Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, July 23, 2007

"Political options for Afghanistan, part 2." July 23, 2007.

Political options for the western mission in Afghanistan—options like the ones discussed last week that have been fading rapidly since the beginning of the year--will probably not disappear completely. But some opportunities are better than others.

Negotiations could be still restarted if the US and its NATO partners were prepared to support them. However, a genuine road to peace would have to include the Taliban and other jihadi groups.

Drug policy could still be de-militarized and the crop licensed for sale into a legal market. But we have to recognize that the current program of eradication has made enemies that would be difficult to reverse—and that it still isn't working. This year was another record-setting crop after last year's record-setting crop.

The creation of a border management commission for the Durand Line seems a realistic possibility. The new United National Front party has said in its founding document that it favours recognition of the Durand Line as the boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is a step forward since the legality of the 1839 Durand Line Agreement is still contested by many Pashtuns whose traditional lands lie on both sides of the border. In 1947, Afghanistan formally rejected Pakistan's admission to the UN over the issue. The boundary remains poorly marked and heavily contested to this day. So this new bit of movement is a good sign.

An emergency people-to-people campaign, as the Senlis Council suggested in October 2006, could be initiated, even without the support of the Canadian government.

In the meantime, divisions among NATO members have surfaced, and perhaps more important NATO has not delivered on the ambitious “gender equality, civil society, open media, democratic transformation, capacity-building, counter-narcotics and religious tolerance" agenda that it arrived with. Instead it has become associated with numerous civilian casualties and a lack of material progress. According to David Edwards, an American expert on the origins of the Taliban, “Americans have come to be seen as an occupying power.” A civil society project might fare better without official government support.

War crimes trials are probably out at least for now. As retired Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar observes,
“Looking back, the ground began to shift on New Year's Eve, when the lower chamber of the Afghan Parliament passed a bill that would grant amnesty to all Afghans involved in any war crimes during the past quarter-century....For the first time, Afghans spoke out that they no longer held the United States in awe. At a single stroke, the December 31 amnesty move deprived the US of the one weapon that it wielded for blackmailing the 'warlords' into submission....” endquote

As we noted last week, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld argues that in this type of warfare, the British had greater success in Northern Ireland because

the British did not declare war, which would have removed a whole series of legal constraints and put the entire conflict on a new footing. Instead, from beginning to end the problem was treated as a criminal one…
This morning, as promised, we return to van Creveld's observations about what a state must do to prevail over non-state forces like the Taliban.

It's important to understand that van Creveld's discussion is not about what is moral or immoral. He is not debating whether or not the US or Britain or Israel or Canada has the moral right to defend itself or indeed go to war when they are attacked. He is asking what works?

What makes his position both unusual and compelling is that he finds a way to use those values that are at the core of our so-called way of life to prevail. This contrasts with the dominant view among the political elites in all those countries that civil liberties must be sacrificed to achieve security; that civilians must be killed as a side-effect of taking action against terrorists; that the Geneva Conventions must be ignored in order to get the necessary information.

Van Creveld sees not only the moral side but the practical side of holding fast to
those ideals of democracy, civil liberty, and basic humanity. Let's see how the current mission in Afghanistan measures up to the British practice in Northern Ireland.

“Second, much of the day-to-day work was left to the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary). Its members, having been locally recruited and assigned lengthy stays at their posts, knew the area better than anyone else. Accordingly, they were often able to discriminate among the various factions inside the IRA as well as between terrorists and others…”

A tour of duty for Canadian soldiers, who are recruited from inside Canada and not Afghanistan, is 6 months. Even at home, the Canadian cop on the beat has all but disappeared. Police patrol in cars and larger vehicles and rarely have the opportunity to meet the locals. This practice is known as “community policing” and it is beginning to return as a special programme in some especially problematic communities. But it is far from the practice in Afghanistan.

Van Creveld goes on
“Third, never again (after Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, when British troops fired into a crowd and killed thirteen people) did British troops fire indiscriminately into marching or rioting crowds.”

