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Friday, August 28, 2009

Why are we in Afghanistan?

Whilst on holiday I managed to do something I have not done for a long time, actually read some books cover-to-cover. One of those books was Paddy Ashdown's autobiography. I relate this because of the current controversy over the presence of British troops in Afghanisatan.

Back in late 2007/early 2008 Paddy was being considered as the UN Special Representative in Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai made it clear that his government considered the former Liberal Democrat leader to not be an acceptable candidate for that post.

Paddy's analysis of the situation is instructive and must raise questions for everybody as to what exactly the objectives of the UN force are in Afghanistan and whether they are achievable. He put his views into a confidential minute that is reproduced in the book:

1. We do not have enough troops, aid or international will to make Afghanistan much different from what it has been for the last 1,000 years - a society built around guns, drugs and tribalism. And even if we had all of these in sufficient quantities we would not have them for sufficient time - around 25 years or so - to make the aim of fundamentally altering the nature of Afghanistan achievable.

2. In 5-10 years it seems very probable that troop numbers and aid in Afghanistan will, at best, be half what they are now. The international communities will have other priorities, and Afghanistan will no longer be top of its agenda.

3. So our task now is to shape our actions towards the kind of Afghanistan which can be managed on these diminished resources.

4. This will be an Afghanistan in which:

5. We may, if we are really successful, be able to diminish the effects of the above, but we will not be able to eradicate them.

He continues by suggesting that we have to abandon the notion that we can make Afghanistan into a well-governed state, with gender-aware citizens and European-standard human rights. It raises expectations we cannot fulfill and wastes resources better deployed elsewhere. A better governed state is the limit of the achievable.

On the military side we also need to understand that we probably cannot defeat the Taliban - probably only the Afghan people can do this. And at present, especially in the south, they do not seem ready to do so. Nor can we force them. They change their mind on this in their time, not ours. The best we can do is to give them space, help where we can and hope for the best.

He concludes that the realistic aim in Afghanistan, with current resources, is not victory but containment. Our success will be measured not in making things different but making them better, not in final defeat of the jihardists, but in preventing them from using Afghanistan as a space for their activity.

It is a sobering assessment. The question is do the governments who continue to send troops to the region understand this as well or are their expectations unrealistically higher?

well, the new General in charge said they're going to be there for 40 years, so obviously they're planning a containment strategy rather than a "win" strategy. Which is pointless, given that any terrorist training camps have now moved to Pakistan and Africa. So why are we staying? Enforced Democracy? At what cost?
Why are we there? Beats me. For our security they say mmm the 7/7 bombers came from Yorkshire, most 9/11 highjackers came from Saudi Arabia and trained in Pakistan, let the UN forces take over and lets get out of there, the Russians couldn't win in 80's with over a million troops stationed there, what a complete waste of men and money
"The general who advances without coveting fame, and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom."

The Art Of War
The question that we haven't yet asked is how do we see that Afghanistan's neighbours are involved. Two - Russia and China would have little enthusiasm for a militant Islamic state on their borders; one - Iran would not wish to see a mediaevalist Sunni polity next door; one - Pakistan; well the majority I suspect would want to see the back of the whole lot of Afghans occupying their country.

Perhaps it's going on but I don't see much sign of thinking along these lines reported anywhere.
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