Thomas Schweich, a disgruntled former Bush Administration point man for the counter narcotics effort in Afghanistan, unloads on his (mostly unnamed) enemies in this weekend’s NY Times Magazine.
Others have rightly pointed out the absurdities of a good deal of Schweich’s claims here here and here), though there is no doubt Afghanistan is a narco-state and Hamid Karzai is unwilling and unable to take far-reaching measures to halt the poppy economy that has developed. The problem is that well-meaning people like Schweich in the drug war tend to develop a single-minded focus on the matter at hand and neglect the multitude of other issues and priorties.
The 5 solutions he offers to end Afghanistan’s narco-state status are laughably foolish, though the prospect of them being considered in some Washington corner of power is rather disturbing.
1. Inform President Karzai that he must stop protecting drug lords and narco-farmers or he will lose U.S. support. Karzai should issue a new decree of zero tolerance for poppy cultivation during the coming growing season. He should order farmers to plant wheat, and guarantee today’s high wheat prices. Karzai must simultaneously authorize aggressive force-protected manual and aerial eradication of poppies in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces for those farmers who do not plant legal crops.
Governance beyond Kabul by Karzai is a dubious read of the power relationships in Afghanistan, nor does much power or influence reside in the halls of the Karzai administration as it is. Plus, would the US really consider abandoning or dumping Karzai over the drug issue? If we want the Taliban to take care of it for us…
2. Order the Pentagon to support this strategy. Position allied and Afghan troops in places that create security pockets so that Afghan counternarcotics police can arrest powerful drug lords. Enable force-protected eradication with the Afghan-set goal of eradicating 50,000 hectares as the benchmark.
With what Afghan troops? With what police? What Afghan leader will be eradicated poppies and inflaming the locals against the government and rushin them into the arms of the Taliban and the warlords?
3. Increase the number of D.E.A. agents in Kabul and assist the Afghan attorney general in prosecuting key traffickers and corrupt government officials from all ethnic groups, including southern Pashtuns.
As if an Afghan attorney general would wave goodbye to his job by pissing off the power base of the goverment. What happens when those DEA agents are targeted by the drug traffickers?
4. Get new development projects quickly to the provinces that become poppy-free or stay poppy free. The north should see significant rewards for its successful anticultivation efforts. Do not, however, provide cash to farmers for eradication.
What kind of development projects, with what money and how do you ensure the northern fields stay poppy free? Not only are the resources not there, but the execution skill is lacking as well. Schweich seems to consider development projects as mana falling from the sky that work on their own without the infrastructure and oversight required. Of course, not providing cash to the farmers for eradication will almost guarantee they will become or remain supporters of the Taliban and anti-government warlords.
5. Ask the allies either to help in this effort or stand down and let us do the job.
With what American troops and at what cost to the effort? Will the various nations Schweich blames pull out entirely and take not only their troops but their aid budgets with them? How do you limit the fallout?
Similar to those who seem to think a “surge” like that which occurred in Iraq can work in Afghanistan with little variance, or those who think aerial eradication in a country that was bombarded to bits for a decade by a ruthless Soviet air force will be acceptable to the general populace, Schweich is an expert in a limited field who offers useless or counterproductive advice in areas beyond it. If he would have taken just a few hours to learn about the country before rushing in and making judgments about what works and what does not, perhaps he would not have wasted the time of countless readers and perhaps managed to retain influence in his position instead of being defeated in backroom warfare by his bureaucratic foes.
Ahmed Rashid explores what has happened since 9/11 with Afghanistan and Pakistan in Descent Into Chaos.
As Rashid is not known as a causal optimist or alarmist, the strong sense of disappointment in his writing when addressing American efforts, given the lack of focus placed on Afghanistan for years and the ghosts of “what might have been” speaks volumes for what has gone wrong.
His insights about the views Afghans held of Americans in contrast to their opinions of Pakistanis, Russians, Iranians and other neighbors fuel that discussion of mistakes but also of latent opportunities.
