24 August 2009

Paul McGeough on Afghanistan

In the Insight section of The Age, Saturday 22 August 2009, there is an article, Afghanistan's war within by Paul McGeough, reporting from Kabul, that anyone trying to understand the complexities of Afghan politics and our chances of “success”, however that might be defined, should read. McGeough has been reporting on Afghanistan and the Middle East for a long time.

His article illustrates, with particular reference to Oruzgan Province, where the Australian troops are based, how the complexities of tribal, sub-tribal and extended family politics, and of personal agenda and reciprocal obligations, affect who receives what benefits and who gets shut out of the system, adding great (and at times lethal) complexity to the task the Western military forces are trying to perform.

These factors also have a more than marginal bearing on who gets declared to be Taliban. We have had since the French Revolution (and the wars of religion before it) to understand that not every denouncer is a disinterested party, but some lessons need to be learned over and over again, it seems. And we have had the more recent experiences of Vietnam and Iraq to teach us how easy it is to get local populations offside so that tacit acceptance or guarded enthusiasm are converted to outright hostility or active resistance.

The picture McGeough paints of the Karzai regime and its behaviour is of a government that is not simply weak and ineffectual, but behaves in a variety of ways that make the problem harder to solve and reduce the prospects of any kind of satisfactory outcome. It is a very sobering assessment indeed.

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