Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

"Political options in Afghanistan, part 1 of 2" July 16, 2007.

On Jul 09 07 WoRpt we looked at how the American and Canadian media have reported on the military option in Iraq. Today we look at the political option.

It may come as a surprise that the Dutch-Israeli military historian, Martin van Creveld has provided us with a useful framework for this discussion in his new book, The Changing Face of War, published by Random House but not available until January 2008.

Probably best known for his groundbreaking book The Transformation of War (1991), van Creveld provides a summary in this latest work of what a state must do to prevail over non-state forces like the Taliban.

The book's 6th chapter examines one of the few cases where the state's armed forces have been successful, the British Army in Northern Ireland.

In van Creveld's words,

First, unlike President Bush in 2001, 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…

In his review of van Creveld's new work, William Lind, an American military historian who, like van Creveld specializes in how to deal with non-state or so-called terrorist forces, comments that quote “in contrast to what we hear from the Bush administration and the U.S. military, van Creveld sees the removal of restrictions on what troops can do as a disadvantage. He understands that in Fourth Generation war, the counter-intuitive is often correct.”

Treating a non-state threat as a criminal problem rather than a military one suggests an entirely different way of thinking—one that gets out of the “with us or with the terrorists” straightjacket and opens the door to a whole range of non-military or political solutions.

At year's end, I was working on a piece that proposed half-a-dozen non-military solutions for Afghanistan. These were not hypothetical notions spun from airy nothing while I sat in my easy chair watching the grass grow.

As you will see, each was sponsored by organizations and individuals with as much credibility as anyone still has on this issue.

I repeat them but briefly here, and return to van Creveld's other observations--not because these political options are every bit as good as they were in January, but to give a succinct indication of just how rapidly the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in about half-a-year.

The first political option was to deal with crimes of the past and to exclude so-called undesirable elements from government, remove corrupt officials.

Following conclusion of the Bonn process, which created the country’s elected bodies, the Afghan government and the so-called international community committed at the London Conference (31 January-1 February 2006) to a document called the Afghanistan Compact.

Both the Afghan government and those present at the London Conference committed to an Action Plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation. The purpose of this plan was to rebuild trust among those whose lives had been shattered by war and to reinforce, in the words of the Compact “a shared sense of citizenship and a culture of tolerance, pluralism and observance of the rule of law.”

The players anticipated a legal process--trials perhaps--possibly a truth and reconciliation body such as was pioneered at the end of Apartheid in South Africa. In November 2006, the International Crisis Group urged the government of Afghanistan to “press ahead” with it “accounting for all eras from the communists to the Taliban.” Human Rights Watch supported it; so did Amnesty International.

This was expected to be a long story, but it was cut short in January when a bill was introduced in the Afghan parliament granting immunity to all those who committed war crimes during the Soviet occupation, during the civil war that followed, and during Taliban rule. That bill has now passed both houses and awaits Karzai's signature—leaving the truth part of reconciliation on a short trajectory to the trashcan.

A second political option at the time derived from the widely-agreed certainty that there was no military solution to Afghanistan. Military operations, it was said, could only be justified insofar as they created space for a political solution. And sooner or later, it seemed clear, a political solution would entail negotiations with the enemy.

By April 2004, Pervez Musharraf's government had already made deals with pro-Taliban groups in Pakistan's South Waziristan province. On 5 September 2006 a similar agreement was concluded in North Waziristan.

Under the terms of these agreements, the Pakistan government released militants, returned their weapons and agreed to let foreign terrorists stay on a promise that they give up violence.

This was seen by many in the West to have handed pro-Taliban elements a license to recruit and arm, resulting in a serious increase in cross-border attacks against US, NATO and Afghan forces.

On the other hand, the British in Helmand province in Afghanistan concluded a controversial cease fire of their own in the village of Musa Qala.

On October 17, after a 35-day lull in violence, the British left the village, handing over control to the local elders' council.

That lasted until February 2, 2007, when reported that a unit of several hundred Taliban soldiers had occupied Musa Qala, laying waste to an agreement claimed had been brokered by Britain's General David Richards with local tribal elders. Under the agreement NATO troops withdrew from the town in return for a commitment by local Afghan leaders to oppose the Taliban.

Just a day before on February 1, 2007, American General Dan McNeill took over command of NATO forces in Afghanistan from Richards. McNeill opposed local agreements and signified the kind of change he wanted to see by targeting Taliban commander Abdul Ghafour through aerial bombardment on February 4, 2007.

The Senlis Council, an NGO with offices in Europe and operations in Afghanistan, proposed a third political option: negotiating a new agreement within NATO quote “tailored to really tackle the “hearts and minds” campaign.” endquote The Senlis Council has been a creative source of political solutions beginning with the proposal that the Afghan poppy crop be sold into the legal market for pain-killers.

So the proposal for a new agreement with NATO was accompanied by a proposal for a fifth political option: that Canada help Afghanistan develop sustainable alternatives to poppy cultivation and investigate the feasibility of a controlled opium market to drive a wedge between farming communities and illegal heroin traffickers. The Senlis Council recommended that Canada avoid the increasing militarization of drug policy in Afghanistan. But this was not to be.

Yet another non-military option offered by the Senlis Council was that an emergency Task Force organize the infrastructure necessary to enable the involvement of Canadian citizens and organizations in offering practical help to Kandahar--exchange programmes could be developed, expertise exported and community support programmes installed to facilitate a closer relationship between Canadians and the people of Kandahar and contribute positively a positive future for Kandahar and a durable peace.

Instead of “tackling the hearts and minds campaign,” in December at Riga, Latvia, the US, Canada, Britain and the Netherlands tried to nag other NATO members into making a more warlike military contribution to the effort in Afghanistan.

This certainly exceeds the promised number of political options, but there is at least one more. Given that where the international community is involved matters of life and death can sometimes hang on what appears to be a technicality, it may be the most important of the lot.

Peter J Middlebrook and Sharon M Miller of Exeter University propose that Pakistan and Afghanistan agree to a border management commission for the Durand Line between the two.

Middlebrook and Miller point out that the boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan up to and including Kashmir was established by the British in 1839.

The agreement was signed despite the existence of powerful opposition at the time—mainly from the Baloch who have substantial populations in both Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Baloch aspirations for a country of their own continued even after the contraction of the British Empire and the creation of modern India and Pakistan left the Durand Line as the northern border of the new Pakistan.

Middlebrook and Miller's proposal may be seen as a better informed approach to what must be negotiated and with whom. Quote “in the absence of political reconciliation involving all factions of the current disagreement, ISAF/NATO will be unable to ‘work to resolve conflict and reduce tension within Afghanistan, focused on the holistic defeat of the residual insurgency’.” (Emphasis added)

Reconciliation efforts must focus on overcoming the limitations of the Durand Line "Disagreement", as they continue to obscure Baloch, Pashtun, North West Frontier Province and Federal Administered Tribal Area "status" issues in the process; up to and including Kashmir.

In the absence of such an approach, the legacies caused by the contraction of British India and the ill-fated partition of India and Pakistan risk becoming the defining Achilles' heel of the entire stabilization effort. Given the waning influence of Anglo-American interests in Central Asia, up to and including Kazakhstan, failure to consolidate the Afghan-Pakistan-Indian border could trigger a strategic realignment of political interests away from the West, towards the north. Under such a situation, and given the geopolitical proximity of Iran and its growing relationship with China, this would have profound implications for the Middle East too.

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