Published: December 13th, 2010
Author: Edward Kenney
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
One of the hallmarks of a good policy paper is a full and accurate understanding of the problem the recommended policy aims to solve. The Center for American Progress (CAP)’s paper focuses on arguably the most problematic aspect of the current strategy, the problems of governance:
[The insurgents] primary strengths lie in their ability to capitalize on public discontent—especially in Pashtun areas in the south and east—and mobilize finances and arms through both cooption and coercion in opposition to the Karzai government’s abusive and exclusionary practices.
CAP recognizes that the insurgency takes up arms because of political grievances. Until some mechanism is created to address these grievances, security gains are likely to be temporary. Addressing the governance issue is also at the top of the CAP’s recommendations. They argue that the U.S. and International community should use leverage against the Karzai government to push for reforms. In particular the CAP would like to see less power concentrated at the executive branch. Although, we should not overestimate the ability of the U.S. to coerce the Afghan government to do its bidding.
Published: November 22nd, 2010
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
Reconciliation and the Importance of Governance
In the NPR debate described in the last post, Max Boot echoed a common theme among proponents of Counter- Insurgency (COIN) on the question of governance. He argued that an insurgency is by its very nature a symptom of failed governance. Failed governance cannot therefore be a reason to abandon a Counter-Insurgency strategy. However, re-establishing legitimate governance is the key to any successful counter-insurgency campaign. Those of us who support change in strategy argue that the conditions for re-establishing rule of law in the Pashtun Belt are absent; institutions do not exist at either the national or local level to address core grievances.
A recent paper by journalist Anand Gopal highlights this governance program, but makes a slight variation on the traditional lines of debate. Gopal argues that the failure to reconcile various tribal differences sharpened the problem of governance for Afghans in Kandahar Province. The Taliban, reports Gopal, were willing to accept Karzai as the legitimate leader in early 2002 in return for some basic assurances that they would be left alone. What happened?
“Karzai and other government officials ignored the overtures—largely due
to pressures from the U.S and the Northern Alliance, the Taliban’s erstwhile enemy”
Meanwhile the governor of Kandahar, Gul Agha Sherzai adopted a hard-line against former Taliban officials. Many ex-Taliban were tortured and killed; all ex-Taliban faced harassment from the local government.
Certain tribes were also favored under Sherzai’s rule; the Popolzai (Karzai tribe) and the Barakzai (Sherzai’s tribe), were overrepresented in the government whereas the Panjpai ,who made up over a quarter of the population in Kandahar, were largely excluded. The decision to exclude former Taliban, reminiscent of the de-Baathification in Iraq, set the stage for increased hostility and a Taliban resurgence.
 This contrasts strongly with Iraq whose Sunni Militias had broad legitimacy in Anbar Province.
What Does Political Exclusion Mean?
Political exclusion in Afghanistan is about far more than having a voice in government. As Stephen Biddle has noted, those “outside the government network” are likely to lose their lands and livelihoods to corrupt officials. In his report Gopal expands on this theme:
“Under such conditions, police corruption and predation became endemic… In one
well known incident in Panjwayi, a police officer demanded goods from a shopkeeper
in the district center. When the shopkeeper refused, the policeman shot and
killed him and absconded with the goods.”
In such an environment, it is no wonder that local Pashtuns joined the insurgency. For many, the Taliban’s Islamic courts are the only place to get a fair hearing. This point in many respects echoes Matt Waldman’s work on the prospects of reconciliation. Like Waldman, Gopal argues that Rule of Law is one of the main motivations for the insurgency:
Many Taliban did not take up arms simply as an exercise of the principle of jihad
or the expulsion of foreigners…but rather because it was the only viable
alternative for individuals and groups left without a place in the world.
Gopal’s paper is a useful reminder that reconciliation and institution-building go hand in hand. Establishing governance without reconciling with insurgents is simply empowering those at the center of the corruption and exacerbating local grievances, a strategy which is clearly doomed to fail.
McKeon on the December Review
One frustrating development over the last week has been news that the December Strategic Review will not be a comprehensive assessment of strategy. The press has reported that the president is sweeping this review under the table and will not fundamentally reassess the strategy until July 2011. Whatever your views on the war, this position is unacceptable. Indeed the principle recommendation from last week’s bipartisan CFR report is to make a serious war assessment next month.
The public has a right to know whether any of Obama’s vaunted fifty metrics have seen progress. Even those who support the current strategy would like to see the Pentagon make the case that the war can still be won, despite the ambiguous news reports coming out of Afghanistan. Those of us on the other side of the debate would like to question military leaders on corruption in the Karzai administration, the increased in fatalities among coalition forces, and the expansion of the insurgency into regions which were previously peaceful. Getting military commanders to testify should be one area where Republicans and Democrats can stand in agreement.
