Monday, April 27, 2009

The Afghan mess in the news again - is this the Liberal War? 

With Brown in Kabul speaking beside President Hamid Karzai, time perhaps to revisit the thoughts of Paddy Ashdown a year ago after his prospective post as UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan was vetoed by the Kabul Government.

Paddy noted amongst other things that anyone working for positive change in Afghanistan had :

a dilemma. According to its constitution, Afghanistan is a centralised state. But on the ground it is a highly decentralised one. Which end of the pipeline of governance should we start with? The answer is start at the bottom and work with the grain of the Afghan tribal structure.

This article by Paddy was written just after Mervyn Patterson and Michael Semple were expelled from Afghanistan under accusation of having attempted negotiations with the Taliban. The professional anti-British commentariat (which believes amongst other things that Britain masterminded the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as part of a plan to dismember Pakistan) calls the two of them British Spooks. A reminder that Britain will for a long time carry the historic can of the Great Game and be an attractor of automatic hostility that detracts from whatever good we might do.

Semple by the way is referenced in a book reviews in Saturday’s Guardian for Stephen Grey’s book ‘Operation Snakebite’.

Grey is unsparing of Afghan president Hamid Karzai; indeed, he says an end to the war is not possible without a new Afghan government.
Karzai has repeatedly had to deny allegations that allies and family members have been involved in the opium trade, and a militia commander that he appointed was described as a "minor thug", more suitable for a job as a nightclub bouncer, by Michael Semple, the most experienced, knowledgeable western official in Afghanistan. Semple spoke fluent Pashtu and Daria, dressed as the Afghans do, and had worked for Oxfam, the UN and then the EU. In late 2007, the Karzai government declared him persona non grata, and ordered him out of the country in 48 hours for negotiating with the Taliban and working on a plan to rehabilitate Taliban elements who wanted to switch sides.
Raymond Bonner, Guardian 25 April 2009

Grey’s book looks at the reality of military operations for UK forces in Afghanistan in its real blood guts and dust. It asks the fundamental question we fighting al_Qaeda or the Taliban – because they are not the same thing at all.

The Taliban and al-Qaida are not synonymous, and, indeed, not necessarily natural allies. The Taliban have had "few global ambitions", regardless of their having given hospitality to al-Qaida, Grey notes, and not everyone who joins does so for ideological reasons. What the Taliban leadership wants, of course, is a strict Islamic state in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Obama administration appears to have grasped this distinction. "The core goal of the US must be to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its safe haven in Pakistan, and to prevent its return to Pakistan and Afghanistan," the administration declared last month in the white paper on US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. Strikingly, the white paper mentions the Taliban only once, and then to note that, while the "hard core" has aligned with al-Qaida, the Afghan war cannot be won without reaching out to the non-ideological among the Taliban and convincing them to lay down their arms.

In today’s press coverage Brown seems to be confused about this, talking of an arc of territory that can be used as a base for terrorist attacks on us all (the al-Qaeda aspect) but referring to the Taliban…

But, the reviewer says Grey does not ask one important question:

how the hell did the Taliban learn to fight like this? They engaged in large-scale operations against the British and held their own. You don't learn this in a rudimentary camp in the mountains. It is easier to train someone to become a suicide bomber than to be a soldier in an organised, disciplined army. It is not a criticism that Grey doesn't answer this question. But somebody should.

Maybe Paddy and some others could brief us on more of this background, as Afghanistan shapes up to be the Liberal’s War?

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