the population, which has helped to turn former insurgent strongholds along the Helmand River valley into reasonably stable communities with thriving bazaars and functioning schools, is hailed as a model of how U.S. forces should implement counterinsurgency strategy.
But the Marines' methods, and their insistence that they be given a degree of autonomy not afforded to U.S. Army units, also have riled many up the chain of command in Kabul and Washington, prompting some to refer to their area of operations in the south as "Marineistan." They regard the expansion in Delaram and beyond as contrary to the population-centric approach embraced by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, and they are seeking to impose more control over the Marines.
This report relays complaints from US Army officers and other nations that the US Marines are doing their own thing. But if all the military forces follow the same strategy then only one strategy can be tested at once. Better the Marines try something different in case the main approach fails.
JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Six weeks ago, elders of the Shinwari tribe, which dominates a large area in southeastern Afghanistan, pledged that they would set aside internal differences to focus on fighting the Taliban.
This is Afghanistan which is part of the planet Earth and we are all in a Global Village and all really similar to each other. Anyone who dares to say differently will get called bad names. We are all really similar. We can all just get along, live in the present, imagine all the people, and so on.
But something went wrong? How could that be?
This week, that commitment seemed less important as two Shinwari subtribes took up arms to fight each other over an ancient land dispute, leaving at least 13 people dead, according to local officials.
The story includes accusations of police giving weapons to one of the factions. The disagreement degenerated into the use of rocket-propelled grenades and mortar launchers. Obviously Afghanistan needs gun control. Probably a government program to control gang violence too.
Official US policy has been damaged by this incident. Oh my.
The fighting was a setback for American military officials, some of whom had hoped it would be possible to replicate the pledge elsewhere. It raised questions about how effectively the American military could use tribes as part of its counterinsurgency strategy, given the patchwork of rivalries that make up Afghanistan.
The US government wouldn't make policy for a country based on unjustified asumptions about human nature, would it?
Writing in Foreign Policy Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason argue that Obama's strategy in Afghanistan has absolutely no chance of success.
As German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, truth is ridiculed, then denied, and then "accepted as having been obvious to everyone from the beginning." So let's start with the obvious: There isn't the slightest possibility that the course laid out by Barack Obama in his Dec. 1 speech will halt or even slow the downward spiral toward defeat in Afghanistan. None. The U.S. president and his advisors labored for three months and brought forth old wine in bigger bottles. The speech contained not one single new idea or approach, nor offered any hint of new thinking about a conflict that everyone now agrees the United States is losing. Instead, the administration deliberated for 94 days to deliver essentially "more men, more money, try harder." It sounded ominously similar to Mikhail Gorbachev's "bloody wound" speech that led to a similar-sized, temporary Soviet troop surge in Afghanistan in 1986.
One first has to picture Afghanistan. It is not a nation as we understand the term. Loyalties are to family and tribe, not to a nation that includes enemy tribes. The Pashtuns were the dominant (and largest) tribe under the Taliban (who were mostly Pashtuns). The tribes allied with the US special forces that overthrew the Taliban are the enemy as far as the Pashtuns are concerned. How are we going to build up a now heavily Tajik army to hold down the Pashtuns? How are we going to get the Pashtuns to support a national government which serves enemy tribes?
They see all of Obama's arguments for eventual success as lame.
The president's final argument, that Afghanistan is different because Vietnam never attacked American soil, is a red herring. History is overflowing with examples of just causes that have gone down in defeat. To suggest that the two conflicts will have different outcomes because the U.S. cause in Afghanistan is just (whereas, presumably from the speech, the war in Vietnam was not) is simply specious. The courses and outcomes of wars are determined by strategy, not the justness of causes or the courage of troops.
They argue that Afghanistan's national army is a joke, that negotiating with moderates is a joke, and so on. The Pakistanis think Obama will fail and are planning accordingly.
Most critically of all, Pakistan's reaction to Obama's speech was to order its top military intelligence service, the ISI, to immediately begin rebuilding and strengthening covert ties to the Afghan Taliban in anticipation of their eventual return to power, according to a highly placed Pakistani official. There will be no more genuine cooperation from Pakistan (if there ever was).
An enormous amount of Machiavellian intrigue would be needed to control Afghanistan. But I do not see that the Obama Administration is up to the task. I've said it before: Obama is a lightweight. He can push for cliche left-wing causes like expanding heallth care spending. But the tricky international stuff is beyond his depth. At the same time, the US military's culture really cuts against the needed level of intrigue. One needs an enormous cynicism about human nature to handle a place like Afghanistan. Our own national ideology of multi-cultural democracy blinds officers and civilian policymakers alike from the mental model of human nature needed to do deals in Afghanistan.
US ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry says make Karzai's government tackle corruption before more US troops get sent to Afghanistan.
The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, senior U.S. officials said.
Karl W. Eikenberry's memos, sent as President Obama enters the final stages of his deliberations over a new Afghanistan strategy, illustrated both the difficulty of the decision and the deepening divisions within the administration's national security team.
Think of it from Hamid Karzai's viewpoint. The people in his government really want to be corrupt. They make lots of money and can help their relations. In a country with a really high rate of consanguineous (cousin) marriage, high fertility, and poverty the gains from corruption for in-bred families can be quite high. So if the United States government will spend money propping up his regime and taking the side of his allied tribes in the long running Afghanistan civil war then why not accept the troops, supplies, and money?
Eikenberry's viewpoint is really optimistic. He thinks if we hold back additional US help then perhaps the Afghan government will clean up its act. Endemic corruption will recede. The populace will back the government and the tribes will stop battling it out. A long history of tribal politics will be replaced with nationalism and economic development. But such a development would mark a radical departure from Afghan history.