Fortunately, there are signs that this dynamic is already happening. Buck McKeon, the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has said he wants Petraeus to testify: (Via Robert Naiman /Politico)
“During the December review, the American people deserve to hear from the
new commander on the ground,” McKeon told an audience Monday at a conference
hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative.”
Good for Mr. McKeon! The Pentagon has said that Petraeus is “too busy” to stand before congress, so it will likely take prodding from Republicans in Congress to get the general to testify.
Published: November 4th, 2010
Author: Edward Kenney
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
More Evidence that the War is Going Badly
Two stories this week exemplify some of the major obstacles the U.S. faces against the growing insurgency. The New York Times on Monday ran a story on “reverse” reintegration: A police force in Khogeyani abruptly switched sides to the Taliban:
“KABUL, Afghanistan — for months, American and Afghan officials have been promoting a plan to persuade masses of rank-and-file Taliban fighters to change sides and join the government. The tactic, known as “reintegration,” is one of the big hopes for turning the tide in the war. But the Taliban, it appears, have reintegration plans of their own. On Monday morning, they claimed to have put them into effect.
In Khogeyani, a volatile area southwest of the capital, the entire police force on duty Monday morning appears to have defected to the Taliban side. A spokesman for the Taliban said the movement’s fighters made contact with the Khogeyani’s police force, cut a deal, and then sacked and burned the station. As many as 19 officers vanished, as did their guns, trucks, uniforms and food.”
Last post, I argued that two metrics that the Pentagon uses, territory controlled by ISAF and number of insurgents killed, may not give a very accurate picture of the state of the war since fallen insurgents are easily replaced and territory ceded temporarily to the coalition will not pressure the Taliban so long as there are sanctuaries in Pakistan. One metric which should be used to judge success or failure of the strategy is the level of local cooperation with coalition forces. If the police force in Khgeyani is any indication, this critical metric is not looking so good.
A major part of winning the hearts and minds in Afghanistan—ensuring that local groups do not support or defect to the Taliban—is establishing good governance. For this reason, today’s report in the Washington Post is very disheartening. Karen DeYoung and Joshua Partlow call the Afghan governance of Kandahar “ineffectual” and “incapable of functioning”. Most of the governance in Kandahar has been run by the U.S. and coalition forces. This situation poses two problems. Firstly, as U.S. forces begin to pull out, there could be a significant erosion of public services; secondly the visible role of the United States in providing basic governance may well support the myth that the U.S. wants to permanently govern the country. Both of these factors will likely lead to increased strength for the insurgency.
These two stories demonstrate two fatal flaws in the counter insurgency strategy: no local support and no local governance.
What do the Midterms Mean for Afghanistan?
The effect of Tuesday’s Democratic drubbing on the Afghanistan War and U.S. foreign policy remains hard to predict. As many people have pointed out, the economy and not the war in Afghanistan was the major issue of this mid-term election. The new Republican members have no obvious unified position on Afghanistan. Some, such as Rand Paul may even find themselves allying with the antiwar progressives.
Republicans generally have been more willing to support President Obama’s expansion of war. During the war appropriations fight earlier this year, only 12 republicans opposed the bill compared to 102 democrats. Although some of the more strident anti-war democrats were voted out of office, such as Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, many of the democratic congressmen skeptical about the war will return to congress. Out of the seventeen progressive democratic congressmen that signed a strong antiwar letter during the appropriations process one, Alan Grayson, lost their election.
The predominant evidence at this point suggests that the election will have a minor impact on Afghanistan and foreign policy. Stephen Walt argues that congress has very little control over U.S. foreign policy. Neither party has shown the stomach to withhold defense spending, the one area where congress can influence foreign policy. Yes, left wing democrats and the occasional libertarian will continue to oppose the war, blue dogs—now fewer in number—and republicans—now greater in number—will continue to support the war. But the main driver of policy will be results on the ground and public opinion. If the war continues to go badly and if U.S. support continues to erode, two increasingly likely outcomes; positions among the moderate members of congress may well shift. By then, these midterm elections will have faded in memory.
Last Weeks’s Terror Plot and Afghanistan
There have been several excellent posts from members of the Afghanistan Study Group on last week’s terror plot.
Paul Pillar discusses the how thwarted terrorist attacks are “scored” in Washington and asks why the Christmas Day Bomber was portrayed as a great failure, whereas the package bombers a great success for the Obama administration. In a previous post on the same subject Pillar suggests that the U.S.’s focus on Al Qaeda members in the Af-Pak region is misguided. The next attack against the U.S. is as likely to be homegrown individuals with unknown ties to al Qaeda using basic technology (the Ted Kaczinski Model), as it is to be an elaborate plot orchestrated from Waziristan a la 9-11.
Stephen Walt largely agrees with Pillar’s analysis. He argues that the attempted terrorist attack is yet another piece of evidence against the notion that the war in Afghanistan is an effective way to fight al Qaeda. He concludes that solid police work and intelligence gathering, not war, is perhaps the best defense against global terrorism.