Writing about his native Pakistan, he makes a compelling case for the continuing lack of American comprehension of Pakistani politics (the USG has and even now apparently continues to be trusting but not verifying the Pakistani military, not to mention the ISI).
To understand what options the US has to pursue to rectify this, reading Rashid’s latest is the first step proceeding that realization something has gone terribly wrong here.
- The military operates increasingly amid hubris, it views Afghanistan’s subservience to Pakistan as a priority, something even Afghan Pashtuns are unlikely to accept.
- It is enraged about America’s nuclear deal with India and views it as the highest form of hypocrisy that sells out Pakistan’s interests after all the sacrifices Pakistan has made for America since 9/11 and before.
- The growth of “Pakistani” Taliban (noted with fascinating detail and insight in the local culture of the “Big Man” and homegrown militias and commercial ventures) and the opportunistic fusion of them with local rural and urban groups as well as transnational groups like Al-Qaeda is real and dangerous.
- Well-educated Pakistanis in the urban groups are a force in devising more complex and efficient operations, from more effective suicide attacks on police and infrastructure to assassinations of key figures like former PM Bhutto.
- The military has been shafting the civilian leadership since Musharraf’s cascading mistakes led to their revival. It unilaterally decided to pull out of the tribal areas and cease the fight there, while leaving behind militias and tribesmen for the government and the Americans to try to train.
- The civilians have little understanding of what they’ve gotten into (such as the “multi-layered terrorist cake” in the frontier areas) because they don’t receive the level of intelligence and political support from within the government that is necessary to act on the threats amidst them.
- Afghanistan is increasingly a regional war and much larger in scope a problem than previously, drawing in Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia.
More insight from Rashid…
NYT profile of Rashid
Our progress in Afghanistan is in serious peril for reasons well explained elsewhere. (1)
NATO is essentially hopeless because of the unwillingness of most of its members to sacrifice to succeed in Afghanistan. (2)
Only one viable option for success exists:
It could be President Bush’s lasting legacy, a renewal of US-China ties that would eclipse all other recalibrations of what has become the most important world relationship since Nixon went to China in ’72.
China has as much interest as anyone in stability in South Asia, particulary amid Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. While they have increased funding for UN efforts, global investment & development opportunities and even sent more Chinese peacekeepers abroad than ever before, they are still essentially freeloading off the international order the US and NATO have secured for the past 60 years.
Those days need to come to an end.
Several key needs for success in Afghanistan could be met by Chinese participation:
- Financial and development resources. What needs to be built is not, what needs to be repaired is not. Still a great shortage of jobs.
- Manpower. We are not providing security the way we must in order to win the trust and respect of the populace. An infusion of 30-40K Chinese would help, especially Chinese police.
- Pragmatism. Even now the US stupidly tries to wage the war on drugs and the war on terror together. China’s entry would end this nonsense sooner than later and allow for pragmatic responses to the poppy problem to be considered and implemented.
- International weight. The world needs to get involved with Afghanistan on a far greater scale than it is currently. More NGO’s, more UN funding and attention, more international condemnation of Pakistani and Iranian interference. China carries immense clout with many nations at this time, offering it a voice in many places where America’s is squandered or ignored.
- Pragmatism in governance. Non sensible adherence to occasional democratic principles in a land where most are willfully ignored by even the US and NATO would end, allowing for the more sensible local solutions to local problems to be tested and utilized.
The objective now must not be to rebuild Afghanistan, it must return to saving it. We have shortchanged this effort for years now and are reaching a perilous point of no return. No more can this state of affairs be tolerated. Getting China involved (and perhaps sharing command) is our last best hope of saving Afghanistan from our incompetence and arrogance, the Taliban’s machinations and the often nefarious designs Afghanistan’s neighbors have.
So in the end, it means more bodies, more coverage, more money. As well as a potentially renewed US-China relationship that could be explored further in neglected trouble spots in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Not to mention, doesn’t the prospect of a Chinese military more familiar with the concepts of COIN cause one to feel a wee bit better about China surviving the possible chaotic futures it could have?