DISCUSSIONS TO “ERASE THE SLATE” AND START AGAIN
AMERICANS AND AFGHAN LEADERS LOOK FOR SUCCESSFUL COALITION MODEL
By Gordon Duff
President Karzai is scheduled to come to Washington in May to meet with President Obama, a visit that has been “on” and “off” over the past few weeks. The tribal Jirga scheduled prior to the meet has been postponed. This Loya Jirga, a meeting between tribal leaders and Karzai to come to an agreement for a peace plan for Afghanistan will either end with Karzai as “the man with the plan” or with demands for an immediate replacement.
It is believed that the vast majority currently seen as “Taliban” are insurgents who, with strong leadership and a promise for the future, will align with the right government, leaving “hardcore” elements and foreign fighters to continue the war, a war they would then lose.
The consensus among tribal leaders is that the current military solution including “the surge” is doomed to failure. The evidence they use is seen in the aftermath of the Marjah campaign. Dr. Ed Corcoran of Global Security picked out these two reports:
– After our big effort to regain control of Marjah, the Taliban are apparently still operating there effectively. So, for example, the Marines used cash payments to prod more than 20 store owners at one bazaar to open their doors, but by late March, all but five shops had closed. A prominent anti-Taliban senior elder was also gunned down in northern Marja, prompting most of the 200 people in his district to flee. The locals know who the bad guys are and they are not fingering them. They know the Americans will leave (we’ve told them that and they have also see it before) and they clearly do not have confidence in the “government in a box” that the Marines brought to town. So it is hard to see how the big effort will have any real impact.
– Nevertheless, we are moving ahead to do the same thing in Kandahar, even though a local shura apparently directly told President Karzai that they are not happy with the planned operation and are well aware of how the Taliban still control Marja. They complain about the corruption and misrule of the local leaders, including Karzai’s half brother, apparently deeply involved in drugs, but now nevertheless having NATO’s support due to the lack of alternatives. And then, on top of that, US soldiers strafed a bus in Kandahar, killing at least four local Afghans on the very eve of an offensive planned to get local support. The soldiers are totally our of place culturally, unfamiliar with the language or customs, unable to distinguish Taliban from non-Taliban, and nevertheless putting their lives on the line. Inevitably they cause civilian deaths, and if they are too sensitive to that, then they cause their own deaths.
WHAT THE TRIBAL LEADERS ARE SAYING
One of the senior leaders of the Afghan tribes is critical of Coalition leaders who seem to be in a full panic mode. Reports indicate that the American leaders are contacting every Taliban leader, even and including those with reputations for hardcore opposition to, not only the American presence, but those mistrusted and hated by the majority of people in Afghanistan as well. America seems to believe they can pander to the most disreputable elements in society, using a bag of cash, and come up with an exit strategy that will leave a stabilized nation. This is insane.
Instead of approaching the leaders of the established families who have a strong history of ties to both tribal and religious elders, the only groups that could potentially turn the current chaotic situation into the rebuilding of the nation, America is proving to be a less and less reliable partner simply because of the appearance of confusion, panic and low quality intelligence sources.
The current solution suggested is a combination of leading tribal families, two or three strong leaders respected by the majority of Afghanistan, aided by a program of economic development, is the only way to achieve peace.
The fear is that Americans will chose a “technocrat” to replace Karzai, a “dupe” likely to drag the war on for another decade, someone “all hat and no cattle.”
Tribal leaders believe America has continually made bad choices. Rather than wishing for an American withdrawal, a continued American presence is requested but working with a “survivable” and “legitimate” government. The answer isn’t a military solution nor is it working with the Kabul/Karzai regime but rather the creation of sustainable systems, military, economic, education, health care, done within a framework acceptable to the entire nation, not just drug lords and the “Duke of Kabul.”
UPCOMING MILITARY OPERATIONS SEEN AS “EMPTY”
Nobody believes a military victory in Afghanistan is possible.
With Karzai in charge, not only is victory impossible but any real progress toward national unity itself is a joke. It is actually likely that we are moving backwards. America has been told by Afghan leaders that any attempt to repeat the failed Marjah operation with its massive collateral damage and poor planning will only make things worse. The majority of leaders of Afghanistan have ordered the plans for the surge to end.
THE PAKISTAN QUESTION
Many more Pashtuns live in Pakistan than Afghanistan. They see the Durand Line, the artificial border set up by the British in 1893 as a “Berlin Wall.” They want the “line” eliminated but the entire region is engulfed in conflict with the Durand Line being “ground zero.”