A former Marine Corps captain who served in Iraq and then worked for the State Department in Afghanistan has resigned arguing that the US presence in Afghanistan fuels the insurgency.
When Matthew Hoh joined the Foreign Service early this year, he was exactly the kind of smart civil-military hybrid the administration was looking for to help expand its development efforts in Afghanistan.
A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.
But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.
MATTHEW HOH: Of course it's impossible to wave a magic wand and be gone from there. However, I do believe we are involved in a 35-year-old civil war.
I believe we are not the lead character in that war, that it's an internal conflict. I believe that 60,000 troops in Afghanistan do not serve to defeat al-Qaida and do not serve to stabilize the Pakistan government....
Upon arriving in Afghanistan and serving in both the East and the South (and particularly speaking with local Afghans), I found that the majority of those who were fighting us and the Afghan central government were fighting us because they felt occupied. This concurred with history I had read and with what colleagues had told me.
"In Afghanistan, everything is much more localized," Hoh tells NPR. "Allegiance is to your family, and then to your village or your valley, and that's what they fight for.
"There has not been a traditional central government there and I don't believe a central government is wanted, and actually, I believe, they fight the central government just as much as they fight the foreign occupiers," he adds.
Hoh does not expect the remaining Taliban to create threats to the United States if we leave.
MATTHEW HOH: The Taliban, we chased them out of power in 2001, like we rightfully should have.
However, what you have in Quetta now, I believe, is just the remnants of that. And while the Quetta Shura Taliban, as we refer to them, is a threat, and is a threat to the Karzai government, I don't believe they are a threat to the United States.
And, furthermore, I don't believe that they would be able to retake Kabul, particularly if we ensure that there was no Pakistani support for them if we left Afghanistan.
Imagine we left, the Taliban swept back into power, and then the Taliban let al Qaeda to set up terrorist training camps again. Well, we could always invade again.
What kind of anti-American whack-job would think the US presence would fuel the Afghan insurgency? Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a hold-over from George W. Bush's administration, also floated the idea that the US presence is fueling the insurgency.
The concern about the U.S. presence fueling the insurgency — not for what the U.S. does, but merely for the fact of its existence — was raised by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January, but it has not yet seemed to penetrate most discourse about the war. Gates himself backed away from the critique in September, saying that Gen. Stanley McChrystal convinced him that the U.S. military could mitigate the danger by actively providing for the Afghan people’s well-being.
I expect US military misadventures to continue. We will keep wasting lives and money based on myths about the effects of US military interventions.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is privately requesting between 30,000 and 40,000 more troops, a request that has produced "sticker shock" and "huge resistance" among key lawmakers, sources told FOX News.
Picture this: We leave Afghanistan. The Taliban sweep to power. We go in once again with special forces, air power, and bribery of tribal leaders and sweep the Taliban back out of power.
Or picture this: We leave Afghanistan. But we bribe lots of tribal leaders to keep the Taliban out of power.
Can one of those approaches work?
Our interest: Deny Al Qaeda a big training center. Can't we do this without a big troop presence in Afghanistan?
Update: One can judge an idea at least partly by who is for it. With that thought in mind Thomas Friedman of the New York Times supports a big push in Afghanistan and he thinks we can create "a reasonably noncorrupt Afghan state". Tom, you are funny guy.
The strategy that our new — and impressive — commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is pursuing calls for additional troops to create something that does not now exist there — a reasonably noncorrupt Afghan state that will serve its people and partner with America in keeping Afghanistan free of drug lords, warlords, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. His plan calls for clearing areas of Taliban control, holding those areas and then building effective local, district and provincial governments — along with a bigger army, real courts, police and public services. Because only with all that can we hold the support of the Afghan people and avoid a Taliban victory and a return of Al Qaeda that could threaten us. That is the theory.
It is worth noting where Friedman stands on other US adventures in foreign lands. Friedman still thinks the invasion of Iraq was a good idea.
It is important to learn from one's mistakes.
Most Americans oppose the war of the neoconservative hawk who occupies the Oval Office. But the evil Republicans in control of the White House insist on defying the popular will. If only the Democrats were in charge.
A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
But seriously: If we spend the Afghanistan war money on anti-terrorism security agencies, securing our borders, deporting illegal aliens (especially Muslim illegal aliens), and if we changed immigration policy to end Muslim immigration this would do far more to reduce our risks of terrorist attack. These policies would cost far less than that war and actually deliver a real benefit.
My conspiracy theory of the day: America stayed in Afghanistan so that Obama could have his own war that was not heavily Bush branded. Never mind that Bush put US troops in Afghanistan in the first place in response to 9/11. The press branded Iraq as Bush's war and Afghanistan as the nation's war. So now Obama can use Afghanistan to show he's tough. This war is perfect for him because it involves a smaller force and less money (convenient for scaling up social spending).
If the Democrats hang on to the White House in future elections they can continue to use Afghanistan to show they are just as hawkish and militaristic as the Republicans. The new British Chief of the General Staff, General Sir David Richards, sees another 40 years of British military presence in Afghanistan. That's long enough for voters to get really bored with it.
Britain’s mission in Afghanistan could last for up to 40 years, the next head of the Army warns today in an exclusive interview with The Times.
General Sir David Richards, who becomes Chief of the General Staff on August 28, said: “The Army’s role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years.”
Washington -- U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asked Congress to increase the $12.1 trillion debt limit on Friday, saying it is “critically important” that they act in the next two months.
Since the whole US economy is only about $14 trillion a year the US government debt is getting perilously close to 100% GDP. How are we supposed to finance another 40 years of war? I guess by selling really long term bonds that have no coupons.
Taliban militants in a former tourist region of Pakistan have banned girls from school beginning this month, claiming female education is contrary to Islam.
