Pak-ghanistan

From Joe Klein’s good piece on Afghanistan:

“Karzai is not incompetent,” a Western diplomat told me. “He is acting according to his own priorities — his family, his tribe, his nation, in that order.”

And why shouldn’t he?  Why exactly should Karzai be some Afghan nationalist just because the US wants him to be?  Clan/family, then tribe then nation interestingly is the pattern of basic human social evolution (at least in the Eurasian history of development).  As I’ve written before, the whole COIN campaign in Afghanistan with its population-centric warfare is trying to build a nation-state in Afghanistan–in essence in the span of a couple years trying to move a medieval feudal region into a 17th or 18th century hierarchical state (much less a 21st century one).  Not only that but the identities need to shift to a national outlook (as per the quotation) for the leadership.

Calling Karzai “corrupt” is totally bogus–or rather only correct from the point of view of the Western forces whereby the nation-state identity should be a primary loyalty.  If you don’t accept (as I don’t) that Afghanistan should be thought of as a unified state, then what Karzai is doing is not corruption but precisely looking after clan and tribe as per his actual value identity.

As much as some people have wanted the endgame politically in Afghanistan to include a buy-in from India (and Iran but the US won’t go for that), the reality is the country is going back into Pakistan’s region of influence.

He [Karzai] wants to cut a deal with the Taliban. In recent months, there have been secret meetings between AWK and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban second in command arrested by the Pakistanis — no coincidence, undoubtedly — in February. In recent weeks, it has become apparent that Karzai seems intent on working with the Pakistanis, rather than around them, to secure a deal. The firing of his highly regarded Intelligence Minister, Amrullah Saleh, was in part an offering to Pakistan. “The Paks considered Saleh an Indian agent,” a U.S. official told me. “He was part of the Northern Alliance, which was funded by India, and he was vehemently opposed to reconciliation [with the Taliban].”

I’m not saying this is a great outcome.  In fact I think its very problematic.  In fact I doubt The Taliban are going to go for such a deal.

And why exactly should The Taliban be in for a deal?  They are winning the after-war stabilization process:

Six months after Barack Obama announced his new Afghan strategy in a speech at West Point, the policy seems stymied. There are some areas of brilliant success, especially in the counterterrorism efforts of the special-operations forces, where increased human-intelligence capabilities have yielded a bumper crop of midlevel Taliban leaders killed or captured — 121 in recent months, according to McChrystal. But the larger purpose of the mission — the stabilization of Afghanistan and the eradication of the Taliban rebellion — has not gone so well. The lack of progress has led to finger-pointing and second-guessing. There have been disagreements between McChrystal and the U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, a former U.S. Army general with extensive Afghanistan experience. The military is more generally frustrated with the State Department for not producing the “civilian surge” necessary to help secure the population.

Instead of blaming State or Defense how about just acknowledging that the policy outlined is not going to work–is structurally incapable of success?  In my mind, this is the real problem with de-historicized, de-contextualized abstract theories (e.g. population-centric counterinsurgency) that are assumed and then fit to a situation (in this case Afghanistan) instead of investigating Afghanistan and asking whether it will work in this case, what is realistically possible in this specific situation?

Afghanistan is not Iraq.  It does not have the history of the strong centralized state that Iraq did and that COIN assumes in order to be considered a success.  No amount of AID, anti-corruption NGOs or whatever are going to change the reality in Afghanistan–which is quite honestly in a medieval state of development.  (I don’t say that as a Western imperialist looking down my nose at those “primitive” peoples but simply as the state of affairs given total social breakdown and horrific war over the last 30 years not to mention the endemic poverty prior to said 30 years of horror).

The Taliban want the foreign armies out and are opposed to the Karzai government.  The Karzai government is incapable (as well as unwilling) to be the partner in a US-led NATO COIN operation.  Killing and/or capturing their mid-level operatives does nothing but continue to keep the stalemate going–the US/NATO win militarily while The Taliban generally continue to win politically.  Except the tipping point is that The Taliban are on home turf and don’t have to pay millions (nay billions) to maintain a large standing, resourced army.

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4 thoughts on “Pak-ghanistan

  1. [Afghanistan] does not have the history of the strong centralized state that Iraq did

    1. This is true.
    2. Considering that Iraq’s history as a strong centralized state is basically the same as the former Yugoslavia’s (a strong enough dictator can overcome its natural tendency to fragment along ethnic lines), it’s quite a statement.

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  2. People forget that before the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan wasn’t doing that badly as countries go. As far as Karzai goes, he is running scared as he doesn’t believe the US is in it for the long haul and who can blame him as Obama has pledged to start pulling out in 2011?

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  3. Are we willing to do the things that are necessary to change the culture?

    If not, what in the heck are we doing there at this point? OBL isn’t even on the radar anymore, we can take any hill we want but we lose it the second we step off of it, and I don’t know if we’ve bombed more poppy fields than #3 members of Al Qaeda.

    Why are we still there?

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  4. This is, as Glenn Greenwald might put it, a perhaps not wholly unrelated observation, but does is it as jarring for anyone else as it is for me when watching the footy when Martin Tyler or whoever announces that “this match is being broadcast on the Armed Forces Network to U,S, military personnel serving in more than 175 countries around the world”? Now, to be fair, in a lot of cases that probably comprises pretty much just Marines guarding embassies. But still. Whoa.

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