As Afghanistan experts in NGOs which actually work among the people frantically try to tell Obama that he is making a big, big, mistake, the arrival of the first of 17,000 more American troops has already borne fruit. It has managed to unite different factions of Taliban under the banner of Mullah Omar, who a month ago was wondering how to stay alive day-to-day against Predator strikes on one hand and radical young Taliban commanders who would like to take his place on the other. Obama single-handedly solved many of his problems. The UK Guardian:
three rival Pakistani Taliban groups have agreed to fight together against international troops in Afghanistan. The pact occurred after Mullah Omar, the cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, called for all militants fighting in Pakistan to stop and come to Afghanistan to “liberate Afghanistan from the occupation forces.” The united group is calling itself Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen, or Council of United Holy Warriors.
Most of the “Taliban” rank-and-file in Afghanistan currently consists of 19-year-old kids who stash their weapons under rocks until some Americans come around, which gives them the chance to fight and make a few bucks.
The Obama plan is missing the forest for the trees, as do almost all present discussions of the insurgency. The West cannot understand that you cannot have 50% of children stunted through malnutrition, a 40% unemployment rate, no alternative to growing poppies as a means to feed your family, and foreign troops on the ground as a nice big red flag and not have an insurgency.
They don’t need a hundred more civilian engineers looking for places to build bridges. Spend $5 billion on indigenous jobs clearing canals and digging ditches for water pipeline, and your problem goes away, with all due respect to regional “no peace without Pakistan” analysis. The West is throwing away its most potent tool: most Afghans hate the Taliban. But a few months of killing these kids, whose crime is to want to feed their families, along with the inevitable civilian casualties and an atrocity or two, and by God now you’ve got a shooting war with real legs. As in, quagmire.
Film-maker Robert Greenwald, on a recent trip to Afghanistan for his project “Rethink Afghanistan” caught up with about 20 men who were turning in their weapons and leaving the Taliban. He wrote in his blog:
Within a few minutes I was engaged in interviewing, talking, and asking the various Taliban how long they had been fighting (from 2-30 years), why they fought, what they wanted to say to the United States, and what they wanted in general (jobs and to take care of their families).
American forces should decline to chase the “Taliban” across the countryside, and aim their guns outward to protect Afghan work-crews. If I were on a road crew leveling ground with a shovel and laying gravel, I would feel real safe with a company of Marines looking outwards around me. The Pakistan Taliban/Al Qaeda problem? Pakistani Pashtuns will likely start slipping across the border to get in on the jobs action.
Day-labor-for-cash jobs, $5 a day, 500,000 of them. No chasing Taliban. Problem solved, we go home in a year.
Fighting the “Taliban” shadow will only generate the hatred necessary to turn this into a genuinely nationalistic, ideology-driven conflict. With fewer desperate, angry young recruits to wear suicide vests, Taliban commanders and ideologues sit twiddling their thumbs and waiting for the phone to ring. Now NGOs, area experts, and I know how Cassandra felt. Please, Mr. President, there is still time to correct course.
Afghanistan may never have a true central government. They have the Loya Jirga. The political goal should be to negotiate neutrality toward the West among all factions, and an inter-factional peace enforced with 90% carrots and 10% sticks. You may never stop Afghans from fighting each other. That’s what Afghans do. But gradually warlordism will give way to a younger, better educated generation who will leave that behind and discover better ways to live life.
(Cross-posted from MyDD.)