Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan policy’

“The Magician” draws eyes away from the ball in Afghanistan–again!

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Once again, on the eve of a major meeting of U.S. and NATO foreign and defense ministers on October 14, the “Magician” in his green cape with a wide-sweeping gesture says, “Look over there!” And everyone takes their eyes off the ball, to be entralled once again by the Magician’s magic.

This magic causes them to forget nine years of dealing with the Magician, the rational and analytical factors that are relevant to the situation on the ground, and strategic thinking on how to manage and overcome the obstacles those realities pose, including the goals to be pursued.

The latest gesture is really a series of actions, including the recent formation of a peace negotiation council and culminating in the well-timed news report, based on an interview with a NATO official, on background, announcing that ISAF is facilitating preliminary discussions–not negotiations–aimed at reconciliation of the Taliban and reintegration of their members into Afghan society.

The NATO official confirmed that “there has been outreach by very senior members of the Taliban to the highest levels of the Afghan government.” But the official cautioned that these have been only preliminary discussions about reintegrating insurgent fighters and reconciling with the militant movement’s leadership.

Even so, the official said, prospect of a cease-fire and peace pact as a path to ending the war, now nine years old, is deemed sufficiently tantalizing that personnel from NATO nations in Afghanistan “have indeed facilitated to various degrees the contacts (emphasis added).

The NATO official…spoke in advance of a NATO meeting in Brussels on Thursday that will include alliance ministers of foreign affairs and of defense. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates are scheduled to attend.

Thursday’s meeting of NATO foreign and defense ministers comes a month before an alliance summit in Lisbon to discuss strategy in Afghanistan.

–Thom Shanker, “NATO Helping Afghan-Taliban Talks, Official Says,” New York Times, Oct. 13, 2010

In January, at the London Afghanistan International Donors Conference, Hamid Karzai used a similar ploy with great success. There, he moved attention to excitement about reconciliation with the Taliban, away from the massive electoral fraud in the August 2009 presidential elections which he had just overseen (the climactic moments of which came in early November, 2010), and away from the continuing and massive corruption in Afghanistan, from the top down.

The Allies fell for it, and ignored the electoral fraud for all intents and purposes. Now, as another massive electoral fraud is underway, the allies talk of the “magic” solution of negotiating a deal with the Taliban and exiting the country, which is, in the words of the NATO official quoted above, “sufficiently tantalizing” to lead NATO to facilitate safe passage of Taliban members to Kabul.

But there are hard fracts on the ground. The Taliban has the momentum, and according to most reprts is gaining ground. Good governance, according to U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine is the sine qua non , i.e., absolute prerequisite, for any success against the Taliban.

So, here is the agenda which should form a central focus of discussions among leaders of the NATO countries and also among the more broadly-based donors conferences to be held in the future:

1. What is Hamid Karzai doing to build good governance–i.e., constitutional government and the rule of law–in Afghanistan?

2. Will he reverse the blocking of the two anti-corruption bodies that had been established, and allow prosecution of high-ranking officials in his government for graft or other corrupt activities?

3. What is he doing to ensure that the counting of votes in the September 18 national assembly elections is conducted fairly, and that all complaints of electoral fraud be fully investigated with their results being reflected in the vote totals?

4. What is he doing to establish good governmence and the provision of government services in the Kandahar region, as the U.S. moves to clear the Taliban from the area?

These are not, of course, the only questions that need to be taken up in allied discussions. However, they require a central, serious and sustained focus, both at meetings and in ongoing discussions between coalition officials.

If a central requirement for Taliban reconciliation and reintegration is that they accept the Afghan constitution, the allies should also insist that Hamid Karzai accept the Afghan constitution and the rule of law, even when it comes to the prosecution of his cronies.

Will it hapen? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Karzai has “rolled” President Obama on the corruption issue, and there now appears to be little inclination to hold him to account. In fact, with the dismissal of the deputy attorney general in charge of the anti-corrupion efforts, the whole allied anti-corruption policy is in a shambles.

Let the leaders of the allies and the donors group focus on that, not the Magician’s latest ploy. Without good governance, which by definition appears to be impossible in a lawless state, the U.S. and its allies are not likely to prevail in Afghanistan.

General David Petraeus is quoted by Bob Woodward in his new book, Obama’s Wars, as saying, I understand the government is a criminal syndicate.” (p. 220).

American, ISAF and other coalition soldiers should not be asked to risk their lives to maintain in power “a criminal syndicate” headed by Hamid Karzai. The central task for decisionmakers, in the U.S. as in allied countries, is to move the government of Afghanistan toward observing the rule of law. That appears to be the only path to establishing good governance.

The alternative, in theory but not really on the ground, is to fall for the Magician’s ploys about reconciliation and reintegration of the Taliban, and just hope the whole problem of Afghanistan and Pakistan will simply go away.

We should bear in mind that even the negotiated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam took five years of negotiations in Paris (1968-1973). In that case, the consequences for the U.S. of withdrawing from Vietnam and the ensuing defeat of the South Vietnamese government in 1975 were very minor, when compared to what would happen in South Asia if a negotiated peace with the Taliban led subsequently to the fall of the Afghan governmet to the Taliban.

The Magician’s ploy is “tantalizing”, particularly to those with no memory or who see no way out of the morass in Afghanistan.  But all concerned should keep their eyes on the ball, the realities on the ground, and discuss in earnest a strategy that can overcome them.

