24 August 2009

The Economist on Afghanistan

Lest Paul McGeough’s bleak view of Afghanistan and the Karzai regime in Saturday’s edition of The Age (see Paul McGeough on Afghanistan) be considered some kind of outlier assessment – just one man’s opinion – let us have a look at the leader in the latest (22-28 August) edition of The Economist, the cover of which proclaims Afghanistan: the growing threat of failure.

In a leader entitled Losing Afghanistan? the key message is contained in three paragraphs:

The opposition, casually described as “the Taliban”, is far from a unified force in a country of great ethnic complexity. It includes not just religious zealots but all manner of tribal warlords and local strongmen. Many have alarming ideas and repellent social attitudes. But if Afghanistan is to be stabilised, the West will have to hold its nose and encourage its allies in government to do deals with them.

On the campaign trail, President Hamid Kharzai has appealed to his enemies to make peace. But his government – inept, corrupt and predatory – does not look like a trustworthy partner. In parts of Afghanistan where insurgents have been driven out and the writ of government has been restored, residents have sometimes hankered for the warlords, who were less venal and brutal than Mr Karzai’s lot.

Cleaning up governments is not just an end in itself but also a means to building a functioning state, for Afghans will not support an administration as corrupt as the current one. The West should therefore use its leverage over the government to insist that the next cabinet is dominated by competent technocrats, rather than thugs owed a favour.

Of the situation in our very own Oruzgan Province, The Economist says in its main article (From insurgency to insurrection):

With too little knowledge and too few troops, America and its allies have often relied on malign local proxies. Underlining the difficulty of the task, many of these held government posts. Between 2002 and 2006 in southern Uruzgan, for example, American special-forces soldiers were persuaded by controversial then-governor, Jan Mohammad Khan, that a rival Pushtun tribe, the Ghilzais, supported the Taliban. In the mayhem that ensured, this soon became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is the story that McGeough is telling us, and this is the environment in which our young people are being put in harm’s way.

The leader concludes:

For the moment, Mr Obama is better off than George Bush was when Iraq went bad, because he enjoys broad political and popular support for this commitment. But as casualties mount, political pressure in America to announce a timetable for military withdrawal will intensify. To resist it, Mr Obama will need more men, a better strategy and a great deal of luck.

All true, of course, but unfortunately this passage smacks more of concern about what is good for Mr Obama than about what is good for the people of Afghanistan, whose country we have invaded. If we all spent more time worrying about what is good for the people of Afghanistan (something only they can define), then we might have more chance of producing an outcome that is good for both us and them.

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