Saturday, 8 August 2009

a lot can happen in forty years

"The Army's role might evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years. There is absolutely no chance of NATO pulling out." General Sir David Richards, Head of the British Army, on the occupation of Afghanistan.

Interesting statement that, more for the attitude than the policy. One of the problems with saying that staying they´re for that period of time is that it sees ¨nation-building¨ as being like a treadmill. Put in enough resources and stick it for long enough and you can change the place into what you want it to be.

The trouble with these plans is that it doesn´t cede any say on things to the people that live there. It gives, for instance, 30-40 years of guerrilla warfare to the insurgents. You´d think that over time they might start getting better at it, particularly given that they´ve moved away from the suicide bomber model (which results in your terrorist dying along with your victims, rather than learning from mistakes and passing on experience to others). It doesn´t ask the Afghanis if they want that long an occupation, and whether some of them might be inclined to rebel against a long-term foreign presence.

In fact the whole idea ignores any problematic developments in the political and social life of Afghanistan. Peace is always political. For example, a lot of analysts say that in Iraq the decision to work with Sunni militia against international Islamist extremists was a far bigger part of turning around that quagmire than the surge was.

Beyond the complete disregard for what the population there might actually do or want. I´m always intrigued by the apparent need that international forces have to set up law enforcement agency and armed forces to defend their new little states. It´s weird because usually countries are able to do that sort of thing for themselves. For instance, the Taliban were able to establish an army and a police force that was completely totalitarian, all without a blue-hat in sight. And, obviously they could only possibly be overthrown by being bombed by the Americans, so it must have been pretty robust, right?

New democracies are supposed to have a broader base of support than brutal dictatorships, so why do nations set up by international diktat seem to have so much trouble?

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