Jason Thomas, an Australian, gave a talk on the above, which I attended, writes Peter Wilkinson. It was a view on Afghanistan from an on the ground experience.
Jason was the regional manager for the Central Asia Development group, implementing a USAID program in South East Afghanistan. Recently he returned from overseeing counterinsurgency operations with US forces in South East Afghanistan. His work was trying to to win the hearts and minds of the people.
The difficulties that he described were immense. Three quarters of the country is under the control of warlords, drug barons and elites, one quarter more or less restrained by international forces. He described the warlords as having immense emotional and cultural intelligence, they would agree with everything you said in a negotiation one day, and order you killed the next. His rule of thumb therefore was trust no one, question everything. He survived by wearing the local garb and not getting too close to the armed vehicles. He emphasized that ethnic divisions run very deep and cause more bloodshed than the ‘war’.
There were effectively two Talibans; the local groups with whom he had to negotiate with to ensure that the aid works (e.g. irrigation works) were not destroyed and the international Taliban based in Pakistan, with whom you could not negotiate.
The locals have to chose between a corrupt thugocracy and the Taliban, who bring swift justice to lawbreakers (from their version of law) and try to keep out unwanted foreigners. Do you trust the coalition to stay?
He warned that success of the international forces there may come in a form we do not yet recognize and may not like. He was not in favour of increasing military intervention; instead, of keeping it low key. We are in for the long haul; a decade if we wish to make a difference.
He finished with an important point which I at least had not thought about, but which must be an unspoken worry fot the coalition. Even if we accept that Afghanistan under the Taliban is not the place from which terrorist attacks on the West will be launched, there is a serious worry that it will be the base for the Taliban to attempt to control Pakistan, a nuclear country, unable to control the Taliban in their own country, and not the best managed nation.
Think about that sleeper.
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