Why not do both ?

Posted in United States , Afghanistan , Democracy | 22-Dec-10 | Author: James Elliot

A ‘sitrep’ to Western powers on Afghanistan about sustainable jobs, and not only military means.

Consider this rather wise statement covering both the causes and solutions to much civil unrest: “Insurgencies attract criminals and mercenaries. Individuals inspired by the romanticized image of the revolutionary or holy warrior and others who imagine themselves as fighters for a cause might also join. It is important to note that political solutions might not satisfy some of them enough to end their participation. Fighters who have joined for money will probably become bandits once the fighting ends unless there are jobs for them. This category also includes opportunists who exploit the absence of security to engage in economically nominally lucrative criminal activity, such as kidnapping and theft.” This is not from a Red Cross, UN or NGO training manual, but the last edition of the US Army / Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual and what’s more, it’s near the start of Chapter 1.

This statement realises that insurgencies are caused by three factors, poverty, young men and an older group of men who are violent fanatics. A metaphor is an explosion, being caused by a fuel, oxygen and ignition. Most humanitarian aid workers and military will agree on these causal factors and have the same long term objectives, yet all too often there is a lack of real mutual respect. Aid workers are accused of ‘living is up’ (though most are as poor as mice) whilst the military stand accused of being too violent (though this too is a minority stereotype).

Why don’t the Western military and the aid workers cooperate to make it more expensive for a young man to fight than stay home and earn money ?

The standard military response to an insurgency is elimination of the problem by tackling the ‘older group of men who are violent fanatics’ whilst the standard humanitarian response must be to try and tackle the poverty with sustainable jobs.

Why not do both ?

Too often humanitarians spread themselves too thinly and try to help everyone. Yet well managed sustainable job programmes for young men must be the first logical approach, there can be no ‘mother & child programmes’ or infrastructure, if potentially violent young men are on the loose. And by way of criticism, currently Afghanistan is experiencing the greatest level of insecurity in 30 years, with one Red Cross official wearily stating: “The military campaign is suppressing the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure.”

At the moment the military is aiming its sights at the leadership of the Taliban with successful results. But these leaders (10% of total 40,000 Taliban) are supplied with huge amounts of money by Al-Qaeda. This money is now stock piled in Northern Pakistan or Southern Afghanistan. The leaders have the time to wait over the next few years, like pathogenic spores, hiding in the tissue until the time is right to strike again. Currently the Western forces are committed by their political masters to trying to be rid of the Taliban leadership and Al-Qaeda, before withdrawing in four years time. They see this as ‘a race against the clock.’

What defines success ? Even if there is relative peace when the Western military leaves, the Afghan military will then take over, but to what degree will the Afghan government, which is presently corrupt and incompetent, be able to continue the fight ? If it loses the fight, will Pakistan and Iran be drawn into a central Asian war and what if tactical nuclear devices are used ?

At the moment there is a huge imbalance in Western strategy, the US (which of all the nations is the only one with the courage to be really forthcoming about its figures) is pumping over US 100 billion per year into the military campaign, but in 2009 only about US $300 million per year into sustainable jobs. This is a ratio or an imbalance, of 1 to 333. It’s something like stating: “Here is a village with 36 rioting young men, led by 4 older men, let’s send in 333 policemen to catch the older men and 1 business chap to do sustainable job creation.”

Where is the overt international support, together with the Afghan government, to get more young men into jobs and help solve the problem and ‘win the peace’ that way ?

There are perhaps several reasons. In no order of importance, one is discouragement - that the Afghan government tried its own job creation campaigns, but failed due to corruption and minimal investments. Another reason is lack of will from Western governments to pump adequate money into sustainable job-skills education programmes. A third is probably a simple lack of respect between the military and humanitarians. A fourth is Taliban intimidation if an aid worker is seen taking Western military money. A fifth reason, is that nobody seems to know what to aim at, or if they do, how to implement it.

The enlightened people who wrote the US Army / Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual deserve to be listened to by humanitarians and Western politicians, because at the end of the day, a poor young man who is given a chance to learn a trade and thus care for his family will be incredibly grateful to the donor, regardless of the donor’s background.

To conclude, here are two suggestions. First President Obama needs to agree that this is a logical idea and appoint a champion with clout, to clout it. Second, a thorough numerical risk analysis of the numbers of jobs that could be created versus the risk of violence if they are not, needs to be carried out, including for southern Afghanistan. If it was carried out by a team consisting of personnel including a humanitarian, a Western military, an Afghan government, a donor and a skilled demographer, they could at least provide an independent idea of the target numbers of jobs that need to be aimed at, where and what type.


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