Sunday, May 21, 2006

Learning Lessons

I hopefully have learned mine, especially since the lesson was so fresh (surely to be later forgetten as always). So I wont critique the headline of this WaPo article.

The article discusses the same topics that showed up in the AP article mentioned a few posts below. The WaPo article, at least briefly, touches on some of the contending issues. The issues I wish were mentioned, at least briefly, in the AP article. Though the WaPo avoids discussing the warlord/druglord/gov't official issue in depth, which is understandable, given the complexity and contending issues.

So, yeah, a lot of deaths this past week in the fighting. The Taliban are surely making a showing. But whether or not it was just that, a show, was quickly mentioned at lunch. I'm venturing towards that camp, thinking it's a show, rather than a strengthening. Partly, because I suspect the Taliban were dispersed rather than destroyed over the past few years (the NWFP being the well known sanctuary), and with things boiling up in Balochistan and other areas bordering, it's an opportune time to come back across the border and stir things up. And Iraq has been dominating the headlines for way too long now, the Al-Qaida here and in Pakistan are probably feeling left out.

Interestingly, the WaPo article mentions a public disapproval of the ISAF/CF tactics in rooting out the militants here. That brings me back to the lesson part. As is also mentioned, there are more troops here now than there were in the initial invasion and attack. It seems like the lessons applied then are now forgotten. Moreover, the same lessons, which should have been reinforced in the Iraq fighting seem to be ignored. Namely, from what I've read, part of the success of the initial attack in Afghanistan was due to the "small-scale" and integration of outside forces with the allied Afghan parties, i.e. the heavy use of integrated special forces. The other part, of course, being the fact that there were allied parties, and a common enemy.

That may be the problem this time around, and the cause of the necessity for the heavy-handedness. In these recent lurches towards democracy, we've gotten, or at least seen, factionalism (which most likely reduces to the long-standing tribalism of the region) rather than pluralism. And so there may no longer be a broader alliance and dominant or sigular enemy, such as was apparently present before 2002.

Of course, my perspective as a contractor is highly limited, and only compounded by the compound walls, and the hills that completely obscure the horizon beyond Kabul.


Elizabeth said...

Interesting post. I think you're forgetting a few key factors.

1) The United States co-opted warlords and mujaheddin across the west and north to win Kabul. They still only need a minimum of troops there.

2) The US and allies never controlled the south: they just drove an indefatigable guerrilla force underground for a short time. They're (Talibs, aka southern Pashtu tribes) rested, and they'll be back, using the same tactics they used to drive out the Russians and drive them crazy, including using civilians (complicit and not) as shields.

3) Nobody ever wins in Afghanistan but the Afghans. The Persians didn't capture Pashtunistan- they got the Soghdians but the Pashtuns persist. The English didn't. The Soviets didn't. Now you think the US is going to control one of the most embattled, warlike, and tireless groups of people on the planet? Doubt it.

The US has already had to resort to what eventually lost the war for the Soviets, which is large numbers of civilian casualties in the name of defeating terror. This galvanized public opinion against the Soviets and communists, and brought many more mujaheddin into the fold. The US should have avoided it, but now they're trapped.

The North- Tajiks and Uzbeks- is content to get rich under American rule. The South will never be content, not under a Tajik, not until they rule all of Kabul and the country.

Why do you think Afghanistan has all these troubles in the first place?

I have no problems with Pashtuns. I admire independent peoples. But the fact is, they are like that. You can't just make a bargain with one tribal leader and expect them to accept it. These are not Panjshiri.

Elizabeth said...

By the way- brief timeline:

Dec. 1979- Soviets invade and remove one communist to put another in place.

Costs increase throughout the 1980s.

May 1985- SIX YEARS LATER- mujaheddin from different parts of the country, with US funding, form an alliance.

That was after just 900 people were massacred in March by Soviet troops, far less than the 3,000 recently reported.

I guess when the Soviets do it, it's a massacre, but when the US does it, it's collateral damage.

Funny how the US, which depended so much on the individual and group ferocity of the mujaheddin in the South, is now discounting this factor when thinking it can win the war. It's only just begun.

Q. A. Shah said...

I'm sure I'm missing plenty of factors. The three you bring up are on point, but as per point (1), I think the propaganda factor made it easier to bring together the "Northern Alliance". Now, though, with the drug trade back in full swing, I'm guessing personal profit may come before alliances, at least until the fighting gets to a level where the drug trade becomes difficult again.

For point (2), I agree, though I may not have stated that so clearly. Except I don't even think the Taliban were driven "underground", just across the border. They weren't, and will likely never be "defeated". Especailly the Al Qaeda wing and other provincial groups of them. Though perhaps as a nation-state ruling group, they can be removed from power.

And on point (3), I completely agree. And even the Afghans never win Afghanistan. Perhaps I'm overly cynical, but the idea of a Afghan nation-state always seemed a bit naive or constructed to me. My knowledge of the history is spotty, but the situation now doesn't seem to be that different than the history for the past 200 years. The idea of "Afghanistan" is not much different than the idea of "Pakistan", and at least w/ Pakistan, there was a clear political vision at one point, I don't even see that w/ Afghanistan.

On to another point, though...sidenote, i'm not personally advocating for anything here, just my armchair analysis. I think, with some of the realizations/sentiments alluded to above, on the history & make-up of the region, control, should never be the point. It's in the US's interest to not have the Taliban in control, at least as long as Al-Qaeda type ideology has a strong influence on those Pashtuns from the south. But "defeat" of them is possible in the sense of decreasing their political influence. Unlike Iraq, there isn't a resource here that is critical to US global dominance. Except that uranium, in the long term. The 'cornerstone' argument may be valid, given the country's location, between Iran, the CISs, and the Sub-Continent.

So in the, I don't know, I'm confused as ever.

But did you see the great Ahmed Rashid article in the Yale-Global? As usual, he provides great insight. And as he's so much more knowledgable about the area then I'll ever be, and a lot more articulate, he made some of the points I've been trying to bring up in the last few weeks a lot better than I ever could.

I'm throwing the link on the front page of the blog.