Pakistan, America’s primary ally, feels it is fighting a surrogate war against India and Israel, who they believe are arming terrorists in Afghanistan to attack Pakistan. Pakistan, as the only hpw Islamic nuclear power, feels it has been targeted for dismemberment by other US allies, although Pakistan is steadfastly aligned with the United States.
Daily terrorist attacks across Pakistan lend credence to this as does the “special relationship” India has with Karzai who has allowed Indian “security personnel” to operate openly in Afghanistan. The US has been silent on this because of Israeli involvement with India and covert terrorist attacks against Iran that Israel is helping stage from neighboring Balochistan.
Additionally, Pakistan, though “next door” has very poor communications with tribal leaders in Afghanistan, who see Pakistan, a country ruled by a Europeanized minority in Punjab and Sindh as less than supportive of the needs of their own Pashtun population.
REGIONAL SOLUTIONS, REGIONAL INTERESTS
Some time ago, General Aslam Beg, former head of the Pakistani army, suggested a coalition between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. While Karzai was strongly entrenched in Afghanistan and closely aligned with India, Pakistan’s primary rival, this sounded far fetched. However, with the current rift between the US and Israel over Iran and the threat of unilateral nuclear attack by Israel against Iran becoming a reality, the dynamic has altered significantly.
Such a coalition would, in fact, be the best thing for the United States.
No longer would Iran have reason to seek nuclear weapons but would be dependent on and aligned to a close American ally, Pakistan. Pakistan, a technologically advanced but economically backward nation, would have access to gas and oil along with credit lines that would allow modernization and economic programs that could stifle religious extremism in poverty stricken tribal areas.
Afghanistan would regain 25 million Pashtuns, and with hope, retain a renewed national identity but also see economic gains as part of a regional trade zone.
Key to this issue, however, is American approval, which, despite the current rift with Israel, would require a general demilitarization in the Middle East, and constructive dialog with all nations, working toward a sustainable model that would eliminate the potential for extremism.
Current policies within Israel that have even alienated the US government, will continue to be regionally divisive and a threat to security. With Israel pushing half is population into 5% of its land, “ghettoization, ” as it were, terrorism, real or “false flag” is likely to continue.
Within the Islamic community, strong religious divides will override ethnic, security or economic concerns with some radical clergy likely to oppose any move toward establishment of a defacto democratic secular state.
Is a single state, perhaps the only survivable model, the answer, a “bastard” state thrown together out of geopolitical necessity, an answer? Are old hatreds and fear capable of being cast aide, old divisions and rivalries to deliver the promise of a decent life to the majority of people, a promise made by Communism, a promise made and broken?
I have gotten very distressed at what we are doing, and not doing, in Afghanistan. As I see it, we need a whole new basic approach to the situation. The military approach is simply not working. Everyone recognizes that a military solution is not possible. The shortcomings of the central government undermine both development and security. In Ambassador Eikenberry’s words, “President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” The US commitment to leave further undermines our efforts.
It’s hard to imagine how military operations in Helmand and Kandahar will bring any positive, long-term results.
We need a whole new strategy, except we cannot call it a “new strategy” because that would put it in direct opposition to current command concepts. So we have to talk in terms of some parallel effort that may start smaller but gradually assume the lead. It has to be based on building up the areas that are relatively secure and have reasonable good local leaders. We need to make clear long-term commitments, not to an open ended military effort, but to an open ended development and partnership effort. The American people will support positive programs – we have been in Germany and South Korea for 60 years helping both nations grow into dynamic democracies. We have to show results and we have to avoid large military operations, with attendant casualties and a huge logistic tail.
This focus has to be on local efforts, grass roots developments, small business, education, health, infrastructure. Khalil Nouri stresses the potential impact of Major Jim Gant’s approach, One Tribe at a Time and Tribal Engagement Teams. The only problem I see with that is the need to find a hundred more Jim Gants — every year. And I am also skeptical of having the military as the lead organization. But this sort of grass roots effort offers the only route I can see towards a more stable Afghanistan. This is also the same sort of approach championed by the New World Strategies Coalition – business development coordinated at the local level.
We need to outline in some detail such an approach, a “Local Development Effort” or a “Village Improvement Program” or whatever nice label we would put on it to give an initial positive impression and serve as a unifying concept for local operations. We need to identify areas where it can really work right now, identify specific projects and people to support, and find as many and varied US organizations that we can which would be willing to support these efforts.
Gordon Duff is a Marine Vietnam veteran, grunt and 100% disabled vet. He has been a featured commentator on TV and radio including Al Jazeera and his articles have been carried by news services around the world. He has been a UN Diplomat, defense contractor and is a widely published expert on military and defense issues. He is active in the financial industry and is a specialist on global …