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

Friday, June 15, 2007

Re:gistan - From Majaristan*

MStFB under stress, I mean, in the press...
Joshua Foust over at http://www.registan.net/, a cool site covering developments in Central Asia, has recently issued a critical post reflecting on my take on what sort of poppy policy we could regard as desirable, if only on a local level, in Afghanistan, and not globally (see my entire Poppy Series on the issue here). Since then, he came up with another post as well, in fact, but since that touches on less central arguments of mine, I'll react first of all to the one that came out first. And anyway, this here is mostly what I wanted to write in the afternoon, but then some things happened, and I had to go off-line... And I came back to my computer only now that the second post is up already.
I should first of all make it clear that I'm not talking here in a to-the-last-drop defence of my arguments really. I wouldn't be that surprised to see the latter go down eventually. But, while I'm not expecting posts in 2014 weblogs with titles like 'Why the Marton Strategy Was Always Bound to Fail', I would like to provoke more arguments to see more clearly why it is bound to fail, if it is, wholly or partially.
Summarising Joshua's points, they are ('CA' stands for counter-argument):
CA1) the comprehensive survey on Afghanistan needed for my village-by-village approach (looking for different strategies for different communities, seeing that there's not one optimal strategy on the country level) couldn't be carried out: lack of resources, institutions, logistics.
CA2) aerial spraying is too unpopular with Afghans, probably irrationally so, but unpopular.
CA3) aerial spraying would make farmers seek protection from the Taliban, allowing the latter to expand.
So, some things I'd like to note in Reaction:
R1) CA1 may well be true, no doubt. However, a solution like mine which arguably sounds good in theory, may still work in practice well enough to at least let us manage the problem at hand. Careful surveys, in plural, and a careful choice of local, rather than general, options, at least there where it is possible, may still give us positive results, even if that doesn't mean an overall solution to the problem.
R2) Connected to CA1: I'm not writing about an optimal strategy in a vacuum. Eradication is taking place as we speak, and usually it is carried out by all-Afghan teams that target small farmers the most of all. So my arguments for a more nuanced approach have the potential to bring about a positive change even if expecting their full implementation wouldn't be realistic.
R3) Picking up where I left with the previous point, corruption may always, of course, leave us with so-called 'perverse' policy consequences, with the opposite as outcome of what we originally wanted. In the current Afghan context the possibility of such consequences should never be excluded. But that is actually why in this case more international participation in the process seems necessary.
R4) The unpopularity of aerial spraying. Would it be so unpopular if it would be done clearly only against the relatively larger fields, and in the case of well-to-do communities of which it is just naive to assume that they are only growing poppy becuase they couldn't do anything else? Powerful players might organise some dangerous, if stage-managed, protests, even riots perhaps, yes. And those better-to-do local communities might put up resistance, too, yes. Would my suggestion for backup international forces to be present be enough to make sure that doesn't get out of hand? Before answering for yourself for now, also remember that I said that at a time we should only handle a selection of provinces, and not all of them, so that might mitigate the potential burdens. And I also said that aerial spraying shouldn't target all of the larger fields in such a selection of provinces, but only areas where it might seem a good strategy, and an altogether critically large area for it to work as a deterrent - that might also mitigate the burden on the backup security presence. Nangarhar province is perhaps a supporting case I could pull from the past - the eradication campaign there was largely insensitive to social aspects, and yet a major part of the province is relatively calm now (though U.S. Marine special-ops have done a lot this March to try and change that situation).
R5) Farm-gate prices would be pushed up by eradication measures, and that would actually help small farmers, provided we can avoid targeting them. Yes, their production is likely to be taxed by locally powerful players, as in many areas it always has been, but still.
R6) Regarding CA3, I don't think producers, say, in Badakhshan are really likely to turn to the Taliban. That's just too far, too isolated and too foreign a place for the Taliban. And this can be said of some other key poppy-growing areas as well.
R7) But to play it safe, one could designate an informal no-eradication-belt (be that a No Fly Zone for aerial sprayers!), in the vicinity of southern, insurgency-hit provinces, that I said should be similarly ignored (as informally they already often are these days). Such a zone should be informal, because one just shouldn't make it entirely clear that there's not going to be eradication in a given place.
R8) The backup international (most likely ISAF) presence I also mentioned as an important part of the strategy. Actually that's one of the points where I'm the most inclined to undermine my own arguments. It's one thing if currently more passive NATO countries would be readily sending more troops and civpol (civilian police) forces for this task to Afghanistan or not (currently rather not, one has to assume), and it's still another issue whether they'd be ready to get out of bases and do crowd control or fight back in case they'd have to, even with the 24/7 airpower support they might be enjoying. At a future point in time, though, this might change, if things go well in the south for ISAF.
R9) The plan would require a large amount of resources, so it should either take place somewhat later, not now, but next year, or the year after that, depending also on what happens in the south. Or, somebody should be ready to cover for the required boost in resources and presence of force right now.
So that's it then. My reply in essence is that CA3 could be avoided by the establishment of the informal no-eradication-belt as a buffer, and with its being too unlikely in provinces too distant for the Taliban. CA2 would be less of a factor with my strategy, given that only a selection of provinces should be targeted at a time, and given that, instead of all-out eradication, e.g. aerial spraying should only be used in service of a careful policy of deterrence, that affects small farmers only indirectly. And to handle CA2, there would be a backup presence of international forces, to which I have this time added police forces as well. CA1 may simply be right, but on a smaller scale careful surveying could still be done, and either more control exerted over Afghan forces to take results into account, or some ownership of the process re-taken from them, just as it would inevitably happen in the case of aerial spraying.
Now, regarding Joshua's second post, in it he says that UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa, and, together with him, me, too, may not have it right that new markets cannot have emerged to absorb the latter years' extra world supply of heroin, to thus account for the absence of a dip in prices. Joshua may be right. The difference between supposed world demand and estimated world supply may in fact be too great to let us think of stockpiling as a comprehensive and correct assumption, I have to agree, though it would be nice to see some actual data backing this all up.
Sorry if that was a lengthy post, I just didn't want to fail to mention something.
* That's Hungary in Turkish, with English transliteration.

