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A Third Way for Afghanistan?

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A Third Way for Afghanistan?

Old 7th Oct 2009, 00:36
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A Third Way for Afghanistan?

Apologies for the size of post. However, it's probably one of the most arresting pieces that I've recently read and would value the opinions of the more thoughtful PPRuNe membership.

From: Small Wars Journal: http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/jou...p/301-khan.pdf

Don’t Try to Arrest the Sea:
An Alternative Approach for Afghanistan
Major Mehar Omar Khan

Over the last three months that I’ve spent in the United States, I’ve heard with concern and trepidation the growing calls for a possible pull out from Afghanistan. No sane citizen of our world, let alone a Pakistani infantry officer who may soon end up being another name on an ever-growing list of the fallen soldiers in the war against terror, enjoys thinking about the painful possibility of our world’s greatest military power and history’s most inspiring nation retreating in the face of an onslaught by Kalashnikov-wielding bearded barbarians riding on the back of motorcycles, hungry horses and perspiring mules. What is being realized with increasing intensity is the pain of a seemingly endless and bloody war for almost a decade now; the pressure of a US public opinion that’s almost irreversibly weary of war (at least for now); the misery of a mismatch between resources and mandate; the rising groans of despairing allies unwilling to persevere and, the scary scarcity of success stories. However what needs to be realized is the fact that abandoning Afghanistan will be an unmitigated tragedy.

For the United States, I believe, Afghanistan is not a case of ‘success or failure’. The USA is too big and too powerful to fail against a collection of miserable fanatics holed up in the treacherous mountains of Southern Afghanistan. It’s instead a case of doing too much with too little care and attention. It’s a challenge (still quite surmountable) aggravated by ditching smart choices and contracting wrong compulsions.

The current US approach to fixing Afghanistan is impressive in detail but seriously flawed in design. Despite recent adjustments reflected most profoundly in Gen McChrystal’s Counterinsurgency Directive, the ship is still headed for rough seas. The overall design continues to be based on ‘mending and reforming’ Afghanistan the country – as a whole. The brass-tacks continue to be muddied by unclear strategic intent. The ‘reform route’ continues to be pursued ‘top-down’. Too many coalition personnel and too many international dollars still reside in Kabul or at best in the provincial headquarters. The majority of Afghans continues to stare angrily from the sidelines while a few thugs rule the streets and corridors of Kabul. Too many criminals continue to be respectable and powerful despite being in the neighborhood of so many well-meaning people. While too many US soldiers continue to die, radical surgery is still being pended in favor of cosmetics.

What is being tried is too much. What needs to be done is economizing the force and maximizing the effect. What needs to be done is to increasingly get smarter or leaner in physics and more effective and skillful in chemistry. What is being done is more and more of physics. What is
needed is more skill. What is being poured in is more troops. US public opinion is rightly angry about all of this. Why should young men continue to fall for a ‘losing cause’?

But is it a case of a ‘losing cause’ or one of a ‘badly managed success’. I believe it’s the latter. And it is with this belief that I want to suggest an alternative approach to what is being done. This approach is embedded in the belief that troops required to manage or govern Afghanistan will never be ‘enough’ and the right route is ‘bottom up’ and ‘hub to spokes’ and not the reverse. I also believe that promise and prosperity is the only magnet that can wean desperate people away from violence and that Afghanistan is too big to be made prosperous all-together. Hence the process of rebuilding and development will have to be ‘selective’ to start with.

The approach, suggested hereunder, is based on some ‘can’t do’ and some ‘can do’ principles for Afghanistan. The identification of what can be done has to be based on a dispassionate recognition of what can’t be done.

First, therefore, the ‘can’t do’ part:

Can’t ‘govern’ this country: It is historically incorrect to call Afghanistan a country or even a place. It has always been and is a people. Afghanistan represents a people who have always been divided and loosely managed; never properly ‘governed’ at any level even in the loosest sense of that word. Any effort to reverse that historical trend or reality will be a terribly misdirected investment of blood and money. Afghans, vastly ignorant as well as illiterate, have never been clever enough to submit to a central authority. ‘Liberal democracy’, ‘united vision’, a ‘social contract’, ‘tolerant co-existence’, ‘civil society’, ‘civil debate’, ‘national discourse’ – are all misnomers largely tossed around in a small section of expatriate community residing in the West. Hence, even the smartest bunch of people can’t govern this place as a whole.