"From January 15, girls will not be allowed to attend schools," Mullah Shah Doran, the Taliban second in command in the scenic Swat Valley, announced in a recent radio address. Mullah Doran said educating girls is "un-Islamic."
120,000 girls were in school but the violence (including destruction of schools) has already cut the number to 40,000. Barack Obama wants to take on the Taliban. But is he going to send US troops into Pakistan to do it? The Pakistani government would object to large scale US operations inside of Pakistan.
Can anyone point to a good analysis of US military prospects for stomping down the Taliban in Pakistan? The Taliban are making headway in tribal areas of Pakistan according to some reports.
Militants have launched six such attacks in Peshawar since the beginning of December, destroying some 300 Humvees and other military vehicles as well as supplies worth millions of dollars. While these raids have obvious consequences for international troops in Afghanistan, they also mark a new level of insecurity for Peshawar, a city of universities, kebab stands, and carpet dealers that has always had an edgy border-town vibe but that now seems increasingly vulnerable to a Taliban takeover. Mahmood Shah, a retired army brigadier who lives in Peshawar, estimated that, based on the scale of the attacks on NATO supplies, it would take the Taliban as little as 20 minutes to gain control of the city's key administrative offices and essentially conquer it.
This sounds like the kind of situation that will get worse before it gets better. Can the US entice the government of Pakistan to assert full control of the tribal areas? Can the government of Pakistan competently do this?
Dexter Filkins of the New York Times reports on the depth and breadth of corruption in Afghanistan.
KABUL — When it comes to governing this violent, fractious land, everything, it seems, has its price.
Want to be a provincial police chief? It will cost you $100,000.
Want to drive a convoy of trucks loaded with fuel across the country? Be prepared to pay $6,000 per truck, so the police will not tip off the Taliban.
Need to settle a lawsuit over the ownership of your house? About $25,000, depending on the judge.
No doubt we fund those police. Given Afghanistan's fertility rate of 6.58 we are funding the development of a much larger corrupt state.
Hey, look at it on the libertarian free market bright side: Afghanistan has privatized everything, even the airport.
People pay bribes for large things, and for small things, too: to get electricity for their homes, to get out of jail, even to enter the airport.
A high rate of consanguineous (cousin) marriage with tribal loyalties over loyalties to the state, a high fertility rate, and an estimated average IQ of 84 all tell us that Afghanistan isn't on the road toward modern industrial society.
The US under the Obama Administration is going to get more involved with Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have a few advantages. First off, we can afford to bribe to rent loyalty. Though verifying performance will be difficult. Also, not too many countries care what happens in Afghanistan. So we probably won't be playing a Great Game for influence over Afghanistan. But our policy makers will continue to be blinded by politically correct ideology. Plus, the Pakistani government exercises limited control over Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas and some substantial portion of Pakistan's intelligence service is sympathetic to the Taliban on both tribal and religious grounds.
US policy makers are in way over their heads in the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. We can't expect much from their performance.
Update Obama team adviser and former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel says Pakistan's government played us for suckers. Geez, are we really such Rubes? After all we've got foreign policy experts calling the shots in Washington DC. Surely experts know what they are doing? (okay, I'm being sarcastic)
Mr. Riedel is one of a chorus of terrorism experts who see the terrorist network’s base in the mountains of Pakistan as America’s greatest threat, and perhaps the biggest problem facing Mr. Obama’s new team.
He speaks angrily about what he calls a savvy campaign by Pakistan’s government under President Pervez Musharraf to fleece Washington for billions of dollars even as it allowed Al Qaeda to regroup in Pakistan’s tribal lands.
“We had a partner that was double-dealing us,” he said during an interview in his house in a Washington suburb. “Anyone can be snookered and double-dealt. But after six years you have to start to figure it out.”
It takes 6 years to figure out that we are being snookered? Me thinks sufficiently talented people do not go into government service.
Secular Shia Lebanese immigrant academic Fouad Ajami, former unofficial adviser to George H. W. Bush, writes disapprovingly of the Obama Administration's plans to bail on Iraq while fighting the supposed good war in Afghanistan.
The new cause shall be a return to the struggle for Afghanistan. This is the liberal narrative: the bad, unilateral "war of choice" in Iraq, the good, multilateral "war of necessity" in Afghanistan. The doves on Iraq can thus be hawks on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier. The strategic gurus who preached that Iraq is a hopeless, artificial state put together by Gertrude Bell and Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence can try for victory and nation building in the unforgiving tribal lands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If there is an artificial state in our world of nations, Afghanistan must be its closest approximation. If there is a false national boundary -- mocked by ethnicity and historical allegiance -- it is the Durand Line, drawn up by British power in the 1890s, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, through the lands of the Pashtuns. Afghanistan could yet thwart President Bush's successors, frustrate them in the way Iraq frustrated him.
Iraq still is an artificial state with the Kurds already ruling their area with de facto independence. Will the Arabs be able to entice or force them to stay in Iraq? Or will they reach some sort of agreement where the Kurds pretend to stay in Iraq while continuing to govern their area without Iraqi Arab involvement?
Ajami is right that Afghanistan has an even larger dose of tribalism than Iraq. Compare Afghanistan's fertility rate of 6.58 with Iraq's fertility rate of 3.9. The assorted Afghani tribal groups can afford to lose a lot of their young males at war. Plus, they do not have to listen to pacifist women since men dominate.
Note that Ajami doesn't call for splitting up Afghanistan. Would it make sense to shift the Pashtun part of Afghanistan into Pakistan? Or pull the Pashtun parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan together into a 3rd new nation? My guess is that the Pakistani central government would not take kindly to giving territory. But at the same time the Pakistanis might not want more Pashtuns added to the balance of Pakistani politics either.
