Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan
October 28, 2008 3:09 PM   Subscribe

From Great Game to Grand Bargain. "The crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan is beyond the point where more troops will help. U.S. strategy must be to seek compromise with insurgents while addressing regional rivalries and insecurities." A new piece in Foreign Affairs by Barnett R. Rubin and Ahmed Rashid. [Via]
posted by homunculus (35 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
No outsiders have ever really won anything for any length of time in Afghanistan. The terrain is horrendous.

A central purpose of the contact group would be to assure Pakistan that the international community is committed to its territorial integrity -- and to help resolve the Afghan and Kashmir border issues so as to better define Pakistan's territory.

Well better ask India too. Good luck with that.

In my more cynical moments I sometimes think that the Iraq war was initiated as a winnable diversion from an unwinnable war in Afghanistan.
posted by carter at 3:58 PM on October 28, 2008

General Sir Michael Rose thinks coalition forces in Afghanistan have "now reached their limit."
posted by Abiezer at 4:05 PM on October 28, 2008

Via BB, photos from the Afghan drug war, by Aaron Huey (He's a photographer, so this is flash).
posted by acro at 4:07 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

PBS Frontline: The War Briefing
posted by acro at 6:22 PM on October 28, 2008

Nice post. I haven't read this article yet, but it's on the "to-do" list. Ahmed Rashid had the good? fortune of publishing "Taliban" in March 2001 and has since seen a (well deserved) rise to prominence.
posted by Horatius at 7:41 PM on October 28, 2008

The terrain is horrendous.

I really dislike this excuse. Our major problems have been social and political from the start, not military. Iraq is mostly flat, and we're going to see ourselves evicted in a few years without accomplishing anything there too.

From Abiezer's link: winning the confidence and consent of the people of Afghanistan will always be more important than winning any particular tactical level military battle against the Taleban
posted by BinGregory at 8:15 PM on October 28, 2008

...evicted in a few years...

A final draft of the SOFA terms that has circulated recently sets Dec. 31, 2011, as the date for full withdrawal and includes withdrawal of U.S. troops from all cities and villages by next summer. Changing those terms would require a full renegotiation of the treaty and ratification by the Iraqi Parliament. - Salon

What will be our national consoling myth for losing in Iraq? "Too many mountains" is clearly emerging as the winner for Afghanistan, with a little "everybody else got beat there too" on the side. One hand tied behind our backs? No, we used that one for Vietnam. I'm betting some variation of "they just don't want peace - it's their culture" / "it's not our fault they just don't want to become Western Europe with minarets" / "people like that need a dictator to keep them in line".
posted by BinGregory at 8:50 PM on October 28, 2008

Link to some initial thoughts from Josh Foust at Registan from a couple weeks ago.
posted by FuManchu at 10:19 PM on October 28, 2008

"Too many mountains" is clearly emerging as the winner for Afghanistan

If you're quick, you'll get good odds on this starter for Iran too.

I'm betting some variation of "they just don't want peace - it's their culture"

Yeah? I'm going for "loyal patriots backstabbed by the new government" - though that may be a little optimistic.
posted by pompomtom at 11:14 PM on October 28, 2008

Finally finished the article.

How about that closing line:
without such audacity there is little hope = President Obama, please to be listening to our advice.

China, Pakistan's largest investor, is poised to become the largest investor in Afghanistan as well, with a $3.5 billion stake in the Aynak copper mine, south of Kabul.

You got to hand it to the Chinese. Enterprising does not even begin to describe it. Out of all the incredibly ambitious things that must take place for Rubin and Rashid's proposals to work, having the Chinese come in and lubricate the economy has got to be the most doable.

This is also encouraging to hear, if it is true:

Afghan society -- which has gone through two Loya Jirgas and two elections, possesses over five million cell phones, and has access to an explosion of new media -- is incomparably stronger than it was seven years ago, and the Taliban know it

But how does that balance out with the daily loss of tribal elders assassinated by the Taliban? Writers like Nir Rosen have described the breakdown of the Pashtunwali as a result of targeting of the elders. You wonder how many graybeards are even left.

