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

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ann Marlowe is really wrong...

... But before saying why, I'll quote some of the aggregate data on fighting incidents in ISAF Regional Command-East's area of operations, which was good to finally get access to, through her article. The point is that based on the numbers one does get a picture of improvement in eastern Afghanistan.
" American estimates for the 14 provinces and 158 districts of Regional Command East show that 58 percent of the kinetic activity there last year (direct fire, indirect fire and detonations of improvised explosive devices) occurred in three provinces (Konar, Paktika and Ghazni). Fifty-two percent occurred in 12 of the 158 districts, and about 75 percent took place in 30 of the districts.
We lost 83 soldiers plus two military civilians to hostile causes in 2007, when 24,000 to 27,000 personnel were in country. In 2006, 98 died. The decrease in deaths in action last year is even more significant when you consider the danger our troops were exposed to. American strategy has evolved from concentrating forces in large forward operating bases to building up provincial reconstruction teams in province capitals to establishing combat outposts in district centers (county seats) this past year.
In 2007, the Army's counterinsurgency strategy of stationing platoons in district centers and delivering quick infrastructure aid started to produce visible results for ordinary Afghans in the east. Not all areas in the Pashtun belt are equal -- Khost, for instance, is thriving, while Ghazni is still very poor -- but security is improving. When Schweitzer took command early last year, 20 of the 85 districts were "green," or on the side of the Afghan government. By year-end, 58 were classified as "green." "
So, thanks for all that. I was almost certain that there might be data verifying that there is amelioration in the eastern areas, and it was good to get the numbers.
Unfortunately, Ann Marlowe wrote her op-ed not about eastern Afghanistan in particular, but of "two myths" about Afghanistan, and the title is only correct inasmuch as there really are two myths discussed in the article. Those are of Ann Marlowe's making.
The first is that Hamid Karzai is a bad President according to Marlowe. Me, I'd say I don't know. Karzai is not in a position to show what kind of President he would be, good or bad. If it would be someone else in Karzai's place, would Afghanistan, ceteris paribus, be much more ahead? Isn't that a little difficult to say? Most financial assistance to Afghanistan goes round the Afghan government, which makes governing a little difficult. A vast part of the country is insurgency-affected and Karzai doesn't have too much in the way of means to influence events there. But even more importantly, as this NYT op-ed argues, if one is talking about the institution of the President, or, as Abu Muqawama wisely makes the distinction, the presidency, it just has to be seen that Afghanistan's current political system is flawed. Without going into this too much here, I'll just say that it's not a perfect arrangement that in a diverse and fragmented country one man is supposed to be the voice of the people. Political parties are necessary, and political parties don't have much of a playground, with currently even parliamentary representation functioning, as much as it does, in a framework of overpersonalised politics. The current Afghan polity is for a weak king and a lot of quarrelling princes. So it should be changed before the next presidential term.
Marlowe's main argument for saying Karzai is not the right man to lead Afghanistan is the Kambakhsh affair. Parvaz Kambakhsh is a young journalist who downloaded an Iranian paper from the internet which raised critical questions about Islam. He printed and copied the paper and took it to class at Balkh University, for a debate. And he got a death sentence for that, which Karzai and his political advisors didn't immediately see as one they should question. Morally that's a complex question. We know it's not right to execute or even to just condemn Kambakhsh for this, but Karzai supposedly is not a puppet. And that's basically the point he was looking to make with the whole affair. What he did so far was/is closely tied to the Ashdown affair. They didn't want to have Paddy Ashdown sent to Kabul as the Western-led international community's tzar. Whether you like that or not, this had to do with things other than an Islamist worldview or a lack of tolerance for pluralism in the given case.
As to Marlowe's second myth - she thinks Afghanistan is doing relatively awesome, and that it's not true that the situation is worsening. The problem with this claim is that she takes a false statement to justify another that is equally false. It's not that the situation is worsening in Afghanistan. It's that stagnation is a failure on a strategic level.
More troops are needed not in order to get "back from worse to just simply bad," so to say, but, as I argued in a policy brief I've written with Péter Wagner for the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, in order to be able to stably hold areas so that there projects can start, to sufficiently reinforce supportive tribal allies' areas, to be able to use less CAS (close air support), and finally, as a guarantee that a potentially increasing pressure of the insurgency can be resisted.
By the way, about potential - I maintain that it remains to be seen how the coming of the spring and other developments in Pakistan affect what is happening in ISAF RC-E's area.


Ann Marlowe said...

Hi Peter,
This is Ann Marlowe. (ann.marlowe@gmail.com). I appreciate your thoughtful response, but you have put some words into my mouth that I never wrote. First, I have attacked Karzai for 6 years, on many grounds, including his deliberate sabotaging of the Afghan Parliament as a possible instrument of government through pressing the UN to discourage political parties. The SNTV system has been a disaster, as the brilliant Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason articles have shown. His recent cowardice on the blasphemy sentence is the merest tip of the iceberg. My NY Post op ed this past Sunday ("Winning Afghanistan") goes into much more detail. Second, I never used the word "awesome". I have written several pieces for the Wall Street Journal detailing the amazing economic progress in the country, in some respects despite its government. I don't think Paddy Ashdown is God's gift to mankind - but Karzai could still have rejected him for the wrong reasons.

