Today the UN announced that they will evacuate 600 ”non-essential” staff (almost half its staff) from Afghanistan. This decision follows in the wake of the attack on British soldiers yesterday by a ‘rogue policeman’. But presumably the suicide-bomb attack on a guesthouse frequented by UN workers in Kabul last week also figures in the equation.
The incident where an Afghan police officer turned on British soldiers, killing five, is under investigation. But today the Daily Express quoted a Captain Doug Beattie, recently retired from the armed services, as saying: “The insurgency has infiltrated the police at virtually every level”.
They are not really police. They are a tribal militia provided by their village.
They are not controlled by central Government but by local warlords, jihadis and tribal elders. The Government pays them and sometimes elders pass the pay to the police. That’s why police sometimes set up road blocks and extract money from locals – to make ends meet.
If the government’s paying them they’re reasonably happy. But if they don’t get enough money they’re quite happy to be paid by the insurgency.
Earlier last month we had the (quite under-reported) news that in the US a senior Foreign Service official with responsibilities in Afghanistan handed in his resignation in a four-page letter detailing his doubts about continuing the mission there.
I fail to see the value or worth in continued US casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war.
The problem, as is so often, is the limited understanding of the situation by political leaders and the general public. They seem to think about the Afghan situation in terms of a national government against a single insurgency organisation, in this case the Taliban. The Foreign Service official, Matthew Hoh, argues that this is the wrong perception. Naming the insurgency ‘Pashtun’, in stead of the more often used ‘Taliban’, Hoh explains:
If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes, valleys, clans, villages and families against one another, but, from at least the end of King Zahir Shah’s rein, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and support the Pashtun insurgency. The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, their culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The US and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified
I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taleban, but rather against the foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.
And thus, sending in more foreign troops, or prolonging the presence of the foreign troops already there, serves only to ignite the negative feelings even further. Our continued presence there will only reinforce the idea, held by local Pashtun tribes, that we are there to oppress them.
Afghanistan is not a nation-state in embryonic form that needs our forces to guide it to gestation. The coalition in Afghanistan is learning what the Russians learned in the 1980’s and the Brits learned (but evidently forgot) in the 19th century: Afghanistan is a collection of constantly shifting alliances between tribes, clans and local warlords, constantly vying (and fighting) for lordship over their immediate surroundings. There is no loyalty greater then that to the local tribe elders or warlord. There is no overarching sense of nationality or national identity. In such surroundings it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to install a lasting, functioning central government.
Pretending that such is the mission of our forces in Uruzgan is tantamount to sending our men and women on a fools errant. And a deadly one at that. Yet our government seems to be intent on prolonging the mission in Uruzgan. The mission is supposed to end in 2010. The Second Chamber of parliament has already signalled its reluctance to continue the mission, but the governments intentions, although not entirely clear, seem to be in the opposite direction. A decision is expected some time before Christmas this year (NL)
With our government poised to start a new round of budget cuts in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, the cost of maintaining our mission in Uruzgan seems to be unnecessarily throwing away money in a bottomless pit. Money that would be infinitely better spent rescuing our education and health care system from the brink of financial asphyxiation.
If our very presence in Uruzgan has led to a situation where we are fighting an uncooperative people who view us as oppressors, rather then the muslim-fanatics of the Taliban, then the wisdom of continuing seems to be doubtful at best. For the illusion of founding a peaceful nation state where none existed before, the cost in cold cash and more importantly: the cost in lives and human misery is just too great.