Sunday, October 25, 2009

Continuing With Afghanistan

What are the big questions?

1. Do we have a credible partner to work with in Afghanistan? Since ultimately the future of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghans, is there a government in place that can sustain gains that may be made even if we choose a strategy that succeeds?

Answer: No.

2. Is it necessary to choose either a counterinsurgency strategy (make friends with the people and avoid killing them, even if it means that terrorists don’t suffer) or an anti-terrorism strategy (kill the bad guys even if there is collateral damage)?

Answer: It’s not clear. In theory counterinsurgency makes sense, but it will take more resources (troops and money) and more time to work and even if it is successful we’re left with the reality of #1 above. In which case it won’t take long for the situation to deteriorate again. If most of the key bad guys are in Pakistan, which seems likely, without the wholehearted support of the Pakistanis (which is unlikely) going the anti-terrorist route will at best have limited success.

3. Whatever strategy we choose, what will improve the odds of success?

Answer: A stable and credible Afghan government and a trained and effective Afghan army and police, both of which are woefully inadequate at the moment.

4. Does it make more sense then to use additional resources to train Afghans rather than to fight the Taliban?

Answer: It’s not either/or, but if we’re not going to just pull out (which we won’t) and if we want to leave a structure in place that can sustain itself, it’s more important to bolster internal Afghan resources than to engage in what looks like a war.

5. And what about Pakistan in all this? They are weak and to a degree uncommitted to our fight, they’re sitting on about 100 nuclear bombs, still see India as the main threat to their homeland, and are overwhelmingly anti-American. Is there any hope with them?

Answer: Seeing a strong, stable and friendly Pakistan in the foreseeable future requires a massive leap of faith and, if you’re so inclined, many prayers. I’ve been following events in South Asia closely since I lived in India between 1962 and 1969. While in Pakistan some circumstances have changed for the better over the past 50 years, fundamentally little has improved. Their economic woes, national paranoia and inability to provide their people with long-term stable governance are ongoing sad realities.

6. Tribal power and fierce loyalties are facts of life in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Is there anything we can do to change them?

Answer: The short answer is ‘no.’ Maybe local leaders or we can co-opt them in the short term, but that is only possible when tribal bosses see that a partnership is clearly advantageous. When the perceived advantage disappears the cooperation will disappear.

7. We really are dealing with a demonic maze inside a 3-dimensional chess game, aren’t we?

Answer: You got that right.


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