Can’t ‘protect’ all Afghans: The emphasis in the ISAF Counterinsurgency Directive on ‘protecting the civilians, instead of killing the Taliban’ in unachievable in its entirety. Coalition troops can never reach the numbers necessary to extend adequate protection to the populace across Afghanistan. It will only give an additional propaganda tool to the Taliban, in addition to increasing the range of their target zone. Every suicide bombing will now be seen and portrayed as a sign of coalition’s failure to deliver on its ‘promise’ of ‘protecting’ the people. And promises mean a lot in that medieval society. My proposed ‘approach’ addresses this dilemma.

Can’t have ‘total’ peace: In Afghanistan, peace has always been relative – both in time as well as space. In that unfortunate part of the world, ‘peace’ has mostly meant ‘less fighting’ or ‘fighting contained to a few a tribes in a few pockets’ or ‘bloodletting restricted to family feuds’. Afghans are fatally skillful in digging up reasons to fire and fight. No amount of money, time or effort can reverse this tragic historical reality in a space of few years. It will instead take sincere national leadership and international commitment spanning generations – something very hard to come by.

Can’t have ‘rivers of milk and honey’ flowing in a few years: After centuries of war, Afghanistan is now way ‘beyond a quick or economical repair’. Too much is required to be set right and built anew. Roads, hospitals, schools and colleges - nothing is there. Attitudes, dreams, aspirations, ideals, sense of unity, and a ‘unifying’ sense of patriotism – again, nothing is there. It’s all broken; shattered by wounds and trauma inflicted by unkind times and endless misery. Brigades of straight-thinking US soldiers with scant support or commitment from Afghan ‘national’ leadership or international community (if there ever were two things by those names) can’t do it in decades, let alone years.

Can’t do it without Pashtuns: Like it or not, Afghanistan has always been a Pashtun country. Many as they are though, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras have always been the ‘outsiders’. Regardless of who holds the banner (the Taliban or anyone else) Pashtuns will never cease fighting unless given their leadership role in Kabul. They have always shed blood for the defense of their ‘right’ on the throne of Kabul. One can’t mess with that ‘right’ without incurring serious consequences. What we are facing in Afghanistan is ‘Pashtun Intifada’. It is only ‘led’ by bearded mullahs calling themselves ‘Taliban’. Take out Taliban and the insurgency will continue.

Now what ‘can be’ done:

The list is very short. Don’t try to arrest the sea. Create islands. Having gone well past the phase of breaking the back of Al-Qaeda and dispersing the Taliban, concentrate on ‘creating and building’ examples. Set the beacon and you’ll see that all the lost ships and boats will come ashore. Here’s how to do it.

First and foremost, believe that it’s not God that drives these people crazy; it’s poverty. Believe that Pashtuns don’t submit to the Taliban out of sheer love for the one-eyed Mullah Omar; its deprivation and fear that drives this herd to the first man holding the flag of power and promise. Raise your flag higher than the Mullah’s and the half-blind lunatic will be devoured by Pashtuns. What is being done is unfortunately not the right way of raising the banner. It defies the logic of ‘can’t do’s’ given above. The Pashtun face of the country is not sufficiently visible.

Kabul or the Provincial Reconstruction Teams will NOT work. Provinces are too big a governance laboratory for Afghanistan. Instead, pick a few districts (nothing more than that) in the heart of areas worst-afflicted by the Taliban-led insurgency. Invest heavily in these districts.

Do it in two phases; first craft the message, then two, let the message spread itself.

Here’s is how to create the message. In selected (preferably non-contiguous) districts, give them an honest and polished leadership from ‘amongst themselves’, a transparent and efficient court, a model Pashtun police heavily armed with both weapons and motivation, schools (separate for girls and boys), a few hospitals, electricity, money for farming and setting up small businesses through a few efficiently functioning banks, paved roads, a model transport system and, not the least, build a beautiful grand mosque and an FM station that recites Quran with Pashtu translation 24/7. If possible, build a few plants and job-creating projects around mineral mines and informal fire-arms industry. Let these people serve as an example for rest of the Pashtun country. Having created these models, international community can then work ‘upwards’ and ‘outwards’ to include more and more areas and tribes. Simultaneously the governance, right from district up to Kabul must be painted with an unmistakable Pashtun color. As of now, Pashtuns are being seen and treated like Sunnis of Iraq. In reality they are a majority and deserve to be empowered like Shias in Iraq.

A few examples of model districts would unmistakably mean this: that the USA means good and only good; that Islam is not the sole monopoly of Mullah Omar; that Islam and Quran can co-exist with banks and schools and hospitals and businesses; that life without bloodshed is a good life and that what Americans do is better than what Taliban do or plan to do. The approach will give Pashtuns an irresistibly attractive reason to ditch the message and manipulation of the Taliban in addition to stripping Mullah Omar and his Al Qaeda cohorts off their narrative and their manifesto.

