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

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cheap and fast state-building

Ronald E. Neumann, former U.S. ambassador to Kabul (2005-2007) happened to voice a belief in the need for continued support to Musharraf the last time around when I wrote about him (back in 2007) in the wake of an attack, shortly before that, on an ISAF delegation in Pakistan that killed an American soldier, which attack itself was preceded by border skirmishes between Pakistani and Afghan units. Neumann now has written a policy essay for the NY Times suggesting a big draft as a panacea to all things insurgency (I got to it via Afghanistan Watch, only days after it came out on the 14th of January).
Is it a serious proposal? I'm not sure. I have just as bad feelings as when I first heard the "we should arm the tribes/it worked in Anbar" line.
Here are some sentences that tell me I shouldn't give this idea, at least in this form, the benefit of the doubt.
First of all, the title: "Afghans, Report for Duty"
Hey Afghans, it's high time now, don't you see that? It was timely already decades back, but it's even more timely now.
Regarding building up the Afghan National Police then: "it will take years, and we may not have that much time."
So let's just rush into something fast. Then we may spend all the time in the world trying to manage the consequences.
Again, regarding the need to be speedy:
"We are creating more battalions for the Afghan Army as fast as possible. But it takes time to train senior officers and staff. Time is also needed to build the mobility and technological sophistication required to compensate for the Afghan Army’s small size.
A better strategy would be to institute a draft in Afghanistan. A draft would make it possible to gather a much larger military force, and far more quickly, around the core professional force already in place."
Well, the last time I checked, both with the ANP and the ANA one of the most important problems was their underfinancing which results in poor (e.g. too brief) training and, especially in the case of the police, corrupt structures. So let's get together a big crowd of gun-wielding men even faster and call it an army? The officers will do their best to make that work smoothly in our mutual interest?
In the end Neumann still shows some minor signs of caution, though. He says (highlighting by me):
"If we, along with NATO and other participating nations like Australia and New Zealand, begin helping the Afghans plan now, it may be possible to start training new draftees by late 2009, almost two years from now. The timing is not ideal since the extra forces are needed right away, but this is the fastest possible way of solving the security problem in
Afghanistan."
As I said, I do have my doubts about this. Even if this would come only almost two years from now, years that Neumann earlier said we can't wait.
Poorly trained draftees, sent to face insurgent attacks, could sell their weapons, throw away their weapons, simply desert, or even defect and join the Taliban - those are my suspicions. So let's hope it's just my outsider perspective making me a disbeliever and Neumann knows better.
Thinking about it, it might make more sense to draft soldiers away, pulling them out from the insurgency-hit areas. Might be a good alternative to those who join the Taliban for economic reasons. But for that to work decent pay would be required for the soldiers. And some more serious empowerment to those people, like education, for example to give them the ability to read and write.
So no, this just can't be cheap and fast at the same time. If you're asking me.

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