Afghan War Review: U.S. Policy Needs an Indigenous Overhaul
The United States is due to publish its long-awaited review of the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan this week -- a report ordered by President Barack Obama a year ago when he deployed 30,000 extra troops to the country to combat a bloody Taliban insurgency. However, the current strategy is so flawed -- primarily due to lack of feedback from native Afghans -- that it's beyond "tweaking;" it is sorely in need of an entirely new indigenous remedy.
The U.S interagency report, months in the making, will try to paint a portrait of progress in Afghanistan, yet the polls have shown the American public is growing progressively aware of how poorly the Afghan war is actually going. And if Americans knew exactly how flawed the Obama strategy really was, and truly grasped the symptoms of that failure, the poll numbers would be even worse.
However, those with access to indigenous feedback -- who are either in Afghanistan or are Afghan expatriates in constant contact with their families and friends still residing there -- have a much better idea of the "ground based truth".
As one who is still in touch with many tribal elders in Afghanistan, I have a good sense of the causes and conditions that have led to the current no-win predicament in Afghanistan, and where, how and why U.S. policies have failed to alleviate the problem and have instead simply exacerbated an already dire situation.
War against the Pashtuns and Islam
NATO's self-described "mission" since 2001 has been to fight against "international terrorism" and, more specifically, to "dismantle" Al Qaeda. Yet, per a recent Pentagon report, there are no members of "Al-Qaeda" left in Afghanistan save 20 or 30 apparent jihadist trainers who must be equipped with cloaks of invisibility. Hence, one must resist the oft-repeated notion that this war has anything to do with Al Qaeda; because Afghans certainly do not buy it.
The Problem is that the war is mostly fought in the dense Pashtun areas of Eastern and Southern Afghanistan. The Pashtuns, who comprise 42% of Afghanistan's population, perceive that this war is now being prosecuted against them; hence they have vowed to kill "the invaders" and have rallied and are motivated to expel the foreign occupiers.
Not only do they see this as a fight against the Pashtun tribes, some Afghans see this is as a fight to protect Islamic law and Islamic values that are under attack from the West; while those who support the NATO mission claim the fight is about freedom, women's rights, civil liberties, and democracy that the Taliban will suppress if and when they ever take power again.
Ethnic Rivalry and Tribal Imbalance
Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's peace council has been pre-selected to approve whatever settlement he presents to the Taliban who are mostly Pashtuns. Northerners -- mostly comprise of Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Turkemen -- sense that Karzai is about to betray them by settling with the Taliban, granting them large swathes of territory which northerners feel the Pashtun mullahs will one day use again to assert control across the country.
Today, northerners contend the nation is on the brink of another act of legerdemain (nimble manipulation) that will lead to Pashtun predominance and misgovernment. Furthermore, Karzai is seen in their eyes as collaborating with Pakistan to exploit Afghan resources in conjunction with China.
America's efforts are failing because they have never understood the importance of tribal affiliations. General Petraeus has admitted to not having a "granular" feeling for tribal politics. That fatal flaw is exhibited inside the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) because it lacks the ethnic Pashtuns who have traditionally made up the core of Afghanistan's army, especially Ghilazai Pashtun tribes from the eastern Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika.
Any breakup between northerners and Karzai will lead to serious conflicts within the ANA, including large-scale desertions and mutinies, particularly if called on to do so by their leaders such as Vice President Qasim Fahim, Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, and the family of the late legendary mujahideen chieftain, Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Ineffective and Corrupt Afghan Government and the "Great Game"
Also, in Southern Afghanistan the elite Popalzai tribe of President Hamid Karzai now dominates the lion's share of reconstruction funding and business activity through a system of wanton graft and corruption while depriving other tribes of funds, donor-nation resources and government Jobs.
The US strategy to provide the basic necessities to the Afghans has not made much headway as the Afghan government has been ineffective and incapable of doing this. Development in the fields of education, health and transportation has been minimal, which has eroded the confidence of the nation's citizenry. Besides, the Afghan government has failed to set up local courts and other legal institutions, forcing the local populace to turn to the Taliban to seek redress.
The nineteenth-century "Great game" of British-Russian struggle for position on the chessboard of Afghanistan and Central Asia has now elevated to a higher number of players in the region; with India, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, The United States, and its European Allies all striving for control and influence in the heart of Central Asia. Apparently there is no common ambition amongst them and Afghans perceive to be stampeded by them.
Despite nine long years of conflict in this nation, the success of the mission is in serious doubt primarily because of America's hyper-focus and overreliance on counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in the South and East while seeking a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.
Yet, although there is absolutely no concrete "proof" that the COIN policy has effectively protected the local populace, even though Petraeus has skillfully suggested that COIN is a long term process whose success cannot be measured during a short time span plus he claims the full troop surge is only now beginning to have impact.
It's highly likely that only a few modest policy changes will come out the review, but nothing fundamental about the strategy is likely to change, as they'll also claim that it is better to wait until mid-2011 for any significant policy changes because by that point one would expect to see a major changes on the ground.
In addition, the aforementioned problems may not be properly reflected in the COIN plan, yet failure to solve them with keen and delicate observation will lead to a further quagmire and a final failure that resembles the last days of Vietnam when people were storming U.S. embassy for protection.
Due to the indigenous nature and complexity of these issues that are intertwined so inextricably to an understanding of indigenous culture, the time is now for a true Afghanistan National Reconciliation movement -- one that is created "for Afghans, by Afghans".
History has proven how the best-laid plans of global powers have failed miserably over the past three decades. It is time for the U.S. and international community to come to the realization that there is only one solution for peace in Afghanistan -- and that is an Afghan solution or a solution by Afghans for Afghans.