Militarily, the coalition must hold fast to these model districts as bases and let the Taliban fester and sulk in the outlying, ungoverned margins. Their lack of ability to give in their areas of influence what coalition gives in its area of control will delegitimize them in due course of time. This may sound like giving away vast swathes of land to Taliban. In reality, it means a considerable improvement on the current situation. The Taliban structure of governance stands on a foundation of both fear and promise. The existing effort to pursue them everywhere leaves them surviving everywhere. They thrive on the coalition chasing their shadows. This new approach of excluding them from selected pockets will progressively deprive them of targets for violence and an audience for propaganda. Their brutalities in areas without coalition presence will discredit them while doing no harm to coalition’s image. Relative peace in coalition-governed districts will fuel discontent in Taliban-controlled districts. It will also give coalition and Afghan Forces the strategic advantage of operating from the ‘interior lines’ instead of having to hopelessly roll up the Taliban from the margins to the center.

Such ‘model district projects’ should not be the responsibility of the USA alone. Other members of the international community must also partake by taking up a district each.

These islands of peace and prosperity, though small, will be seen by all the lost mariners in the sea (of chaos and cruelty). It is my sincere belief that these model districts will serve as the ‘clarion call’. Pashtuns, hungry for food and promise, will come running and rally to the cause that gives hope of a better future, of peace and of return to the ‘throne of Kabul’.

Major Mehar Omar Khan, Pakistan Army, is currently a student at the US Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He has served as a peacekeeper in Sierra Leone, a Brigade GSO-III, an instructor at the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul, and as Chief of Staff (Brigade Major) of an infantry brigade. He has also completed the Command and Staff Course at Pakistan’s Command and Staff College in Quetta.
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 05:53
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Seems like a more than reasonable take on the situation from someone who actually knows what he is talking about.

Wonder if this is required reading in the White House, Downing Street and Kirribilli House? (Apologies to the Canadians and other NATO countries that are involved but I'm not sure where your big man lives)
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 06:10
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...so 'Drones' ARE now allowed to operate from inside is country now...?
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 06:23
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A good and sound argument. I particularly like the 24/7 FM transmission of the Koran - very clever to disenfranchise Omar.

The Pakistani army and police are getting lumps knocked off themselves in their NW frontiers, and they do have an insight which we could listen to.
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 07:01
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Interesting perspective. Worth looking deeper into.
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 07:18
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I like the idea. Would be interested in the views on the West buying all the opium to take the baddies out of the trade.
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 07:22
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It isn’t the first time that an SO2 has had a better grasp of situations than the “starred” ranks. Basil Liddell-Hart springs to mind.
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 09:47
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Major Khan makes some cogent points - but fact is that every occupying foreign force in Afghanistan, throughout history, has lost not only large numbers of soldiers, but also the will to carry through an impossible mission. I believe we lost an entire division, some 10000 men, in Queen Victoria's time and the Soviets lost double that, before withdrawal. No "mission" is worth that. We should also ask ourselves why, if we are in Afghanistan, we are not also (God forbid) in Somalia.
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 10:15
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It also sounds very familiar to the British strategy in Malaya
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 10:34
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I think the world has to resign itself to the fact that 'we' have to stay in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. There is no cure all, magic bullet or snake oil that is going to solve the multitude of problems. But - being seen to being fully committed to never ever leaving and to gradually bringing improvements to the parts of the country that can be safe areas will over time wear out the opposition.
I don't like it, it contradicts a lot of my liberal beliefs but I see no other way. Because we are not dealing apples with apples, it is 21st century ethics versus medieval intolerance.
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 15:14
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I believe you are right. I also believe it is important that we repair the Afghani infrastructure elements that the Coalition broke in ’01.

Regrettably, the entire operation isn’t helped by;

Peter W. Galbraith

Afghanistan's presidential election, held Aug. 20, should have been a milestone in the country's transition from 30 years of war to stability and democracy. Instead, it was just the opposite. As many as 30 percent of Karzai's votes were fraudulent, and lesser fraud was committed on behalf of other candidates. In several provinces, including Kandahar, four to 10 times as many votes were recorded as voters actually cast. The fraud has handed the Taliban its greatest strategic victory in eight years of fighting the United States and its Afghan partners.

The election was a foreseeable train wreck.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/02/AR2009100202855.html
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 15:30
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What Lyrical Prose!

Where's the music sheet that goes with this?

"Model districts" smells lots like the "strategic hamlets" that were, um, shall we call them "gated communities for Viet Cong sympathizers"?

