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

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The oil spot approach revisited

MStFB Spillover Monitor Report Update No. 6:1 The original report
I'm not the only one revisiting the issue of the oil spot approach in Afghanistan - the whole issue is claimed to be a revisitation of British counterinsurgency strategies in Malaya. Before I'd move on to have a few words about that analogy, too, here are some clarifications about what the oil spot concept exactly means in the Afghan context.
First af all, there are the Dutch in Uruzgan and their 'restrained' approach of retreating out of fire when they are shot at, following official policy in such cases. Showing you a good example of that, this N.Y. Times article may make you think of a number of things. In the April 4 incident it depicts, the Dutch couldn't help but notice that they could have ended up in a worse situation, had the Talibs acted so as to lure them deeper into a prepared ambush. Have Talibs consciously let them off the hook relatively easily? Rephrasing the question, is it in Talibs' interest to cause the Dutch serious casualties, so that somebody else, with a different approach, might replace them? The way things stand, Talibs benefit from the Dutch oil spot approach. They enjoy calm in Uruzgan, in relative terms, so they can organise their insurgency in other provinces from there. They may not want to hurt the Dutch too badly, one may conclude. (Although in the given case Talibs might have, of course, simply got the ambush timing wrong.)
Secondly, the oil spot approach is also known as the ink spot approach (meaning the very same thing as the oil spot one - you know, ink spreading on a white shirt and all that). It's something that's meant to work on the country-level. All PRTs are to a degree supposed to follow the objective of creating islands of development - the 'ink spots' - that shall merge later on. This is the approach that is supposed to provide the Afghan government with the chance to spread out its governance gradually from Kabul (you can see yet another sort of 'ink spot' concept in that scheme).
Beyond these clarifications there are two things I'd remark quickly. One is that the oil spot approach shouldn't serve as an euphemistic synonym for the 'Srebrenica mode' or risk-aversion (a point to consider for the Dutch leadership). Beside maintaining development islands one cannot tolerate the unperturbed existence of 'insurgency islands'. There is a possible compromise between not doing anything and between kicking down every door in every village. Operations to harass hostile forces are in any case necessary for the party that wants to expand its oil spots.
The other thing is about the comparison with Malaya. Not the first time that a surprisingly out-of-place analogy makes its way into mainstream thinking. Well, we can look behind it. In Malaya, the British waged a war for their rubber plantations, crucial for their dollar supply in the wake of the devastation of World War II. Yes, their approach was fairly complex, they didn't only fight (though they did fight, too). They also used massive population relocations for instance. They resettled a lot of Chinese in the so-called 'New Villages' that later on Americans copied in Vietnam with their 'strategic hamlets' scheme. (Read Phillip Deery's study for more background.)
So does this oil/ink spot approach seem useful then in the Afghan context? Or, asking it another way, could it be the same fashionable for experts to be talking of the need for a 'Vietnam' strategy in Afghanistan?
(My thanks to Péter Wagner for his comments on the issue of today's post. Meanwhile, I should probably indicate that the views voiced here are of course mine.)

No comments: