Afghanistan, is there ANY way to fix this mess? One that doesn’t involve nuclear weapons … or thousands of NATO troops fleeing from Kabul?
Well, Obama has a plan for Afghanistan, a surge of his own so to speak. It worked for Bush, claim you are doing something, hope the situation doesn’t get any worse, and pass the problem on to the next administration. (While Iraq has fallen out of the news, in actuality it’s still a bloody expensive mess that isn’t going anywhere soon.) Will a similar surge in Afghanistan get its worsening security situation out of the news? Maybe. Will an additional 30,000 troops make Afghanistan a safe and secure land, transforming it into a western style secular republic? Not a chance, Afghanistan is not called the “Graveyard of Empires” for nothing. And while I think Obama’s “plan” so far is no plan, I do think the US has options other than “let’s see what happens.”
Some background: Our situation in Afghanistan is a little more precarious than some would believe. The map above is the best simple overview I can find. Note the Pashtun areas, these are the stronghold of the Taliban. The Taliban has lots of friends right across the border in Pakistan, the tribal areas. While NATO controls most of the northern half of Afghanistan, they don’t control the south of Afghanistan … and our putative ally Pakistan doesn’t control the tribal areas in Pakistan. Even worse, most of the supplies for our troops in Afghanistan flow through a road between Islamabad and Kabul, the Khyber Pass. And this road and crucial supply line passes right through the Pashtun region, and has been coming under increasing attack by both Taliban and Pakistani tribal area militants. Is there any way to fix this mess?
An astute reader, AS, suggested fixing Afghanistan’s infrastructure so that the population would be more inclined to support the Karzai government. It’s not a bad idea per se, it’s called colonialism. Sometimes it works. It does however require excellent security, so we are talking at least 250,000 troops, 500,000 would be better. It’s a pretty good bet that NATO or the USA won’t be coughing up hundreds of thousands of troops, not too mention the money needed for reconstruction. Still, this makes me wonder if there is ant way to get these kind of troop numbers? The west isn’t going to provide that sort of troopage, but there is a country that might. Pakistan. A fully equipped Pakistani soldier costs far less than a US supersoldier and his attendant flock of robotic weapons. Even better, a lot of those troops will have relatives in Afghanistan, so there is a better chance they will get along with the locals and vice versa.
How the hell is that going to happen? Well, here’s my thinking. First off, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, the USA, and real representatives from Pakistan’s Pashtun region need to sit down together. Every country that borders on Afghanistan should also be invited to send an observer at least, so they can make suggestions if need be. The Taliban would be invited but their participation is not required at this point. The west agrees to pay for hundreds of thousands of “reconstruction security” troops and to make major contributions toward rebuilding the infrastructure in Afghanistan and to some extent in Waziristan. As many of the troops should be ethnic Pashtuns as possible. Presumably Pakistan would be more than willing if they got some aid themselves, I mean, they are installing a Pakistani friendly regime in Afghanistan. Secondly, this still isn’t going to work without the Taliban. So the Taliban have to be offered a political role in the Afghan government when they agree to renounce violence. They might not agree, but this offer would erode their support if they don’t.
Would this plan work? Damned if I know, but it stands a lot better chance than the current non-plan. Enough troops to fully provide security will allow people to get on with their lives and participate in the reconstruction of their country. And Karzai is already calling for the Taliban, at least the ones who aren’t war criminals, to join in a national reconciliation process. With only a handful of NATO troops in the country, troops that aren’t exactly suited for winning hearts and minds in this deeply divided land, the Taliban have every incentive to just wait it out. Sadly I don’t think Obama has the boldness to attempt anything so radical. And yes, I agree this is only the barest outline of a plan, and it most certainly does have problems of its own. For one thing the west is broke, for another India would likely strenuously object to this plan, they most certainly don’t want an Afghanistan that is aligned with Pakistan.
Sadly I’m still thinking it’s only a matter of time before we flee both Afghanistan and Iraq, as with our economy, the problems in those two lands are “baked in” and there’s no easy solution. I can only speculate what Obama’s thinking now, but after a few briefings I suspect it’s something along the lines of “What the hell have gotten myself into?” Well, he managed to get himself into the White House, something no one would have thought possible just a few years ago. Maybe his genius extends to getting out of impossible situations too, one can only hope.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. I’m generally appalled at the poor quality of maps one seems to find online. Maps are either filled with irrelevant and distracting information, or almost devoid of information. Neither is terribly helpful when trying to illustrate a point. Snarl, end rant. The headline refers to the disastrous 1842 British retreat from Kabul, 16,000 soldiers and civilians tried to flee from Kabul to India in the dead of winter. One made it.)