Richard Foot / Vancouver Sun – 2007-01-08 00:03:12
Afghanistan ‘Sliding into Chaos’
Lack of Massive Aid, Pakistan’s Regime Blamed
KANDAHAR (January 06, 2007) — As Canadian soldiers traded gunfire with Taliban insurgents west of Kandahar Friday, a new article in the prestigious international journal Foreign Affairs warned Afghanistan is “sliding into chaos” and that the NATO-led coalition is doomed to fail without a dramatic change in strategy.
Author Barnett Rubin, a respected global authority on Afghanistan, says no amount of military sacrifice by NATO countries can produce dividends in Afghanistan without a massive, coordinated infusion of economic aid and a willingness to dismantle Taliban command centres in Pakistan.
The stark message comes as Canadian soldiers from the Quebec-based Royal 22nd Regiment, “the VanDoos,” battled insurgents Friday in Panjwaii, a hotly contested township west of Kandahar. There were no Canadian casualties in the 45-minute battle, although several insurgents were reportedly killed.
Rubin says fighting battles against the Taliban will achieve nothing in the long run unless the NATO coalition can solve the problems of Afghan poverty, corruption and meddling by Pakistan.
“Even as Afghan and international forces have defeated insurgents in engagement after engagement,” he writes in the January-February issue of Foreign Affairs, “the weakness of the government and the reconstruction effort — and the continued sanctuary provided to Taliban leaders in Pakistan — has prevented real victory.”
Rubin is a professor of political science at New York University. In 2001, he served as special adviser to the United Nations during the talks that led to the Bonn Agreement, which re-established the Afghan state following the 9/11 attacks.
In a telephone interview Friday, Rubin praised the “sacrifices” of Canadian troops and of diplomat Glyn Berry, whom he met before Berry was killed by a Taliban bomb last year.
Rubin credits Canada’s military for turning back “a frontal offensive by the Taliban” in Panjwaii last summer and for rescuing Afghanistan from what he considers “a tipping point.”
But so inept is the Afghan government — and so ineffective have coalition forces been at stemming the tide of Taliban influence — that Rubin says in some areas of the country, “there is now a parallel Taliban state, and locals are increasingly turning to Taliban-run courts, which are seen as more effective and fair than the corrupt local system.”
In a bleak assessment of the situation Rubin writes:
“High unemployment is fuelling conflict . . . effective economic aid is vital to addressing the pervasive poverty that debilitates the government and facilitates the recruitment of unemployed youths into militias or the insurgency.”
“The lack of electricity continues to be a major problem. No new power projects have been completed, and Kabulis today have less electricity than they did five years ago.”
“Rising crime, especially the kidnapping of businessmen for ransom, is also leading to capital flight . . . people throughout the country report that crime is increasing — and complain that the police are the main criminals.”
The ministry of the interior and the judiciary “are deeply corrupt and plagued by a lack of skills, equipment and resources.”
“Opium poppy production in the country reached a record 6,100 metric tons last year, surpassing the 2005 total by 49 per cent. . . . The massive illicit economy is booming, while the licit economy slows.”
Rubin says coalition donors must increase economic aid to Afghanistan and coordinate its effective delivery. Equally important, he says, is a willingness in Washington and other coalition capitals to recognize that Pakistan’s military regime is actively supporting the Taliban leadership, and allowing it to foment the insurgency.
The “key to overall victory,” he says, is not in stopping Taliban forces from infiltrating Afghanistan, but in pressuring Pakistan to break apart the Taliban’s command structure inside its territory.
Rubin offers a few threads of hope. He says the formation of the Afghan National Army, now with 30,000 troops, “has been one of the relative success stories of the past five years.”
And he says despite the country’s increasing woes, “no one I spoke to [there in 2006] advocated giving up.”
Rubin insists that “Washington and its international partners must rethink their strategy. Only dramatic action can reverse the perception, common among Afghans and their neighbours, that Afghanistan is not a high priority for the United States — and that the Taliban are winning as a result.”
CanWest News Service
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Barnett R. Rubin / Foreign Affairs
(January/February 2007 Issue) — Afghanistan has stepped back from a tipping point. At the cost of taking and inflicting more casualties than in any year since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 (and four times as many as in 2005), NATO troops turned back a frontal offensive by the Taliban last summer.
The insurgents aimed to capture a district west of Kandahar, hoping to take that key city and precipitate a crisis in Kabul, the capital. Despite this setback, however, the Taliban-led insurgency is still active on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, and the frontier region has once again become a refuge for what President George W. Bush once called the main threat to the United States — “terrorist groups of global reach.”
Insurgents in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have imported suicide bombing, improvised explosive technology, and global communications strategies from Iraq; in the south, attacks have closed 35 percent of the schools. Even with opium production at record levels, slowing economic growth is failing to satisfy the population’s most basic needs, and many community leaders accuse the government itself of being the main source of abuse and insecurity.