Péter MARTON said...

Hi, Ann,

Thanks for your response.
Trust me, I am aware of your previous writing about Afghanistan, I have read some of your articles from the previous years. I sympathised with your take on Rashid Dostum for example.

It's just that whatever I think of Karzai, and those advising him (a circle that extends beyond Mojaddedi all the way to people like Zalmay Khalilzad), may simply not matter that much, given how he personally is not in a position to make much of a difference, be it negative or positive. It's not to say he is entirely powerless and that, say, his decisions about whom to place as governor to which province don't carry responsibility, but one doesn't see clearly at all how much a given decision is his really, as there is a crowd of people lobbying him from below, all for their own reasons, as well as many who pressure him from above for other reasons.

The use of the word "awesome" - I took that from Josh Foust's post's title, but I put "relatively" in front of it from my part. This was to reflect that while I intended to keep the sarcasm used by Josh, I also looked to indicate that you weren't saying all is perfect - you only said that considering the past starting point Afghanistan got somewhere.

Which is a view I tend not to share so much, with, or perhaps because of, my focus on southern Afghanistan.


Anonymous said...

Tom Johnson is brilliant? Let's look at NPS' website and find out:

Looking at Paktya, we can see:

* The governor is out of date
* Ittihad-i-Islami is known for "putting the 'fun' back in fundamentalism"

Looking elsewhere, we can see most of the "data, analysis, and maps not available anywhere else" are in fact lifted right from Wikipedia, or six year old UNODC assessments. Similarly, other data, such as the JEMB election results, are either listed without attribution, or just hyperlinks to outside information.

Furthermore, most of the content focuses almost exclusively on politics and security, and not, as the CCS lead-in would have you believe, the "tribes, politics, trends, and people."

And pretty much all of the ethnic and tribal information is either misleading or outright wrong. The "brilliant" Johnson suggests, for example, that Nuristan shares a single, traceable identity (the legitimately brilliant Richard Strand, who has spent the last 30+ years studying Nuristan, would take exception to this). When discussing the Gujari, as another example, the CCS website only cites In Xanadu, a 1989 travel book, as a source for its information (and this is filtered through a Wikipedia entry anyway). Very brief googling can point to other brief histories with rigorous, academic sources.

It probably isn't worth the time to get into his literature reviews that masquerade as journal articles. Chris Mason really knows his stuff, and is appropriate to cite on matters Afghanistan. There are others, too, who have made careers of serious academic study of Afghanistan. But not Johnson.

Péter MARTON said...

Well, I must say I find NPS' work just as sloppy at times as you do. Back in November, after the Baghlan bombing, which I covered in a long series of posts, they came up with their own supposedly über-comprehensive analysis, in which they called slain MP Mustafa Kazemi a Tajik.
They wouldn't have been obliged to find my blog where apparently I did a better job of handling open-source info than they did, but certainly they should have done things more carefully.
This was my post in which I pointed out their mistake which they then corrected without any reference to my work (but assumably knowing about it through Registan.net where it was cited).

Anonymous said...

Here what I think needs to be done in Afganistan:
1) Burn all the Poppy fields
2) Pave all the dirt roads used to plant roadside bombs and give a wide shoulder to those roads.
3) Do a full investigation on Karsai and clear him or stop supporting him
and demand a new election.
4) All Warlords should be listed in a public directory along with their home addresses
5) All warlords should be watched by US military(spied on to the extreme)
6) Focus all troops on border patrols with Pakistan
7) If they really want Bin-laden then divide and conquer.
Do a census house to house find out and verify the number of people in each home. Do this repeatedly to get a more accurate number. Count men, women, children,
8) set up check points and ID checks
9)Force mandatory meetings of all town mayors and warlords as these people make up the government
10) Perhaps these meetings could be done via wireless internet provided by companies like Verizon etc..

A large part of the reason we do so badly in these conflicts is because we both underestimate our enemies and have little or no strategy to promote better management and control of the situations. Clearly the Warlords are in control. We have to control the warlords or make them account for their behavior.
Now that makes sense. As for Bin-Laden. If a large price on his head does not bring him in. Maybe political power might. Try adding that to the pot of bringing Bin-Laden in. Add body guards and protection to the pot as well. All too often a person is rewarded with money but dies trying to collect it because he/she has a knife in their back. Our strategy has to be more supportive. Anyone who would turn in Bin Laden would be immediately hunted down. Where is the promise of protection?
Now that would be smart. We would have two methods of hunting bin laden. Promise of protection and wealth and power as well using technology like voice recognition software to determine Bin Laden's where abouts. The guy talks why not use the sound tracking devices to find his voice pattern on the phone or radio waves. he has to communicate some how even regular speech can be tracked with the right equipment. Perhaps looking for Saudi Arabic accents in sounds of voice may lead to Bin-Laden.