At any event, Maj. Khan is a good pupil and sure to graduate with high marks from the Leavenworth staff college.

I feel sorry for anyone serving there: I understand that anyone taken prisoner gets his eyes gouged out, jinglebells cut off and then skinned alive before being left out to dry. I leave you to imagine what that does to a man's enthusiasm to bring democracy, freedom, justice and KFC to a landscape of mountainfolk who have their own definition of freedom.

Muslim hospitality is among the finest, most refined and considerate in the world but they just this thing about gatecrashers.
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 15:33
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27mm and HighCirrus

27mm, you might note also that regular troops plus mercenaries now total about 150,000 while the Soviets topped out their commitment at 115,000.

HighCirrus, for more input, you might want to follow M.K. Bhadrakumar's writings on the subject and there is also Col. Evgeny Khruschev's video blog at Russia Today.
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 16:43
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He might be a bit flawed in the operational detail, but I reckon that he has got the politics spot on regarding the Pashtuns, even if there may be a bit of Pakistani interest in promoting them.
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Old 7th Oct 2009, 19:19
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ArthurBorges You got links for M.K. Bhadrakumar and Col. Evgeny Khruschev? I'd be very interested to read/view.

Rgds. hc
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Old 8th Oct 2009, 08:51
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Would be interested in the views on the West buying all the opium to take the baddies out of the trade
To completely disrupt this market we could then offer heroin for free to addicts in exchange for them signing on to & attending a rehabilitation programme.

I think we need to re-define our measure of success, after all we have more-or-less done the job we set out to do i.e. driving AQ from the country and installing a democratic (by the standards of the region) Government. We can also dominate any area militarily at will, so we could easily counter any attempts by AQ to re-estalish its presence in the country.

Khan has struck the nail on the head re focussing our efforts on selected areas rather than trying to cover whole swathes of the country. Lets create a network of safe havens to give the NGOs, construction companies etc the opportunity to improve the lot of ordinary Afghans. The bits in between could become a playground for McChrystal's beloved special forces.
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Old 8th Oct 2009, 10:02
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It all seems so beguilingly simple, provide safe centres where the local economy can thrive providing employment and raising living standards, and keep the Taliban out. Major Khan knows that is the answer and now so do we, but does the Taliban? Strikes me that if they can infiltrate the so called secure areas and let off bombs, human or otherwise, then they can do much the same anywhere else that is supposedly "safe". Templer had many challenges and overcame them with great lateral thinking, but even he would be hard pressed to cope with a mindset that can now literally make a bomb out of a human being without any external indicators whatsoever. I'm not saying it can't be done, just that the security of these centres will have to be absolutely stringent with minimum coming and going permitted. In that alone there would seem to be a message from the Malayan emergency.
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Old 8th Oct 2009, 10:30
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High Cirrus

Col. Khruschev is at RT ? Latest News. Hit the blog button in this homepage and you'll find him. I love RT's slogan: "Any story can be another story altogether".

M.K. Bhadrakumar is lots of places, but you can scroll through the articles at Asia Times Online :: Asian news hub providing the latest news and analysis from Asia.

Beyond that, I strongly recommend Tomgram: Ann Jones, Us or Them in Afghanistan?. Scroll down past the first few paragraphs directly to:

Meet the Afghan Army

Is It a Figment of Washington's Imagination?
By Ann Jones

Ms. Jones' observations of ANA and ANP training raise issues that need to be addressed before Washington opts to up the ante.
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Old 8th Oct 2009, 10:34
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Perhaps we could learn from the Israeli's experience of plonking new settlements in the middle of nowhere? International law aside, these have been quite successful in terms of providing secure living space for their populous.

Security will of course be paramount regardless of what you end up doing. You will never be able to gaurantee this, as Khan has noted. Maybe we should encourage the Afghans to regard suicide bombers as another of live's inconveniences, along with careless drivers, dodgy kebab vendors etc.
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Old 8th Oct 2009, 11:09
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Dead Pan

Perhaps we could learn from the Israeli's experience of plonking new settlements in the middle of nowhere?
Nowhere? There were/are real live families, olive trees living there: they're called Palestinians. Here's some insight into your "nowhere": Concerns over olive harvest increase for families under threat of settlers :: www.uruknet.info :: informazione dall'Iraq occupato :: news from occupied Iraq :: [vs-1]

As for "settlements" in Afghanistan, they're called "forward operating bases" that would more perfectly the Israeli model if their populations were given farm tools and a few bags of fertilizer -- that's what the PLA does for hardship posts in China and the installations become self-sufficient for food.

And kebab is as tasty as falafel.

Oy vey... think again!
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