Thursday, January 08, 2009

Let's Get Real

This article reports that a study by the US Institute of Peace (yeah, bad name) supports my contention that we shouldn't try to make Afghanistan a modern nation-state:

The United States and its partners have shortchanged Afghanistan by focusing on short-term goals pursued without a cohesive strategy or a clear understanding of the way the poor, decentralized country works, an independent study concludes.

Amir Taheri reinforces the concept that it is a bridge too far to try to establish a modern state centrally controlled from Kabul:

The best structure for Afghanistan is that of a loose federation in which its 18 ethnic and religious communities enjoy full economic, cultural, and administrative autonomy. Yet the system developed in Afghanistan since 2002 has gone in the exact opposite direction. The Afghan president today has powers that no Afghan king ever dreamt of. The problem is that these powers cannot be used without provoking violent resistance from a majority of Afghans — and such violence cannot be dealt with except by force. President Karzai, a member of a minor Pashtun (Pathan) tribe who lacks a constituency of his own, cannot master the force needed to impose central-government control throughout his unruly land. He has been trying to do so by relying on American power. The result is that the U.S. has been sucked into Afghan politics as another tribe, albeit one that has greater firepower than the rest.

Like I've written, let's just see if we can get Afghanistan into the 19th century and support a decentralized state closer to a confederation with the president of Afghanistan more like a mayor who rules the capital, airports, and gets the UN seat, but reigns over loyal fiefdoms that don't cause trouble and don't tolerate jihadis and drug gangs.

I've also written that I'm glad Petraeus in in charge of CENTCOM. He understands, as I've written for at least a year and a half, that Afghansitan is not a theater isolated from Pakistan, and that Afghanistan is not Iraq:

"Afghanistan and Pakistan have, in many ways, merged into a single problem set, and the way forward in Afghanistan is incomplete without a strategy that includes and assists Pakistan," and also takes into account Pakistan's troubled relationship with rival India, Petraeus said.

I think the goals of getting a reasonably governed and decentralized Afghanistan that is friendly and not a sanctuary for terrorists is more than challenging enough. The projects to build bike paths can wait a bit longer, eh?