Since the U.S. strategy appears to be in disarray, perhaps NATO foreign and defense ministers can come up with some useful ideas, particularly with respect to the establishment of  “good governance” and the rule of law, including effective prosecution of individiuals at the top of the power structure in Afghanistan.

The Trenchant Observer

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Comments are invited.

Strategic disarray in Afghanistan

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

“The current near-term strategy appears to be to try to kill enough of the Taliban’s leaders to force them to negotiate a settlement on terms acceptable to Hamid Karzai.”

“This war will not be won, or defeat avoided, by fine intellectual distinctions.”

“What Obama needs to do is to take the bull by the horns, and start exploring options for the early departure of Hamid Karzai. This will be a monumentally challenging task. So was D-Day in World War II.”

Current U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

The bad news from Afghanistan, and about U.S. policy making in Washington, is coming in at a dizzying pace.

Hardly had we recovered from the Wikileaks disclosures, when Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars threw a sharp spotlight on the nature and quality of deicision making in the White House.

At such a juncture, it is useful to reflect for a moment on our strategy in Afghanistan.

The United States developed during the course of the war in Iraq the ability to combine real-time intelligence with targeted killings and special operations. Some military and civilian leaders appear to have concluded that this capability turned the war in Iraq around. They underestimate or forget the significance of other factors such as genuine elections and a real government partner in achieving the turnaround there.

In Afghanistan, U.S. military and civilian policymakers have bought into the seductive allure of this extraordinary targeted killing capability, falling into the trap of rejecting the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine (embodied in David Petraeus’ COIN army manual).

The leitmotif of the Army’s COIN doctrine is that such conflicts are won by protecting the people and gaining their support as a result of providing them with security. This takes a long time.

As now revealed in Bob Woodward’s description of Obama’s drawn-out policy review of last summer and fall, the president has wanted desperately to get out of Afghanistan.

However, he has not come up with a strategy to do so. Somewhat disastrously, he has partially rejected the military’s advice, giving them a deadline of July, 2011 to start handing control over to he Afghans and withdrawing troops. This sent the wrong signal to everyone in the region.

It was, and is, an impossible assignment. The deadline does not allow for even a limited COIN strategy that could show results by the announced December policy review deadline.

Whether because of the strategy review and deadline, or because McChrystal with his background in special operations was a firm believer in that form of counterinsurgency warfare, U.S. strategy in Aghanistan shifted radically away from trying to secure and hold territory and population centers, particularly after the failure of the Marja campaign earlier this year.

The current near-term strategy appears to be to try to kill enough of the Taliban’s leaders to force them to negotiate a settlement on terms acceptable to Hamid Karzai.

What happens in the long-delayed Kandahar campaign, and whether it is possible to hold the region while leaving Ahmed Karzai in place, will reveal whether there may still be a COIN component of an evolving strategy now that David Petraeus is in command.

The War-Fighting Role of the CIA

Now we learn that the military is providing drones and other equipment to the CIA, which has assumed a war-fighting role, presumably because of their ability to locate human targets for drone and special operations attacks.

It should not come as a surprise that with the CIA and special ops forces directing the assault on the Taliban in their Pakistani sanctuaries, considerations of international law have been jettisoned almost entirely.

The Washington Post reports that the CIA (through employees and contractors, we know from other sources), has taken a lead role in the drone attacks. As non-military personnel, these individuals do not appear to be protected by the provisions of the law of war or humanitarian law that might otherwise apply, even under the Bush and Obama Administrations’ extraordinarily broad interpretations of those provisions.

Karzai’s Peace Council

Earlier this week Carlotta Gall of the New York Times reported that President Hamid Karzai had created (out of thin air) a large body to negotiate peace and reconciliation with the Taliban, in total diregard of the Afghan Constitution. She communicated this plan to her readers without so much as mentioning the September 18 elections and the massive fraud that is currently underway.

Keeping our Eyes on the Ball

So, we are trying to kill and intimidate the Taliban to the conference table, at a time when many if not most reports indicate they are gaining momentum against the fatally corrupt government of Hamid Karzai. We are ignoring the impact on the population of Pakistan, and even its military, of repeatedly taking direct military action within the territory of that sovereign state–regardless of whatever “consent” may have been given by the military or even the civilian government.

With a short-sighted focus on exiting Afghanistan as soon as possible, we seem oblivious to the very great risks that our drone attacks may have an impact in Pakistan which, together with the impact of the recent floods, could cause politics in that country to spin out of control.

The president appears to have his eyes on the wrong ball, which is Afghanistan. It is simply not realistic to assume that we can withdraw from that country in the short term, without producing disastrous consequences.

We need to keep our eyes on the nuclear ball, which is in Pakistan. Aghanistan will not achieve stability if efforts to achieve it destablize Pakistan, which is the real ball game in this part of the world.

It is also time to take the war-fighting role away from the CIA, and to leave conduct of this war to the military, under the direction of the commander-in-chief.

On questions of stategy, Obama quite properly will and should have the final word. He would be well-advised, however, to listen most carefully to the civilian and military experts with direct responsibilities and/or experience on the ground, and to ignore the fine intellectual distinctions others around him throw out–such as finding a “more spphisticated” way of fighting corruption in the country.

This war will not be won, or defeat avoided, by fine intellectual distinctions.

What Obama needs to do is to take the bull by the horns, and start exploring options for the early departure of Hamid Karzai. This will be a monumentally challenging task. So was D-Day in World War II.

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

Comments are invited.