Sunday, June 06, 2010

Afghan Sinkhole

Read the lines and between the lines in a piece called “With U.S. Aid, Warlord Builds Afghan Empire,” by Dexter Filkins in today’s NY Times. Without even trying, this one story contains a litany of existential realities in Afghanistan that sadly demonstrates how deep a sinkhole it is.

Datelined Tirin Kot, it begins: “The most powerful man in this arid stretch of southern Afghanistan is not the provincial governor, nor the police chief, nor even the commander of the Afghan Army. It is Matiullah Khan, the head of a private army that earns millions of dollars guarding NATO supply convoys and fights Taliban insurgents alongside American Special Forces.”

To summarize what Filkins writes:

Matiullah is stronger than the government and independent of any government control.

He is one of several unofficial warlords who have supplanted ineffective regular Afghan forces.

These guys are undermining the very institutions Americans are seeking to build.

We need them, especially because we’re racing against a deadline set by Obama.

Matiullah is reported to be working with drug smugglers to facilitate the movement of opium and other illicit contraband. He is also rumored to be working with the Taliban.

The government isn’t strong enough to provide the security that is needed, so the Matiullah’s of Afghanistan are filling the void.

People fear we’ll leave behind an Afghan government too weak to do its job.

For securing the highway between Kandahar and Tirin Kot for NATO convoys Matiullah is earning $2.5 million a month. He charges $1,200 for one cargo truck.

Matiullah’s role has grown beyond business. His people gather intelligence and engage in fighting insurgents.

He supports 15,000 people, has built 70 mosques, endows scholarships and leads weekly meetings with tribal leaders.

There are at least 23 unregistered and unregulated private security companies in the area. They have a financial interest in prolonging the chaos.

Even though this is a dismal report I’m sure Filkins would have more to say if he were asked. There isn’t a chance in hell that we will accomplish our stated mission in Afghanistan, no matter how long we stay. In the end it’s up to the Afghans to figure out what kind of country they want to have – and maybe to acknowledge that they aren’t interested in any country at all.

Until then we’ll muddle long, in public putting the best face on what is a disaster, in private recognizing that we can’t control the outcome. The sooner we stop wasting lives and money the better. But don’t bet on it being sooner.


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