By one measure the US in Afghanistan is more like the US in Vietnam than the US in Iraq. Pakistan serves as a sanctuary for Taliban fighters to a much greater extent than any neighbor of Iraqi provided sanctuary for militias in Iraq. The war in Vietnam had many differences as well. But achieving a state in Afghanistan that can be labeled "victory" seems hard to me.
I question the intellectual capacity of either of America's two political parties to think rationally about the Middle East. I wish we could wash our hands of it because I do not expect US policy in the region to be anything approaching wise.
What fraction of the US troops withdrawn from Iraq will get shifted to Afghanistan? Will Obama limit the scale of US involvement in Afghanistan in order to free up more money for domestic welfare programs?
The BND was pursuing one goal in particular: It wanted to know whether or not the Taliban were prepared to withdraw from al-Qaida's embrace. Creating a rift between the two groups is considered by the West as a precondition for the lasting success of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. In return, the German government would intensify its involvement in reconstruction by building hospitals, roads and mosques -- the sorts of projects that the German public tends to support.
The German public tends to support mosque construction? Oh dear.
The Taliban wanted to be more like Yasser Arafat. Why would they want to be that ugly? (you can tell I am taking real serious the idea of negotiating with the Taliban)
The Taliban demanded political recognition of the kind once given to Yasser Arafat's PLO. "We do not want to be considered terrorists. We want to be treated as a political force," the "commander" is said to have demanded, whereupon the agent leading the BND's three-man delegation is said to have responded: "Then break with al-Qaida." The BND agent outlined a multi-stage process in which Berlin would begin by offering civilian aid, to be followed by regular talks -- at which point recognition of the Taliban as a political party could be discussed.
This started in July 2005. The Germans were never clear whether the guys they were negotiating with had authority to speak for a large faction of the Taliban. They flew these Taliban into Zurich Switzerland for initial negotiations.
The US has also looked for ways to split portions of the Taliban away from the Al Qaeda and away from the most Islamically fervent elements of the Taliban.
Even the US, which officially refuses all contact with the Taliban, have repeatedly used mediators to discreetly gauge the willingness of the insurgents to talk. The BND coordinated its secret talks with the US intelligence agencies, and European countries such as France were also in the know. "There was a time when many Western countries spoke to the Taliban," says one German government official.
So "we never negotiate with terrorists" is not always the case. "We never negotiate with terrorists unless we think they might be willing to renounce terrorism and Jihad" might be closer to the truth.
The talks ultimately failed.
The German talks eventually collapsed, apparently due to the insurgents' refusal to distance themselves from al-Qaida. The BND took that refusal to mean that the Taliban is not all that interested in civilian reconstruction. But the negotiations only came to an end after eight to 10 weeks of secret diplomacy.
The Taliban is not all that interested in civilian reconstruction? My guess is they are interested in more wives, keeping down the women (which means keeping out Western influences), more money, and putting the screws to other tribal factions.
SANGIN, Afghanistan — A senior British commander in southern Afghanistan said in recent weeks that he had asked that American Special Forces leave his area of operations because the high level of civilian casualties they had caused was making it difficult to win over local people.
Other British officers here in Helmand Province, speaking on condition of anonymity, criticized American Special Forces for causing most of the civilian deaths and injuries in their area. They also expressed concerns that the Americans’ extensive use of air power was turning the people against the foreign presence as British forces were trying to solidify recent gains against the Taliban.
American bombs are supposedly killing more civilians than the resurgent Taliban are. Makes us look bad to the locals.
Most Afghans cheered the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and they appreciate the ways U.S. assistance has improved their lives since then: reopening schools, building roads and bridges, bringing electricity to remote villages. Yet they increasingly resent the unending war, especially its rising toll in civilian lives—and they don't hesitate to blame America and its multinational allies. Anti-U.S. rallies in the towns of Shindand and Jalalabad each drew more than a thousand protesters last week, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai once again declared that his government can no longer tolerate the deaths of so many innocent Afghans. "We are very sorry when the [U.S.-led] international Coalition Force and NATO soldiers lose their lives or are injured," he told a press conference. "It pains us. But Afghan [civilians] are human beings, too."
Hamid Karzai is that stylishly dressed guy we chose to make into the "democratically" elected President of Afghanistan (I originally typed "leader" but corrected myself). Karzai knows how to do Central Asian Muslim chic. Which is cool in some circles. But darn it, he rules over (sort of anyway) a bunch of consanguineously marrying, very high fertility, low IQ, Muslim fundamentalist tribes. Not exactly material to emulate an East Asian tiger success story.
Most of the Aghanis who are dying are getting killed by the Taliban. But they are going to hate us more the longer the war continues.
More than 900 of them died in 2006 alone. Roughly three quarters of that number died in Taliban attacks, nearly half of which "appear to have been intentionally launched" against civilian targets, according to a newly released report from Human Rights Watch. Even in attacks on legitimate military targets, the report found "little evidence to suggest that insurgent forces were in any way seeking to minimize [civilian] losses." Instead, the report said, the objective seemed to be "not merely to harm specific individuals but to generate broader fear among the civilian population." Roughly 230 civilians died in U.S. and Coalition attacks last year, but the report found no evidence that any of those killings were deliberate.
The outsiders who aren't part of local tribes (that would be soldiers from the US, Canada, and some European countres) are held to a higher standard.
Afghans expect the worst from the Taliban, but they hold America to a far higher standard. "The Taliban never claimed to support human rights," says Abdul Sattar Khowasi, a member of Parliament from Kapisa province, about 70 miles northeast of Kabul. "The U.S. came here in the name of human rights." Besides, people are increasingly afraid to criticize Mullah Mohammed Omar's Taliban forces in public.
