What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bert Koenders at the CSIS - An official Dutch take on the ink blot strategy

MStFB Update
As I promised last week, here's a nutshell review of what Dutch minister for development cooperation Bert Koenders had to say at the CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) yesterday on the 'Dutch approach' in Afghanistan, for which he used the 'ink blot strategy' label (from the wide variety of terms I have extracted from the literature of the issue so far). I'll use quotation marks at times, but that's not to say that I'm quoting Mr Koenders necessarily literally, rather only that I'm using wording that's closer to his original wording than it is in the rest of the cases.
(You'll find my take on what he had to say at the end of this post.)
So, the main points of his speech regarding the overall situation were:
  • the people in the South (the Pashtun in general) feel underrepresented in the political process;
  • there's still a power vacuum felt as a result of the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which directed significant resources away from Afghanistan;
  • all the details of the relation between Operation Enduring Freedom and the ISAF effort are still not worked out;
  • there's no agreement yet as to what would constitute a critical mass of ISAF troops in Afghanistan, required minimally for success;
  • WHAM (Winning Hearts and Minds) campaigns are crucial;
  • well-trained Afghan forces are needed, military and police alike - that's very much desired by the Afghan population, too;
  • Pakistan cannot in any case be left out of the equation;
  • to give a harsh example, Talibs are running a major recruitment centre in the town of Quetta in Pakistan;
  • NATO should formulate a common policy on Pakistan;
  • also, NATO should invest in a larger regional effort - the whole of South Asia and other areas cannot be left out of the analysis when it comes to Pakistan;
  • there should be development projects taking place along the Pakistani-Afghan border - e.g. build schools in the place of madrasas;
  • engage Pashtuns on both sides of the border.
And secondly, what Mr Koenders had to say about the Dutch strategy (he didn't really stick to the subject that much, so he wandered back to more general stuff every now and again):
  • the Dutch effort is to last, but not necessarily its military element;
  • that depends on public opinion, too, and it will also be subject to policy re-evaluation coming up by the summer or September the latest;
  • there's not a Dutch approach as such, he denied that;
  • what they are doing is essentially just a serious WHAM effort, necessary in any case, and definitely not too soft;
  • in other words it's about being 'as civilian as possible, as military as necessary';
  • he described the ink blot approach as one being equivalent to slowly expanding zones of security and carrying out development tasks within those zones;
  • he also said, however, that there is a need for health projects, for example, 'under the radar', 'where there's no military yet but nobody needs to know it';
  • an argument for the importance of WHAM: 70% of the people of the South are undecided as to whom they should support, about whether to be pro-government or else;
  • on the drugs policy: eradication can only be done in an inclusive process - don't destroy small farmers' livelihood, for by that you might be destructive to the WHAM effort, and destroy the entire military mission along with that, too, because you need WHAM to receive intel to protect the soldiers.
While I couldn't agree with Mr Koenders more on the need to include Pakistan in every possible calculation and also about the point the minister made about the issue of poppy eradication, on the issue of the ink blot strategy he just didn't convince me all that much (not saying that it was a bad speech he made, though, not at all). He himself notes that the ink blot concept's essence is about slowly expanding zones of security. Such an expansion hasn't taken place in Uruzgan. Is it connected to there not being a critical mass of Dutch troops for that purpose? Yes, just as Mr Koenders himself might have tried to refer to this by bringing up the 'critical mass' issue in general, in my interpretation. There I do see the limitations imposed on one's own commitment by public opinion, of course.
Yet another point of criticism, though: I have already quoted Dutch Colonel van Griensven in the previous days on the issue of money going to Talib-controlled areas, too, possibly even ending up with Talibs themselves. Now Mr Koenders has said that sometimes you need projects 'under the radar'. Well, even if I ignore the chance of a blowback in this policy element, which I can't, of course, this is just not consistent with the ink blot approach, where you only do projects in the ink blots themselves. So there are still some unanswered questions I think.

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