Unless the shaky Afghan government receives both the resources and the leadership required to deliver tangible benefits in areas cleared of insurgents, the international presence in Afghanistan will come to resemble a foreign occupation — an occupation that Afghans will ultimately reject.
For decades — not only since 2001 — U.S. policymakers have underestimated the stakes in Afghanistan. They continue to do so today. A mere course correction will not be enough to prevent the country from sliding into chaos. Washington and its international partners must rethink their strategy and significantly increase both the resources they devote to Afghanistan and the effectiveness of those resources’ use.
Only dramatic action can reverse the perception, common among both Afghans and their neighbors, that Afghanistan is not a high priority for the United States — and that the Taliban are winning as a result. Washington’s appeasement of Pakistan, diversion of resources to Iraq, and perpetual underinvestment in Afghanistan — which gets less aid per capita than any other state with a recent postconflict rebuilding effort — have fueled that suspicion.
Contrary to the claims of the Bush administration, whose attention after the September 11 attacks quickly wandered off to Iraq and grand visions of transforming the Middle East, the main center of terrorism “of global reach” is in Pakistan. Al Qaeda has succeeded in reestablishing its base by skillfully exploiting the weakness of the state in the Pashtun tribal belt, along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier. In the words of one Western military commander in Afghanistan, “Until we transform the tribal belt, the U.S. is at risk.”
Far from achieving that objective in the 2001 Afghan war, the U.S.-led coalition merely pushed the core leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan, with no strategy for consolidating this apparent tactical advance. The Bush administration failed to provide those Taliban fighters who did not want to defend al Qaeda with a way to return to Afghanistan peacefully, and its policy of illegal detention at Guantánamo Bay and Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan, made refuge in Pakistan, often with al Qaeda, a more attractive option.
The Taliban, meanwhile, have drawn on fugitives from Afghanistan, newly minted recruits from undisrupted training camps and militant madrasahs, and tribesmen alienated by civilian casualties and government and coalition abuse to reconstitute their command structure, recruitment and funding networks, and logistical bases in Pakistan.
On September 19, 2001, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told his nation that he had to cooperate with Washington in order to “save Afghanistan and Taliban from being harmed”; accordingly, he has been all too happy to follow the Bush administration’s instructions to focus on al Qaeda’s top leadership while ignoring the Taliban.
Intelligence collected during Western military offensives in mid-2006 confirmed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was continuing to actively support the Taliban leadership, which is now working out of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province, in western Pakistan. As a result, a cross-border insurgency has effectively exploited Afghanistan’s impoverished society and feeble government.
In May of 2006, Amrullah Saleh, the director of Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency, completed an assessment of the threat posed by the insurgency. Saleh, who acted as the Northern Alliance’s liaison with the CIA during Operation Enduring Freedom, concluded that political progress in Afghanistan had not been matched by an effective strategy of consolidation.
“The pyramid of Afghanistan government’s legitimacy,” he wrote, “should not be brought down due to our inefficiency in knowing the enemy, knowing ourselves and applying resources effectively.” U.S. commanders and intelligence officials circulated Saleh’s warning to their field commanders and agents in Afghanistan and their superiors in Washington. Sustaining the achievements of the past five years depends on how well they heed that warning.
“STILL OURS TO LOSE”
In the past year, a number of events have raised the stakes in Afghanistan and highlighted the threat to the international effort there. The future of NATO depends on its success in this first deployment outside of Europe. Although it suffered a setback in the south, the Pakistan-based, Taliban-led insurgency has become ever more daring and deadly in the southern and eastern parts of the country, while extending its presence all the way to the outskirts of Kabul.
NATO deployed to areas neglected by the coalition, most notably to the southern province of Helmand — and the Taliban responded with increased strength and maneuverability. On September 8, a particularly bold attack on a coalition convoy in the city killed 16 people, including two U.S. soldiers, near the U.S. embassy — the most heavily fortified section of Kabul. Even as NATO has deployed its forces across the country — particularly in the province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold that produces some 40 percent of the world’s opium — the Taliban have shown increasing power and agility.
Meanwhile, the effectiveness of the Taliban’s limited institutions and the ruthlessness of their retribution against “collaborators” neutralized much of the Afghan population; only the successful political consolidation of NATO and coalition military victories can start to build confidence that it is safe to support the government.
In some areas, there is now a parallel Taliban state, and locals are increasingly turning to Taliban-run courts, which are seen as more effective and fair than the corrupt official system. Suicide bombings, unknown in Afghanistan before their successful use by insurgents in Iraq, have recently sown terror in Kabul and other areas. They have also spread to Pakistan.
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Barnett R. Rubin is Director of Studies and a Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation and the author of The Fragmentation of Afghanistan. He served as an adviser to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General at the UN Talks on Afghanistan in Bonn in 2001.