1 comment:

Joshua said...

I think maybe I should clarify that I don't think your ideas are bad ones, I just don't see how they can practically be put into place. Okay, let's tackle this point by point (a good organizational method, btw - I'll have to adopt it for my future posts :-)).

Counter Reaction (CR) 1: I don't think management is the goal we should aim for. Colombia has reduced itself to managing its drug lords, and all that has resulted is a huge chunk of the country is controlled by FARC and more or less in constant war. Furthermore, it had not led to fewer drug exports, but rather more, as the drug smugglers have realized they essentially have a stable operating base and have managed to consolidate their operations. Even though opium is only being used to fund the Taliban (at least, when the Taliban are involved), that doesn't mean we should relegate ourselves to a permanent détente with the drug kings.

CR2) I agree with you that your approach would be an improvement, but see again I don't get how, given the domestic proclivities of the countries involved, you would muster up the resources for the comprehensive survey, even of the northern regions, that would enable such a strategy to take place.

CR3) I know you have, but I have to ask: have you read the current debate in Europe over whether or not to continue sending a few troops to Afghanistan? Germany was openly debating whether to withdraw just a few months ago. Yes, the Dutch and Canadians and even British have fought well and honorably; but their numbers are so few, they can barely control their own little corners around their own firebases, to say nothing of extending that control to broader swaths of the countryside.

CR4) I think it would remain unpopular. Afghans care about each other more than they care about eradicating opium. If they see it, and it will never be seen as anything else, as foreigners sweeping through and spraying their fields with poison, they will hate it. It doesn't matter if you could somehow only target the "bad" fields (i.e. the fields run by the bad men). They would hate it, because no matter what else we say, none of them would feel certain that they wouldn't be next. There is such a low level of trust toward the Coalition right now I don't see how it could happen.

CR5) So far, we have not yet done anything that hasn't raised farm-gate prices. This is related to my point about the likelihood of hidden or undiscovered markets for opium—someone UNODC hasn't accounted for is buying a lot of opium, and is buying it at a premium. Simply getting rid of a few fields won't impact that much, as opium production is so distributed.

CR6) They don't have to turn to the Taliban to stop supporting the Coalition or the central government. Further, Badakhshan produces a comparatively small proportion of Afghanistan's opium—most of it is in the south, in Helmand and Uruzgan and surrounding areas. And those areas have the big fields you think should be sprayed first; and they are the ones we most definitely do not want permanently turning to the Taliban.

CR8) I'm with you on that. Given how many people claim to support it, the lack of support, even from the U.S., has been pathetic. One of my consistent complaints about Afghanistan has been its deep underinvestment—money, people, troops, equipment.

CR9) I could see your plan working in a decade, assuming good development policies are put into place now. The way I see it, focusing on opium is focusing on the wrong problem. The two biggest problems are dire poverty and the Taliban, not the cultivation of poppies. Providing good development programs along with enough security to prevent the Taliban from repeating debacles like Musa Qala is how you put the fundamentals in place for an eventual eradication.

I think you and I want the exact same thing—the permanent removal of opium. But I also think we're operating on different time scales. I could have misinterpreted what you said, especially if you're looking at an eventual policy that isn't yet appropriate for Afghanistan (I interpreted it as an immediate solution). I actually think that, for the time being, we need to stop trying to "solve" opium and instead direct our energy at a two-pronged approach of providing infrastructure and seed programs along with an increased security presence, possibly following the ink-blot strategy if it shows longer-term promise. Opium is a symptom of the problems in Afghanistan, not a cause. Solving the underlying factors that lead to its cultivation, at least on a local and village level, will wean the "good" people off, leaving only the large, "bad" fields—and that's where I can see your careful eradication program becoming useful.

But man oh man is that a huge project. And I doubt it will ever happen, because it's damned near impossible to get the politicians in charge to think past the next election cycle.