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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hungary in Baghlan province

In the previous days I've already come to mention on this blog colleague of mine Péter Wagner's latest study on Afghanistan and on the Hungarian PRT in Baghlan, which came out in the latest issue of the Hungarian Új honvédségi szemle magazine. But I haven't written of it in more detail, so I'll do it now, for this might be interesting to those who wish to hear about what's going on in the north of Afghanistan.
Early on Péter makes the basic starting point that in northern provinces, as opposed to the southern ones, ISAF's main purpose is to preserve the status quo, and not to change it (which had to occur in the South, where e.g. in Helmand, after 2006 and ISAF's Stage 3 expansion, you now have a large British force thirty times the size of the earlier "light footprint" U.S. OEF contingent that operated before them from Lashkar Gah). That's an important distinction, although one could perhaps be immediately more critical here, noting how that status quo to be preserved of course implies the toleration of many things from warlords turned parliamentarians' local games to poppy fields. But this is also an important bargain which allows for ISAF's northern operations even with a relatively low number of troops.
One delicate aspect of the security situation is how in the case of the north, Pashtuns and areas where they live are inevitably securitised to a degree, their presence being an obvious facilitating condition for otherwise rare attacks, which tend to happen in either the towns of Mazar-i-Sharif or Kunduz, or along the major road towards Kunduz, in the Baghlani Jadid area - and in his assessment of the security situation for his part Péter echoes such considerations. Which is not to say this view is inappropriate. I mean, the Taliban has anything but a high approval rate locally, even in the Pashtun areas, but surely the odd suicide bomber venturing to the north will not hang out much with Tajiks and Uzbeks normally. PRTs' CIMIC approaches (CIMIC interpreted here in the old-fashioned, military-centric, force protection-oriented way, but inevitably handled in practice in a more complex fashion, spilling over into quite ambitious construction and other projects as well) reflect this concerned view of Pashtun areas, and attempt to incorporate pro-activity in carrying out projects there to develop better relations (in Baghlan province this is an imperative given how a local grievance of Pashtuns could be how the old provincial capital Baghlan is fading in influence in comparison to the predominantly Tajik Puli Khumri).
Pic: Hungarian-German-ANA-manned temporary checkpoint along the road leading to Kunduz, April 25, 2007 (2003-2005 © Honvédelmi Minisztérium)
Péter provides a thorough overview of all the projects that have either started by now or are planned by the various ministries involved in government-managed projects (including the ministry of agriculture or the ministry of health and many others). Here he critically remarks that planning for these projects started late in fact, after the mission was already underway. Even if the Hungarian military started its operations in Baghlan with a decent CIMIC budget (speaking strictly in relative terms of course), and so this doesn't mean that nothing happened for a while, still, such waste of time was bad to see.
Péter also describes Hungarian NGOs' work in the province. Here I would add that of course these are not the only NGOs working in Baghlan, but these otherwise experienced Hungarian NGOs were the ones able to apply for and get financing for projects from the Hungarian foreign ministry. I'd also add here that this is an issue that is affected by the debate over whether it's fortunate for NGOs to work together with militaries - in the North of Afghanistan, where NGOs are in many places capable of operating on their own this question is a bit more relevant than in the case of southern Afghanistan. Péter noted the other day on his blog that the often heard language from officials or just careless journalists in Hungary, that these NGOs' projects are carried out "within the framework" of the PRT, with the latter "providing for security in Baghlan province", is in fact deceiving, and potentially even somewhat risky, as it could put a bit more responsibility on the Hungarian government in the case of you know what sort of contingency.
Talking about communication, Péter is critical of such efforts in general. He is critical of the ministry of defense-dominated nature of the discourse as much as there is such a discourse at all, and makes the point that is often made about the German communication strategy, too - that leaving a mission like the one in Afghanistan insufficiently explained (discussed) is only a seemingly risk-free approach to the domestic politics of the mission. This is not altogether a one-way problem at all, though. I actually appreciate the Hungarian ministry of defence's webpage on the ministry's activities in Afghanistan, but while there would be plenty of things to cover in Afghanistan and in Baghlan, journalists mostly show only mild interest at best.
Pic: A Hungarian Mission Team on the way, off the highway - Not cool enough to cover for the media? (2003-2005 © Honvédelmi Minisztérium)
On the other hand I have yet to see an initiative to get interested Hungarian social scientists to Baghlan to be able to study the PRT's work there.
To show just how erroneous this approach in dealing with Hungary's precious social scientists is, I'm hereby officially scooping everyone in the Hungarian media in pointing to how in the UN's latest half year security review there is an improvement of security noted in some areas in Kunduz and Baghlan provinces (back to "low risk/permissive" from "medium risk/unstable" status), over the period between May 2006 and May 2007. Even with the generally more risky summer period in mind this might have been worth reporting.
Pic: Accessibility improvements - from page 4 of the UN report (see the encircled Kunduz area in the lower half of the red box drawn around it by me - P.M.).

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