An incident involving an attack on US Marines where the Marines killed a lot of civilians has made the Afghans especially sensitive. Those Marines were supposed to be the Marine version of some sort of special forces unit. The Marines got yanked out of Afghanistan due to that incident.
We don't want Afghanistan to become an Al Qaeda training base again. But hanging around will just make the locals hate us. Still, if we leave the central government (meaning: the government that rules Kabul) might fall and the Taliban might shoot its way back into power. What to do? Suggestions anyone?
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 17 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Wednesday that American and NATO military commanders in Afghanistan, worried about a resurgent Taliban insurgency, had asked for additional troops and that he was sympathetic to the request.
Speaking to reporters after a two-day visit to Afghanistan and before heading here for meetings with Saudi officials, Mr. Gates said commanders had “indicated what they could do with different force levels,” but he would not divulge the size of the increases under consideration. A senior Defense official said late Tuesday that the commanders were seeking fewer than 3,500 more American troops as well as about 1,000 more troops from NATO allies.
Remember how Taliban control of Afghanistan allowed Sunni Al Qaeda members to train and organize terrorist attacks on Western targets? Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Now if we withdraw our troops and leave the Shia Arabs in control of Iraq the Sunni Wahhabi Arabs will look at the leaders in Baghdad as their enemies. A withdrawal from Iraq would also make it easier to deal with the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The conflict in Afghanistan has entered a dangerous phase, and the next three to six months could prove crucial in determining whether the United States and its NATO partners can suppress a revitalized enemy — or will be dragged into another drawn-out and costly fight with an Islamic insurgency, according to senior military and security officials and diplomats.
"I think we are approaching a tipping point, perhaps early in the new year," said a Western diplomat in the region, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.
I think we'll be dragged into another costly fight with an Islamic insurgency. Where's the effort needed to prevent that outcome? The US is tapping out its Army just trying to deal with the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Well, Iraq is going to get worse still. I do not expect Afghanistan to get the attention it warrants until the tipping over has already happened.
The Taliban are running a parallel government in some provinces.
"Their support network has improved, and in some areas they've been able to operate and control roads and villages and the like," said Seth Jones, a counterinsurgency expert at the Rand Corp. who was recently in Afghanistan for field research. "The Taliban have created a shadow government in a number of provinces — people going to Taliban governors rather than centrally appointed governors on rule-of-law issues."
Attacks have increased 4 fold since 2005. The Taliban may have lost as many as 7,000 fighters as compared to 180 for NATO and allies. But Americans are becoming less popular in Afghanistan just as happened in Iraq.
In much of the country, the lack of security has severely stunted development projects, which in turn has fostered widespread disillusionment. Particularly in dirt-poor rural areas, many Afghans believe their daily lot has improved little since Taliban times, and tend to cast the blame on the same Americans they once hailed as liberators.
The Bush Administration invasion of Iraq has been a distraction from the countries that really matter in the battle against Islamic terrorism. Afghanistan was where Al Qaeda trained to launch their terrorist attacks in the United States. Pakistan was the backer of the Taliban and some top Pakistani intelligence officials were on friendly terms with Al Qaeda. Oh, and Pakistan has nuclear bombs. Plus, the 9/11 attackers were mostly from Saudi Arabia.
In spite of all this Bush invaded Iraq. The neocons were thrilled that the Iraq invasion would make the Middle East safer for Israel. But they were wrong about that. Bush thought he was going to fight an easy war that would boost his domestic popularity. He was wrong about that. Now he doesn't want to admit the scale of his mistake. So he won't pull out American troops from Iraq. Well, some of those troops are needed in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan many secret schools located in homes have been set up in order to avoid attacks by the Taliban. Public schools have been forced closed by Taliban attacks.
Within two years of the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban, an extremist Islamic movement that banned girls' education and emphasized Islamic studies for boys, officials boasted that 5.1 million children of both sexes were enrolled in public schools. These included hundreds of village tent-schools erected by UNICEF.
President Hamid Karzai told audiences in New York this week that about 200,000 Afghan children had been forced out of school this year by threats and physical attacks.
According to UNICEF, 106 attacks or threats against schools occurred from January to August, with incidents in 31 Afghan provinces. They included one missile attack, 11 explosions, 50 burnings and 37 threats. In the four southern provinces under serious assault by Taliban forces, UNICEF said, nearly half of the 748 schools have stopped operating.
Many parents want their sons and even their daughters to receive educations. But the Taliban is opposed to education for girls and want the boys to receive religious instruction only. The US has not paid enough attention to Afghanistan because Iraq has become such a drain and a distraction. But Afghanistan is so backward and so split by tribal divisions that even with more effort by foreigners its future is something less than bright.
As a sense of insecurity spreads, a rift is growing between the president and some of the foreign civilian and military establishments whose money and firepower have helped rebuild and defend the country for nearly five years. While the U.S. commitment to Karzai appears solid, several European governments are expressing serious concerns about his leadership.
"This is a crucial time, and there is frustration and finger-pointing on all sides," the official said. "President Karzai is the only alternative for this country, but if he attacks us, we can't help him project his vision. And if he goes down, we all go down with him."
My sense of listening to Karzai: he is not ruthless enough or Machiavellian enough to govern a place like Afghanistan. But are Western criticisms of Karzai correct? Maybe he needs to do more things that they find objectionable such as making more deals with leaders of criminal gangs or tribal leaders. The Euros and the US aren't going to provide a non-corrupt foreign police force. Maybe there's no way to give Afghanistan non-corrupt government because so few can resist the pressures of tribal family politics..
The Taliban have grown in power.
Hamida, 32, waited on a bench for alterations. She said she was visiting from Zabol province in the south. "My husband was a school principal, but the Taliban threatened to kill him, so he quit and now he is sitting at home," she said. "We women cannot leave our houses. The police come under attack at night, and we only see foreign soldiers once in a while. There is no one to protect us."