Until recently, northern Afghanistan had been relatively peaceful. But since the end of May, the conflict has spread to the north. On May 28, of this year, thirteen Afghans were killed and 35 wounded when police fired into a crowd of protesters to prevent them from taking over provincial offices.

Admittedly, these were Afghan National Police, not NATO troops. But the same story is often heard about the ANP: They are badly trained and poorly paid or not paid at all. Afghan police often abuse their power to extort bribes from the very people they are meant to protect. Many villagers would prefer to see the Taliban keep the peace. They say that although the Taliban may not have brought development to the country, it did provide stability. The current government has been able to offer neither.

Saad Mohseni, the Afghan-Australian director of a large media conglomerate in Kabul remarks
"When I arrived here in 2002, it was just a fear of these international forces in the country that enabled Afghan society to function," even without a police force, says Mohseni. "Today, the new Afghan police force is something that people fear. It has become synonymous with crime in the minds of the public."

Van creveld's fourth point is that
“in marked contrast with most other counterinsurgents from the Germans in Yugoslavia to the Americans in Vietnam and elsewhere, not once in the entire struggle did the army bring in heavy weapons such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, or aircraft to repulse attacks and inflict retaliation…”

Leopard tanks, LAV III's, A-10 Warthogs, and Apache attack helicopters are all present in Afghanistan. Rory Stewart, a former British diplomat in Iraq and the director of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, a non-governmental organization helping to develop Kabul's crumbling inner city paraphrases the thoughts of everyday Afghans.
"Right now, NATO soldiers are flying 10,000 miles to maneuver through Afghan villages in full body armor and a tank," he says. "Villagers just think, 'Yes. And the Taliban are trying to kill you, and you are insisting that you are just here to build a girl's school?'" (Smucker Atol Jun 1 07)

Fifth, never once did the British inflict collective punishment such as curfews, the cutting off of electricity and water, demolishing houses, destroying entire neighborhoods. . . As far as humanly possible, the police and the army posed as the protectors of the population, not its tormentors. In this way they were able to prevent the uprising from spreading.
Veteran jihadi leader Qazi Mohammad Amin Waqad, shed light on this point indirectly when he comments during an interview with the Jamestown Foundation in May of this year that if the Taliban had not been pursued seriously after the invasion in 2001, quote “they would have been inactive and joined the madrassas. The coalition forces entered the districts, villages and even houses of the Afghan people in order to find the Taliban. Instead of pursuing the Taliban, the anti-terrorism coalition should have developed the country's infrastructure and strengthened their influence in those regions most vulnerable” (Jamestown May 3 07). endquote

Van Creveld's sixth and final point is, he says,
“most important of all, by and large both the RUC and the army stayed within the framework of the law. . .From (1972) on, the British refrained from arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and illegal killings…”

The detention of so-called “illegal combatants” at Guantanamo Bay has been part of the war in Afghanistan since the beginning. It is the only aspect of that war which has been consistently in the news. It is for many the defining image of the Bush administration. But it is far from the only instance of “arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and illegal killing.”

The names Abu Ghraib and Maher Arar evoke crises in the credibility and indeed the legitimacy of western institutions that simple denial cannot erase. Just last month, the Canadian media's extended honeymoon with Stephen Harper nearly came to an end over what is now known as the Afghan detainee issue. One liberal columnist said it had all the makings of the government's first scandal.

The British too have reported instances of detained individuals simply disappearing into the “black hole” of the prison system, this time in Iraq, and military contractors have posed problems of their own in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his review of van Creveld's book, The Changing Face of War, American conservative William Lind cites this final observation:
The most important insight of all, though, (came) over dinner in Geneva in 1995. My partner on that occasion was a British colonel, regiment of paratroopers, who had done several tours of duty in Northern Ireland. What he said can be summed up as follows…

the struggle in Northern Ireland had cost the United Kingdom three thousand casualties in dead alone. Of the three thousand, about seventeen hundred were civilians….of the remaining, a thousand were British soldiers. No more than three hundred were terrorists, a ratio of three to one. Speaking very softly, he said: And that is why we are still there.

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