Why? Because the strategy is short term focused, and forgets about what is really going on: a nation of disgruntled people with not much else to do, except wait for an exceptionally bleak future to roll over them. This disgruntled state is giving birth to the violent factions we now endeavor to “remove”.
Sending in brute force to quell the institute tribes of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan is akin to the invasion of Vietnam by the US in the 60’s and 70’s. That particular war failed because the local embedded defence forces knew what they wanted: to defend their home lands from invaders, to win at all costs. To fail was to loose not only their lives, but the identity of their people, their nation, everything they stood for. Their lives were secondary in this battle. The Taliban – and Al Qaeda – will do the same. Suicide bombers, bombings of public places like bars and accommodation units occurred in Vietnam as well – a dear friend of mine still has pieces of a grenade coming out of his body from one such attack by a child. These acts weren’t called “terrorist activities”.
The second much more fundamental reason for the failure that will become Afghanistan is the ancient knowledge that like-begets-like: bring in severe force against a group will only instil more retaliatory brute force in kind.
Additonally, local support from non-violent groups will tend to favour the local tribes, rather than the “invading” occupying forces and as the war drags on, this support will increase.
The World’s Fight Against Terror (it should be termed the “fright against terror”) means nothing to the people of Afghanistan. Food, basic shelter, education and a future to look forward to are their concerns.
So what is the answer? Again an ancient saying: “turn the other cheek”. Some 2,000 years old in some texts. Now I don’t mean walk away. Far from it.
Here is what will work: the US forces become a security force, an advanced form of police that enters the country with a specific task, not of attacking Taliban tribal groups (like Al Qaeda), but tasked with the defence of social and welfare infrastructure. This social welfare infrastructure is built in parallel – a Grand Master Plan – and defended by the defence initiative. This defence force will also protect the personal and private assets of individuals, thus allowing entrepreneurialism to flourish – a vital component of the establishment of a long term viable solution for the people of the region.
US money, UN money, world money, is spent to raise the standard of living for the Afghan people: to build and run schools, hospitals, sanitation, water supplies. Establish enterprises to grow and supply food, training, materials, trade, training. In short a future. Doing this will improve the living standard and the outlook for a people who presently have very little to look forward to, and will endear these people to those protecting them and this future.
I’m talking about rebuilding an entire social environment, building a nation, something that will be sustainable for the next 1,000 years! (Why not? We know what works and what doesn’t). (Sustaining the culture and lifestyle is an important element of this process).
What will happen if this is done? Well the Taliban’s key strategy now: suicide bombings will dwindle and become defunct. Why? Because prospect recruits will have an alternative: a future, something to drive them to live, not to die. Right now they have a bleak future, and with the oncoming escalation of war, of violence, even less to look forward to. Thus, with my proposed alternative strategy, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda will shrink: 1) because they will use up their resources (by blowing themselves up), 2) because recruiting will become harder and harder, there is a better alternative, and 3) because their like will defect, because of the better lives they can see growing up around them. Ultimately the need for them existing as an extremist group will cease to have any purpose.
Going in now with the intent to “crush the Taliban” will simply not work.
US President, Barak Obama, yesterday or even today stated “we have a clear goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and prevent their return to either country in the future”. This is a futile and near sighted goal for the reasons I have outlined above.
OK, so let’s answer another question: what about the financial benefits of waging war outside your homeland. I go into this in detail at this post: The Business of War. The argument is that, in the short term, war makes is good financially for a nation. Not in the long term.
What is the main resistance to the build and defend strategy I have outlined? It is the status quo, inertia and simply human practice.
Nation building is the newest and boldest of human strategies that we may – or may not – be ready for.
Think of the increase in national GDP if public services were provided in foreign lands rather than the destruction, death and disarray brought by the mightiest defence force on the planet? (The US Navy is larger than the next 13 largest navies combined, and 11 of these are allies or partners).
Will it be hard to stay focused? Yes. Will it be hard not to ignore the innocent deaths that occur whilst the building commences? (There will civilian companies engaged in the infrastructure building. Yes it will be. But in the long term the solution will be far superior.
In Iraq right now (2 hours from where I sit), 1 in 3 people live without access to municipal water and only 1 in 5 have access to a sanitation service (sewage). Universities and schools are closed most days, doctors and teachers receive death threats telling them to leave the country, which most have. What is left? Now that the US are pulling out (yes they are – I see it most days on the roads here), what is being left behind? A victory? Bitter sweet indeed.
Yet, a new goal: Afghanistan?
Like the issues with Global Warming facing us, helping a disgruntled and deprived people, and building a nation for them – in their likeness, not ours – is a job for all of us and a challenge for our global society to shake from the shackle of brute force and isolated non-unifying solutions.