It's not clear whether any leader could have lived up to the expectations of Afghans and the world. But the accomplishments in Afghanistan have been considerable. Five years ago the Taliban ruled and al-Qaida leaders had a haven. Now the country has an elected president, an elected parliament, a constitution, a national army.
"It's a necessity to have Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan now," said parliament member Mohammad Mohaqiq, a former warlord who lost to Karzai in the 2004 presidential election. "There is no way except the way Hamid Karzai does things, by being soft toward powerful people. It's not the best way, but there's no other way."
Well, there is another way: Karzai could ruthlessly consolidate power by having rivals killed. Worked for Saddam Hussein.
Karzai is trapped between his need for support from both foreigners and powerful and ruthless natives.
Observers say Karzai has been trapped by bad advice and by the people around him. They complain about some of his allies, especially the man he reportedly backed for speaker of the lower house of parliament, a warlord accused of atrocities. They describe the president as increasingly isolated, master of the palace but not the country.
"Hamid Karzai is a good man," said Hamidullah Tokhi, a parliament member from southern Zabul province. "He doesn't hold grudges. He's kind to all Afghans. But there are some advisers who have circled Karzai and given him bad advice. They have almost taken Hamid Karzai hostage. He cannot do anything independently."
From the very beginning Karzai has been dependent on the support of foreigners and on compromises among Afghans. He still needs foreign troops and foreign-aid dollars. He still needs the support of former warlords.
Karzai's position in Afghanistan is a lot like the US's position in Iraq. He does not have enough resources and power and ability to behave ruthlessly to accomplish anything and so things get worse. Will he flee from Afghanistan before the US withdraws from Iraq?
The US had trouble enough trying to handle Afghanistan while hunting down Bin Laden. The invasion of Iraq shifting resources away from Afghanistan. Special forces and intelligence assets got shifted toward Iraq. Criminal gangs and the Taliban expanded into the power vacuum.
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN – Last summer, Shahida Hussain was pounding the dusty streets of Kandahar campaigning for Parliament in defiance of Taliban threats. Now this outspoken woman rarely leaves her house for fear of getting caught up in the violence engulfing Afghanistan's southern city.
"Six months ago things were better, but security gets worse day after day. Our children cannot go to school and we've stopped going out," says Ms. Hussain, who would only agree to an interview at a hotel for fear of having foreign visitors at her home.
Police corruption and criminal gangs are seen by many as bigger threats than the Taliban.
But the Taliban is making a big come-back as well.
The Taliban have become far more daring, infiltrating areas where they have not been seen for over four years in large numbers. Some of the worst fighting this week was in Panjwayi district, less than 20 miles from the heart of Kandahar, which has left aid agencies able to operate only within the gates of Afghanistan's second largest city.
Monday, Coalition forces reported that an airstrike late Sunday in Panjwayi district killed up to 80 suspected Taliban militants. Kandahar's governor told reporters that 16 civilians also died. As the fighting heated up last week, villagers from the district could be seen carrying all their belongings on donkeys or packing them in cars and fleeing into Kandahar.
"It was an acknowledgment that the government could do nothing for them," says a western security expert in the south.
Read the whole article.
The US overextended by invading Iraq. Afghanistan is a difficult problem. Multiple languages and ethnic groups, consanguineous marriage, Islam, decades of civil war, low average IQs, and extreme poverty. In Afghanistan, like in Iraq, there is no shared sense of common interest in a nation. While the Bush Administration bungles America's Middle Eastern policy it pursues a far more damaging set of policies toward immigration. In America signs that immigration is reducing the shared sense of common national interests aren't hard to find.Mexican immigrants do not want American citizenship. So much for the idea that they are coming here for freedom. If our foolish elites had their way they'd bring about an America as fragmented and divided as Iraq and Afghanistan.I hope America doesn't eventually reach the point of having middle class flight out of the country as Iraq is experiencing. But if our elites get their way that day will come.
Writing for the Christian Science Monitor David Montero reports on the worsening security situation in Afghanistan
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Nearly five years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan's security situation continues to be dragged down by endemic corruption, roving militias, and a growing nexus between narco-warlords and remnants of the Taliban, officials and analysts say.
The melting snows of spring often bring an uptick in violence, as rebels emerge from their mountain redoubts. Yet there are indications of a deepening instability beyond the seasonal surge. More than 70 foreign troops, mostly Americans, have been killed this past year, making it the deadliest period since the conflict began. Violence, meanwhile, seems to be spreading beyond the volatile south, encroaching on areas formerly considered outside the zones of conflict.
Governors and police are in cahoots with drug smugglers and the Taliban.
Many governors and chiefs of police, rather than confronting the Taliban and neutralizing drug lords, are increasingly intertwined with them, either for political or monetary gain, some analysts say. Amid the lawlessness, military intelligence has become a political game, a tool for blackmail or settling old scores, analysts allege.
Lawlessness helps the Taliban.
A few weeks back I came across a TV interview of Christian Parenti who writes for The Nation (a ideologically leftist political magazine - but Parenti knows his subject) on his trips into the Middle East and Afghanistan. Parenti had a number of disturbing things to say about what is going on in Afghanistan. Parenti says that elements of the Pakistani government are still helping the Taliban.
BRANCACCIO: Now, you mention the Taliban. You actually met a bunch of these guys what, on a lonely road?
