Monday, April 20, 2009

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

An ongoing debate on foreign policy concerns, regardless of the prognostications of pundits and politicians, is vital. A debate in the public forum that includes citizens, the military, regional experts and academics… forge coherent and smart directions for our foreign policy and national security. When those in the public eye speak of our moral duty..…..we must look at what our presence does to traditional Afghan culture and tribal governance. Does it enlighten them or does it cause upheaval that is ultimately damaging? We certainly have to face the reality that all peoples do not desire western liberal values, especially when accompanied by the barrel of a gun.

But this begs the question, what is our focus….and for what cost are we willing to pay for this presence? We have already failed Hartmann’s strategic principle of conservation of enemies. We are simultaneously fighting Al Qaeda, Lashkar e Tayyiba, Hizbi-i-Islami Gulbuddin, Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, Tehrike Taliban Pakistan, and the Haqqani network. The vast majority of Americans can only name AQ or the ‘Taliban’ as our Afghani enemies, without coming close to understanding who it is we’re fighting or why. If a broad coalition government can be convened that would allow cross tribal support and suffrage; preserve the traditional social order of the Afghani tribes; with an influx of humanitarian, civil and agrarian aid…….maybe……Afghanistan will emerge eventually as a stable nation. As Bernard Fall points out, ‘A government that is losing to an insurgency is not being outfought… is being out governed.’ In many cases, the shadow judicial and civil system enacted by the ‘Taliban’ [usually of the Quetta Shura] are relied upon and trusted more than the representatives from Kabul. Al Qaeda and the 'Taliban' are not synonymous and do not represent an equal threat. That fact must be present in any coherent strategy. Thus far, it has not been.

We will absolutely not [in my estimation] win militarily. We fluctuate between tactical operations of persistent presence and repetitive raiding, which sows confusion in the people we're ostensibly trying help, not to mention our junior leaders who are still much better adapted to warcraft than statecraft. We have nowhere near the manpower to provide a sustained presence in the myriad of valleys that comprise Afghanistan, each with its own sense of sovereignty from Kabul, and it’s own varied relations with the fundamentalist groups that we are warring against. We have nowhere near the time to educate our forces on the intricacies of Pashtun honor, known as Pashtunwali; of how to conduct chai diplomacy with Baluch sardars [cheiftans]; or how to integrate Turkmen tribes into a confederacy, much less a central government. We have not even a fraction of people trained in the language, customs and social hierarchy of the Uzbeks, Turkmen, Pashtuns, Hazara, Tajik, Kirghiz, Kabuli, Baluch, and Jat tribes [among a dozen others].

What is going to be the panacea in Afghanistan? A 'Sons of Iraq' approach will not work. The tribes and Qawm [social ties of solidarity] are such that it is said in the remote hills and valleys regarding the prevelant internecine warfare: 'me against my brother, but me and my brother against a stranger.' Though some tribes find it in their interest to work with the coalition [at least for now], many others do not. The former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali recently wrote a book titled Afghan Guerrilla Warfare, in which he states: 'The collapse of the central government of Afghanistan or the destruction of its standing armies has never resulted in the defeat of the nation by an invader. The people, relying on their decentralized political, economic, and military potential have always taken over the resistance against the invaders.'

Coalition trainers at the Kabul Military Training Center as of 2007, were not even trained in or trained to teach counter-insurgency tactics to the Afghan National Army. The Afghan National Police still receives none. A counter-narcotics plan has yet to be integrated into a counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency strategy. To their credit, coalition commanders are starting to shift from an enemy-centric to a population centric approach…..but given that eight years have passed, how much longer do we expend our blood and treasure in this effort? What is it that we think we can accomplish in a nation [in a loose sense of the word] where empires before us have invaded, occupied and failed to transform?

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