TOWARDS A LARKIN 'NON-SOLUTION' IN AFGHANISTAN? A COMMENT
>"More than 50 US and British soldiers have been killed by their Afghan partners this year. The attacks have been described as Taliban infiltration of the police, which could be addressed by better vetting. But the very words “Taliban”, “police”, and “vetting” are misleading. Insofar as it is possible to understand the motives of the attackers (almost all are killed immediately) it seems that only a quarter have any connection to the Taliban. The “police” in question are a hastily formed, poorly trained militia. Ninety-two out of 100 recruits in a Helmand unit I visited last year were unable to write their own name, or recognise numbers up to 10. Their five weeks of training amounted to little more than weapons-firing and basic literacy. Thirty per cent of recruits deserted that year. With up to 10,000 villagers recruited in a month, “vetting” was not a serious option. This gap between the language of policy makers and the reality is typical. It is time to be honest about Afghanistan: we face a desperate situation and an intolerable choice.... We may wonder why politicians and soldiers have insisted for so long that things are improving. We have been isolated from Afghan reality, and obsessed with misleading jargon. But it is not all the west’s fault. Afghanistan is poor, fragmented and traumatised; and blame should also be put on the Afghan government and on neighbours such as Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of brains and hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested over a decade in understanding failure, without overcoming it. The culture and behaviour of foreign troops, diplomats, Afghans, the Kabul government and Pakistan are not likely to change in the next two years. What we have seen is roughly what we will get. In the absence of “victory”, three alternative strategies have been proposed: training the Afghan security forces, political settlement with the Taliban and a regional solution. But training Afghan forces, which cost $12bn in 2010 alone, will not guarantee their future loyalty to a Kabul government. Two years and many regional conferences have passed since the formation of the Afghan Higher Peace council, and the clear Nato endorsement of reconciliation: but there is no sign that insurgents, the Kabul government or its neighbours will reach a deal, or feel much desire so to do. So there is no military solution, and no political solution either. Nor will there be before the troops leave. We will have to deal for decades with a troubled Afghanistan, which is not likely in my lifetime to be as wealthy as Libya, as effectively governed as Iraq, as educated as Syria, or as institutionally mature as Pakistan. What then? The point is not what the US and its allies ought to do but what they can. We have reached the limit of our knowledge, power and legitimacy. Whatever the west feels obliged to do, it is not capable of bringing a political or military solution. That task will be for Afghans. The west should continue financial support, so the Kabul government does not collapse, as it did in 1991, and give enough military support – air power in nearby bases, for example – to prevent the Taliban mobilising tanks and aircraft, as they did in 1995. But this is support, not a solution. Honesty about this will be the start of better policy".Rory Stewart, MP.,"Time to be Honest about Afghanistan." The Financial Times. 22 / 23 September 2012, in www.ft.com.
"Next year we are to bring all the soldiers home / For lack of money, and it is all right. Places they guarded, or kept orderly, We want the money for ourselves at home / Instead of working. And this is all right. It's hard to say who wanted it to happen, But now it's been decided nobody minds. The places are a long way off, not here, Which is all right, and from what we hear The soldiers there only made trouble happen. Next year we shall be easier in our minds. Next year we shall be living in a country / That brought its soldiers home for lack of money. The statues will be standing in the same Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same. Our children will not know it's a different country. All we can hope to leave them now is money".Phillip Larkin. "Homage to a Government." January 10, 1969. Notwithstanding the moral truth of the sorts of criticisms that a modern-day Phillip Larkin could make of the West's-not-so-far away 'scuttle' from Afghanistan, the usually wise, Rory Stewart, in his piece in this past week-end's Financial Times makes the same points that I did a while ago in this journal 1. Namely that however much it would have been worthwhile and splendid, nay indeed an act of Christian charity, to have succeeded in modernizing a wretched country like Afghanistan, bringing peace and the virtues of good government to its unfortunate peoples, this has proven to be beyond the capacity of the Western powers to contrive. Or should one say beyond the capacity for patience of Western public opinion in an age of 'austerity'. That and of course the little fact (not so little en faite) that au fond, the modernization of Afghanistan is not in realpolitik terms an important Western 'interest' or concern. It is of course something which should be aimed at and the world in its totality would indeed be a better place if Afghanistan were by an act of God or of Man to become, deus ex machina like, the Switzerland of Central Asia. Unfortunately, such has proven at least for the moment beyond anyone's but God's abilities. With that crucial, if rather depressing point accepted and assimilated, by all and sundry then the aims of Western policy in Afghanistan becomes relatively easy to understand: keep the current Kabul government in power and the Taliban out of power. Ideally, if the Taliban can be convinced by a magic wand to accept the rules of the political game in Afghanistan all well and good. Unfortunately, a few Dr. Pangloss's like Ahmed Rashid, notwithstanding, there is little evidence (qua Rory Stewart's piece) that the Taliban at this stage of the game will indeed chose to hand over their weapons to join the political jungle that is Afghan politics 2. Especially, with the approaching hand-over by the Western powers of their positions on the ground to the so-called Afghan National Army. However, the key point that Stewart makes and which indeed I have made on several occasions in this journal is that in order to keep the Taliban out of Kabul and most of the other urban centers of the country there is no real need for the current Western ground presence in Afghanistan. Elite special forces units, drones and regular air power will suffice to do the job. Again, as Stewart states openly, this is not a cause for celebration and certainly the Western Powers will and should be on the hook for military and other assistance in the billions of dollars for x number of year to come. But overall this non-solution, is the very best that can be hoped for in the present circumstances. 1. See: "The Coming End-game in Afghanistan". Diplomat of the Future. 30 April 2012, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com. 2. Ahmed Rashid, "The Way out of Afghanistan." The New York Review of Books. 13 January 2011, in www.nybooks.com. For my own comments on this idea, see: "Talking to the Taliban? A response to Anatol Lieven". Diplomat of the Future. 31 July 2012, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com.