PARENTI: In a canyon not far from Kandahar in Zabul province. Just off the road, the main road between Kabul and Kandahar, my translator and I managed to hook up with a group of Taliban fighters. The Taliban mostly operate in groups of five or six, and then they come together maybe up to 50 fighters at a time, to do stuff like they did the other day, attack a U.S. base. And they're pretty clearly... according to these guys and then a Taliban spokesperson I spoke with, this western spy, and some Afghan intelligence people, the Taliban is run out of Pakistan with the support of the Pakistani state. They have sort of three main fronts that they operate out of. And they're a coherent, aggressive movement wreaking havoc with the aid of a U.S. ally, Pakistan. And the Bush Administration seems to be putting no pressure on Pakistan to change that policy.
BRANCACCIO: So you have the insurgency, the Taliban. Who really holds the actual power within Afghanistan at this stage?
PARENTI: You know, there is no one group that holds power within that country. Because the country is so broken up into a series of fiefdoms. And local powers are sort of city states around the major cities like Herat or Kandahar. But the government, Karzai's government, is populated by very horrible warlords with abominable human rights records.
And the main problem is that George Bush has used Afghanistan as a prop in his domestic political theater and rushed through the creation of the government there. And so there is now a government made up of really horrible criminal warlords.
One of the people that I interviewed, one of the stories I did out of this trip was with a former Taliban commander who was responsible for the destruction of the Buddhas in Bamiyan; those ancient statues. He's now in the Parliament. That's just one example. You could go on and on.
Those types of people, once in government, turned the ministries and the agencies they control into patronage organizations. They have, even according to the Afghan government, involved in drug running. So you have a government that is incapable of delivering development. And basically just becomes a nepotistic patronage system that's riddled with corruption.
And then in the countryside the local warlords, the big landlords, the leading families control their areas. The independent human rights commission in Afghanistan located and actually managed to close 40 different private detention facilities. But there are many more. So there is no one power. There's just localized power. And in the South, the Taliban are increasing in power.
They've burnt and closed 200 schools this year. They stop traffic and tax it on the roads. They operate with relative impunity. And actually with the support of the very sort of conservative Pashtun villages in the South.
Insufficient US power means the bad guys become more powerful and that stretches US power even more severely.
In March 2006 Parenti wrote a lengthy piece for The Nation about Afghanistan which is worth reading in full. The Taliban have a united leadership headquartered in the United States's supposed anti-terrorist ally Pakistan.
"We are fighting because we won't let the American troops in our land," says the Taliban leader. "If their objectives were to rebuild our country we would not fight against them. But that is not their goal." He thinks America is here to "destroy our country" and "not leave."
How is the Taliban organized? "We are under one leadership. We have several groups, but we work together under one leadership. We have one command, but we have to operate in groups of five or six, because if we gather in groups of fifty we are afraid of the aircrafts. They would destroy us in big groups." This jibes with what an officer in the Afghan National Security Directorate tells me. The NSD officer says the Taliban have three fronts but all answer to one Pakistan-supported and -based leadership.
And what about support from Pakistan? "Yes, Pakistan stands with us," says the leader. "And on that side of the border we have our offices. Pakistan is supporting us, they supply us. Our leaders are there collecting help. The people on this side of the border also support us."
Parenti says Bush is failing to do what is necessary to deal with Afghanistan.
Bush is cutting aid and troops in Afghanistan because he sees it as a sideshow as compared to Iraq. Note that the 9/11 attackers were headquartered in Afghanistan, not Iraq and that Bin Laden and Zawahiri are still somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
In the face of Afghanistan's deepening troubles, the US government is now slashing its funding for reconstruction from a peak of $1 billion in 2004 to a mere $615 million this year. And thanks to the military's recruitment problems, the United States is drawing down its troops from 19,000 to 16,000. In short, despite Bush's feel-good rhetoric, the United States is giving every impression that it is slowly abandoning sideshow Afghanistan.
So Afghanistan is going to hell in a handbasket, elements of the Pakistani government still support the Taliban, and yet Bush is distracted by attempts to bring Jeffersonian democracy to an Iraq that is very far from fertile ground to such a quixotic project.
Parenti had an interesting chat with a Western intelligence agent.
Toward the end of my stay I meet a European "contractor" who is in fact a Western intelligence agent in charge of several important dossiers pertaining to Afghan security. All of this is confirmed through Afghan intelligence sources. But my "contractor" friend maintains his pretenses and I remain respectful of that, and we proceed with otherwise very frank conversations.
To my surprise, this agent to the great powers, this builder of empire, is the most cynical person I've met my whole trip. Highly intellectual, he talks of Afghanistan as doomed, a hostage to history and to the idiocy, arrogance and Iraq obsession of the Bush clique. He passes me a series of "red gaming papers"--intentionally dissenting analyses of the Afghan situation written by and for the coalition.
The papers paint an arrestingly bleak picture of Afghanistan as a political "fiction," a buffer state that no longer buffers, a collection of fiefdoms run by brutal local warlords. The coalition's mission is portrayed as a fantasy game managed by sheltered careerists. One of the papers is by an American. It ends on this note: Nothing short of an open-ended blank check from the United States will keep Afghanistan from returning to chaos.
I see more chaos and continued growth of Taliban power in Afghanistan. The Bush Administration has overstretched the United States and will not either raise taxes or implement a draft in order to get the resources needed for the scale of commitments and problems that have resulted from the overstretch.
After the Taliban were overthrow the United States was still faced with a very large job to hunt down the Al Qaeda top leaders, hunt down Taliban top leaders, establish a fairly non-corrupt government in Afghanistan, and create an environment in which the people of Afghanistan would see the new regime as worthy of support and beneficial to them. But Bush shifted resources away from Afghanistan to go after Saddam. He took shortcuts whose costs are gradually accumulating. The Taliban was given the breathing space needed to regroup. The US did not have enough intelligence resources to pry apart the threads connecting the Pakistani government with the Taliban. Bush and the neoconservatives are engaged in imperial overstretch which hurts US interests and security.