Beyond that, you get the impression that everybody is and has been willing to sit down and talk things out, with the exception of the US.:

Senior officials of the Afghan government say that at least through 2004 they repeatedly received overtures from senior Taliban leaders but that they could never guarantee that these leaders would not be captured by U.S. forces and detained at Guantánamo Bay or the U.S. air base at Bagram

If things go well next week and we have an administration that respects diplomacy, maybe we will be able to get back to where we were 7 years ago before the bombs began to fall. Here's hoping.
posted by BinGregory at 12:48 AM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Excellent article, covering most bases. I read it quickly, but one more issue is Afghanistan being used as a launching pad for the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) which is fighting a low-intensity insurgency against the Pakistan Army in the mineral rich province of Balochistan (whose capital Quetta was hit by an earthquake today). Here is an article authored by a former Pakistan Army Chief that illustrates the threat perception felt by the Pakistani Army vis-a-vis India and the US.
posted by Azaadistani at 4:43 AM on October 29, 2008

What will be our national consoling myth for losing in Iraq?

I suspect it will be either something to do with the lack of instant replay or some complaint about the units not being properly balanced.
posted by srboisvert at 5:56 AM on October 29, 2008

I'm betting some variation of "they just don't want peace - it's their culture"

No, the excuses I'd bet on would be variations on Vietnam: we weren't allowed to be brutal enough.
posted by rokusan at 7:50 AM on October 29, 2008

I was thinking about posting on this. Naturally you beat me to it Hom.

“ ‘The terrain is horrendous.’

‘I really dislike this excuse. Our major problems have been social and political from the start, not military.’”

Not to get Kipling here, but terrain is a component of any socio-political struggle. And if the terrain is rough it really really really aids guerilla warfare. Such that while the support of the people is still paramount ( “the people are to the guerilla as the sea is to the fish” - Mao), you can hide out for ages so you’re less reliant on them. Plus, the population is spread wide and is hard to cover by any administrative action - because of the terrain.
And I’m speaking just of Afghanistan here. Guerrilla cell systems, because of their dependance on the people, have characteristics specific to the locale in which they’re operating.
So the isolation of an insurgent force from the population, which is a goal of any counterinsurgent is not as achievable there as it might be elsewhere - f’rinstnce - the defeat of the FLN in Algeria in ‘60.

But that’s predicated on the goals of this administration being in line with the national interest. They’re not.

Hell, Bush came out and directly said he couldn’t care less about OBL. So I don’t think they’re all that motivated to assert foreign policy - of any kind really - beyond their own interests.

On those terms, ‘we’ have been quite successful in Iraq.
But it can be confusing to say that, so - for example, the Iraq Study Group said that Bremer firing 120,000 -odd of Iraqi bureaucrats from all ministries was one reason for failure.
Well that’s pretty odd. I mean, ideologically speaking we left hard core Nazis in place (not in charge) in the bureaucracy after WWII (Hell, we recruited a bunch of them for the space/missile program and intelligence).

So ok, whether it was the source of failure or not, you have to ask why he did that.

I’m just asking the question, not speculating on his motives. But what did he do - next?
Well, he privatized all the ministries. All the state owned operations went private. Oh, except for oil.
No big deal, we all like private enterprise, yeah?
But a bunch of laws were put in place that gave preferential treatment to U.S. (I’ll not call them ‘American’) companies.
And corporate (Iraqi) taxes were cut 25 percent and opened up to private foreign investment such that one could wholly own a business in Iraq (cement, mines, pharmaceuticals, airlines, etc.) but funnel all profit out.
(Which is why U.S. taxpayers have to cover the crumbling Iraqi infrastructure).
About 150 U.S. firms got contracts in Iraq Parsons Co. got a 5.3 billion (’B’ - billion) dollar contract. Others got contracts on or about the same order. Stuff like that.

In fact according to a work statement by BearingPoint , Inc. (one of the companies that got a contract) the whole ‘reconstruction’ effort was a transformation of the Iraqi economy, not so much public security and infrastructure.

But speaking of physical ‘reconstruction’ Halliburton (and six other companies) monopolized reconstruction -electricity, road and bridge, water and sewer, hospitals, etc. etc. etc.
(Wondering why we bombed so much?)

So, apart from Dick Cheney - who’s in charge of this? Well, no one really. We earmarked about $34 billion in reconstruction money alone. No single office or individual is ultimately responsible for that dough (according to the Iraq Study Group report)

Meanwhile about 70% of the Iraqi workforce got laid off. And one thing we know about countries with high unemployment and tonnes of weapons cached all over the country - they’re really fucking stable.

