No simple solutions for Afghanistan

July 13, 2009 at 9:12 pm | Posted in International | Leave a comment


I’ll confess to being a bit indecisive about the war in Afghanistan and the regional strategy being pursued by the Obama administration. Whilst I think Sunny’s case for continuing to fight Afghanistan’s heavily-armed, well-organised & utterly mercenary militants is a good one, I’ve never really had an issue with the justification for our involvement there. Instead, I just harbour a deep scepticism about whether the sort of ‘victory’ expected by politicians and the public is within the capability of coalition forces.

I worry about the militarisation of humanitarian aid, about the feeble nature of the Karzai government and about how the country seems ungovernable by a single centralised entity. I worry about how the vast & porous border with Pakistan is allowing countless tourist-terrorists to slip between the two countries, and whether the Pakistani army is either inclined or equipped to disband/eliminate the country-hopping militants within its own borders. As Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has stated, it’s hard to escape from the conclusion that (from a British point of view, at least) our mission there is over-ambitious and our troops are under-resourced.]

But whilst I still haven’t tethered myself to a firm position on this protracted, putrid war, I can still spot a shabby piece of analysis when I see one. Peter Preston does manage to land a few soft punches in his diatribe against our involvement in the region. For one, he’s right to dismiss the Miliband argument about ‘fighting them over there instead of fighting them over here’ as the Bush-esque scaremongering that it is. Whilst there would obviously be security implications if Afghanistan regressed back to a Taliban-ruled dictatorship, the prospect of that leading to another 9/11 (or even Madrid or 7/7) is seriously overstated. Preston’s also right to point out that Afghanistan is only one part of a much broader regional picture, of which Pakistan is central.

But that’s about as close as Preston gets to helping us see a way out of our current malaise. For him, Afghanistan is a doomed, futile endeavour; an entity too disparate & diverse to be held together by a single state, and where our involvement is only multiplying death & resentment. So we should admit defeat, withdraw, and then hope that Pakistan manages to get a grip on its own militants. This would help the Afghans because:

If Taliban land is cordoned off, isolated, consigned to its own devices, then it won’t survive for long. And if the Pakistani army, without constant western intervention, is left to do what it has to do, then Islamabad opinion will stay focused on its own future, under so much threat from within.

For all the daydreaming about what might be achieved without western intervention, it should be remembered that the Pakistani military’s offensive in areas like Swat was only made possible with billions in American aid and the incessant arm-twisting of American diplomats. There are still people in the Pakistani military who support these insurgent groups, more who’re only motivated by hatred of India, and even more who’re unused to the kind of counter-insurgency tactics required to regain lost territory. That’s before we even consider the consequences to what’s left of Afghanistan’s human rights if we allow the misogynistic, anti-education, anti-science Taliban to return to national power.

Then there’s the small matter of a border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Preston admits this vast stretch of land is ‘porous’ but doesn’t regard it as a problem. However, he then seems to think that the Taliban’s land can be ‘cordoned off’, presumably militarily. This is either imprecise writing or very muddled thinking. As Sunny points out, defeat and withdrawal from Afghanistan would have a direct impact on Pakistan’s security and threaten to make an uneasy truce with India even more delicate. If Preston has considered that his idea may have its own negative consequences, he certainly doesn’t share those considerations with his readers

We might well reach the stage where we’re forced to admit that no more good can be achieved in Afghanistan and that the least worst solution for them and us is to withdraw and hope for the best. But the trouble with so many of the ideas offered by the commentariat is that they’re put forward as though there are easy solutions to this malaise. If only wishing made it so.

Image: MIAN POSHTEH, AFGHANISTAN – JULY 13: U.S. Marines with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, RCT 2nd Battalion 8th Marines Echo Co. walk through a field on patrol on July 13, 2009 in Mian Poshteh, Afghanistan. The Marines are part of Operation Khanjari which was launched to take areas in the Southern Helmand Province that Taliban fighters are using as a resupply route and to help the local Afghan population prepare for the upcoming presidential elections. (Source: Getty)


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