The neoconservatives make the argument that if only democracy can be spread to Muslim lands the peoples of those lands would become better governed, have fewer gripes, and would not be angry enough to want to become terrorists. That is the theory. Well, Michael J. Kavanagh reports that the man the Bush Administration picked to run Afghanistan (or at least those rather limited portions of Afghanistan where the central government has any influence at all) will likely win in his first election because the election has been set up to favor only the man who is most well known.
But the way the election rules work, Afghans have little hope of hearing about any contender besides Karzai. The list of candidates wasn't finalized until July 26, and the campaign doesn't legally begin until Sept. 7, barely a month before the election. While short campaigns are not uncommon in many developed democracies, a 30-day campaign without public funding will prevent candidates from reaching a population of mostly illiterate people with little access to broadcast media (especially if they're women).
This means that the incumbent Karzai—who appointed the election management board that made these rules and whose cult-of-personality posters dot much of the dusty Afghan landscape—has more than a slight advantage over his opposition. And that's without mentioning that he has the uncritical support of the most powerful country in the world.
Does this matter? After all, most Afghans are illiterate. Plus, they are poor and split between rival tribes and ethnic groups. They do not even share a single common language. They lack many of the qualities needed for a democracy to work. One could simply say that democracy isn't going to work in Afghanistan and accept that fact.
The problem is that a significant portion of the neoconservatives and not a few liberals believe a universalistic myth that everyone is a natural liberal democrat and that the United States should promote the spread of democracy around the world with messianic zeal. The belief in this myth is getting translated into policy and with results quite harmful to US interests.
The curious thing about the universalistic liberal democracy myth is that its neoconservative promoters have repeatedly shown themselves to be quite willing to manipulate democracies and pull strings inside them to serve what the neocons perceive to be American interests. For instance, Paul Wolfowitz tried (unsuccessfully) to pressure the Turkish government into ignoring the wishes of the majority of Turks to not participate in an invasion of Iraq. Also, the neocons set up an in-house propaganda shop in the form of the Office of Special Plans to produce intelligence findings that would persuade the American public to support the invasion of Iraq.
Granted, America's own Founding Fathers didn't think that simple majority rule would produce enlightened government. The Founding Fathers rightly feared plotting factions and the excesses of majorities whipped into passions by demagogues. The US Constitution has a number of features designed to create obstacles in the way of a rapid change in government policy in response to shifts in popular passions. The very idea of representative government is in part justified by the hope that elected officials will be wiser and better informed than the public as a whole.
But if democracy is problematic even in societies that offer much more fertile ground for its growth then how can democracy possibly be a panacea for what is wrong with large swathes of the world where the conditions are far less favorable for democracy? The basic problem with the neocon vision of the spread of democracy is that societies have to change in ways that create the conditions compatible with democracy before democracy can be put into place. Many of those changes can not be orchestrated from outside and when they occur at all they are a long time coming over a period of many decades or even longer.
Given that the creation of conditions favorable to democracy takes a long time and can not be forced how can the promotion of democracy be the most expeditious way to deal with the threat of terrorism? In a nutshell, it can't. Democracy promotion is a wholly inadequate approach for dealing with the threat of Islamic terrorism.
Polly Toynbee visits Afghanistan to see what people think of the overthrow of the Taliban. This is a lengthy article worth reading in full. She finds that all the people she meets are glad the Taliban are out of power.
So was it worth it after all? The daisy-cutters and the cluster bombs, the misguided missiles butchering wedding parties while al-Qaida slipped away? Now, a year after Kabul fell as the Taliban left their hot dinners on the front line and ran, was it worth the killing of anything from 800 to 3,000 men, women and children?
Of course it was, said everyone I asked. They all had their grotesque Taliban tales. "Right there, bodies hanging, rotting, stinking!" said a trader in Chicken Street, the tourist trinket centre. Taliban horror stories poured out of everyone, unstoppable like water from a broken tap: "I was walking with my cousin and her husband outside here," said another man. "The vice and virtue police beat them both with big sticks, beat them to pieces, blood everywhere, because her ankles showed too much under her burka. I stood there, ashamed, but there was nothing I could do. I didn't go out after that." He was a young Pashtun and no friend of this new mainly Tajik government, but he had no doubt that the Americans did the right thing.
She makes the point that the per person international aid in Afghanistan is a fraction of what is being spent in East Timor, Kosovo, and other places. What is most worrisome in my mind is that a greater effort isn't being made to extend the rule of law more rapidly beyond Kabul. The international military force which is maintaining order in a fairly small part of the country should have been made much larger.
Toynbee, Being a liberal-left Guardian writer, couldn't help but make the occasional ridiculous moral equivalence argument:
The west hobbles its women with toe-crushing shoes, Islam with burkas and chadors.
Its like she has to establish her leftie bona fides by throwing in this sort of nonsense. Still, the article has many interesting observations about what is going on in Afghanistan.
(found on Vinod's Blog)
Update: David Brooks looks at the stories coming out of Afghanistan and sees a box that is half full rather than half empty.
While for much of the media, all news out of Afghanistan must be bad news, it's clear that there is a lot of promise to the place. The old problems of inactivity and despair are being replaced by the new problems caused by crowding, growth, and dynamism. There is now income inequality in Kabul. Were things better when nobody had anything? Because of the terrible transportation system workers struggle to get to and from work. Was it better when there was no work?
Brooks quotes from this Washington Post article by Pamela Constable which shows Kabul to be a bustling and rapidly growing city.
Today, Kabul is a bustling capital of 2.7 million, more than twice the population of one year ago. Women barred from public life under the Taliban now fill offices and classrooms; music, once banned as un-Islamic, blares from taxis and cassette stands. Shops burst with imported goods, houses are being stylishly renovated and new restaurants offer Thai and Italian cuisine.