Starting to look like a cycle? Well, even SecDef Bob Gates is getting friggin’ embarrassed ( “Funding for non-military foreign affairs programs...remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military” ) by the amount of money we put into explosive force solutions.
I say ‘explosive force’ rather than ‘military’ because there are methods by which military force can be useful. Military force encompasses a broad political sphere of action - albiet related to force.
Explosive force is pretty much a narrow band of ‘blowed stuff up real good.’
We are not spending a lot of money on the military per se.
We are spending a lot of money on the ‘blowed stuff up real good’ sliver of military action.

And it is this that is leading foreign affairs.

From there it’s fairly easy to see the problem.
We are, in fact, fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. And that’s not bad because we’re so hamstrung, that’s bad because we’re in a fight we shouldn’t be in, in the first place, plus it’s working against our own national interest in terms of security.

(Also - fuck the Chinese, they’re even worse than we are. We at least have an otherwise promising government, but we’re throttled by this albatross around our necks. They don’t even make any bones about it. It’s standing policy. I’d rather see Russia there.)

So of course our government - the folks who have been saying “There’s no f’ing WMDs in Iraq!” and such - are not really motivated to “win.” Especially since security, and even ‘destroying’ al Qaeda is obviously not the objective.

You don’t kill a mosquito with firepower. You drain the swamp. In this case that means helping the Afghan folks into stability. Using military force to instill order in the region so people can work productively for themselves and you can break the symbiotic/parasitic relationship with the insurgents.

In those terms, while I agree with most everything in the Foreign Affairs piece, this administration has not merely been wrong about foreign policy (e.g. the “Bush administration never reevaluated its strategic priorities in the region after September 11”), but in fact, has been actively working against the interests of the people of the United States.

I strongly suspect one of the primary reasons there has not been (real) retaliation against American forces for crossing the Pakistani border is that it is in their interest (and in the interests of anyone sane really) to wait for the next administration in the hopes that they (and let’s be frank - Obama) will be more reasonable.

Any speculation on foreign policy moves by the Bush administration (the ‘we should’s) must be viewed through the aforementioned prism of private, not public, interest.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:13 AM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

“whose capital Quetta was hit by an earthquake today”

Yeah, that’s our sub-orbital earthquake machi - whuthfu!?
*hustled off by spooks*
posted by Smedleyman at 8:16 AM on October 29, 2008

What will be our national consoling myth for losing in Iraq?
Why do you assume that Iraq has been lost? I am no apologist for the invasion but don't recent trends suggest that Iraq is past the worst?
posted by pots at 8:26 AM on October 29, 2008

Insight with David Loyn: Afghanistan - 200 Years of Intervention 90 minute video of a talk at the Frontline club.
posted by Abiezer at 3:16 AM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Iraq was lost the moment we invaded.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:40 PM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just picked up Loyn's book (verdict: excellent) thanks for the link Abiezer.
posted by acro at 7:19 AM on November 20, 2008

The author clearly doesn't understand that the Great Game was never really a gamenor fun nor that it involved the loss of tens of thousands of lives by the British, Indians, Afghans, Russians, Uighur, Chinese, Turkmen, Persian, Kashmiri, Khorvan, Khazak, Tatar, Turks, Armenians, Azeri, Sogdians, Tadjik, Balti, Hunza, Kyrgyz, etc., etc. that were involved over the years.

a contest with a few players, mostly limited to intelligence forays and short wars fought on horseback with rifles

The Great Game can no longer be treated as a sporting event for distant spectators.

The Great Game was not a cold war, as Rubin would suggest, it was very much a hot war and great armies were marched across Central Asia and great armies were slaughtered there. The current events in Afghanistan fit very, very closely with te history of the region 100 or 200 years ago, right down to the Taliban vs. Northern Alliance battle for dominance with world superpowers meddling and switching sides as has happened in the last 30 or 40 years.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:00 AM on November 20, 2008

The Great Game was not a cold war, as Rubin would suggest, it was very much a hot war and great armies were marched across Central Asia and great armies were slaughtered there.

Sorry, links! Links!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:03 AM on November 20, 2008

The Pakistan Test
posted by homunculus at 1:16 PM on November 24, 2008

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