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

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Weekly Great Game #4 (March 31-April 6)

March 31, Monday
Last week came complaints by British officers that it would be a pity if, under pressure from the Afghan government, a great number of former Taliban fighters in Musa Qala district (commander/governor Abdul Salaam's men) would need to be left unattended, potentially returning to fight on the other side. Now it seems like they were just indication of British steadfastness in going forward with their original plans, in a somewhat altered, more modest form. Village guards will be established to police locations here and there. I have written much of the tension between state-building and this indirect approach to counterinsurgency, stemming from a lack of sufficient resources (e.g. enough troops of one's own to secure territory). I'll quote Will's words from IRG now about the "concerned local Afghans" (Will's sarcastic reference to Iraq's "concerned local citizens" in case some of you failed to catch the irony):

"The concerns expressed by McNeill (NATO's current commander in Afghanistan - P.M.) reflect the difficulty common in foreign-led COIN operations where the domestic government lacks the ability to project force and establish its remit throughout the country - do you focus on enhancing central state control, possibly at the expense of alienating local communities and power structures, who may go over to the insurgents; or do you empower local communities in the fight against the insurgents, at the risk of further undermining the authority of the central state?"
From Abu Muqawama's site, Kip's take on these developments should be quoted here, too, also reflecting on recent improvements in the situation in eastern Afghanistan:
"Khost, along with Paktya and Paktika, were part of a single province named Loya Paktya (greater Paktya). Unlike the dispersed tribal networks of the South and Southwest and far East of Afghanistan, tribes within these three provinces live in large contiguous areas. The jirga is a strong institution in these provinces as are tribal police/militias called arbakai. Also, unlike the other provinces with a strong insurgency, Paktya, Paktika, and Khost are for all intents and purposes poppy free. These dynamics make the three provinces the most likely area for an Anbar-like awakening in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, tribal frustration at both the government and Coalition has grown in recent months (neither the national government or ISAF could be bothered to show up in any force at a major tribal jirga held in November of 2007) while the main effort at developing local security solutions seems to be in the vicinity of Helmand, where a dispersed tribal network and much weaker jirga tradition make tribal security solutions far less likely to do anything but exacerbate conflict."

Anyway, after even UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown mastered the word "arbakai" for a speech at Westminster last year, one knew this wasn't going to be left at that.
Meanwhile, one of Georgia's last moves to draw attention before the NATO Summit in Bucharest came this Monday - a 500-strong contingent of troops offered to participate in ISAF operations.
U.S. President Bush didn't visit Georgia on Monday, however, but went to the Ukraine to indicate support to both the Ukraine and Georgia getting a Membership Action Plan at the Bucharest Summit. I've written of this move by Bush here.
April 1, Tuesday
Just before the NATO Summit NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer indicates NATO would like to establish more permanent diplomatic contact itself with Pakistan.
The Taliban make the first statement about an IED attack in Uruzgan province against Dutch troops there saying that it was in revenge for Geert Wilders' film about Islam. In the end there were four IED attacks against Dutch units this week, injuring more or less seriously 12 people. One soldier lost both his legs and is in a coma right now. Now, that is when I would use the adjective "cowardly" for the Taliban (unlike in this case that I wrote of here). If they are trying to morally compensate for something they regard as wrong, in what way can it be morally correct to blow up strangers from a distance in the name of that?
April 2, Wednesday
At NATO's Wednesday evening working dinner, Bush, Sarkozy, Merkel and the others have a chance to discuss the most important issues. And just like it was to be expected, the Ukraine and Georgia doesn't get the MAP which Bush supported more or less vehemently.
The compromise forced by Bush is that instead political discussions, now commencing, will lead to a new decision to be made regarding the MAPs already in December, at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, and not only in 2009, next year, at NATO's 60th anniversary summit meeting - which I still consider a more likely occasion to bring such decisions. This all seems to have been a(n overly) peer competitor-focused (as well as presidential legacy-focused) diplomatic effort by Bush. We'll see.
Anyway, since the MAPs weren't postponed indefinitely on Wednesday, and since they are likely to be given to the Ukraine and Georgia either in December or next year eventually, and since Russia had the time to finalise the much talked-of transit agreement with NATO, for NATO's operations in Afghanistan, only later on during the Summit - with the NATO-Russia Council's session coming only on Friday - it seemed like a certainty that Russia would eventually offer less than what was previously discussed, before the Summit. And so they did.
April 3, Thursday
Quoting The Globe and Mail's Doug Saunders on Canada's picture of the NATO Summit in Bucharest:
" Prime Minister Stephen Harper will enter the Bucharest NATO summit today with hat in hand, seeking 1,000 troops needed to prevent Canada from withdrawing from Afghanistan, he may be surprised to discover that the other 25 member nations are instead focused on another visitor with very different deals in mind.
The imposing figure of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, has overshadowed most other matters in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's crucial gathering. As the 59-year-old alliance prepares to expand onto Russia's doorstep with a proposal to put Ukraine and Georgia on the path to membership, and disputes with Russia dominate Europe's military agenda, the enormous problems of Afghanistan are slipping into the shadows.
"Ottawa is very, very focused on Afghanistan, to the exclusion of everything else, but seen from here, this is a very different summit," a top NATO official said at the organization's sprawling Brussels headquarters yesterday as he prepared to head to Bucharest. "Here, enlargement, the western Balkans and relations with Russia are the significant issues that are taking up all of our time. Most of the Afghan questions have been settled." "
Importantly from that latter respect, Sarkozy offers at the Summit a battalion-size force to be deployed to eastern Afghanistan as a(n in fact not so) grand gesture (significant rather as something indicative of a somewhat changed approach to NATO and ISAF from France), making it possible for Canada to claim they now have their conditions for staying in Afghanistan all met. But French officials have their idées fixées, just like their American counterparts. And while Bush couldn't fail to make it look as though the Ukraine and Georgia's MAP would only be really important for the U.S., one French official reportedly said: "We are going to call for a less feudal, a less medieval approach to the war, where you currently have military forces creating walled-off areas where agriculture only takes place under the occupier's guard. We want to put the economy first."
Can't these guys finally understand that there isn't that much of a choice on the ground regarding what can be done, in the insurgency-hit areas? So French units will have a policy of not calling in close air support when ambushed and under fire from several locations, usually from higher ground? Instead they will "support the agriculture even more" when taking direct fire in such engagements? Well, it's good U.S. troops managed to improve the situation in eastern Afghanistan to an extent that France now feels comfortable about sending its soldiers there. The need for the kind of absurd choice I've just described will arise less often.
Meanwhile, NATO is still officially short of about three battalions in Afghanistan - unofficially that could be several brigades rather, some say... And uh, shall I for my part mention RAND's oft-cited finding that about 2 soldiers are required for a successful counterinsurgency effort to every 100 inhabitant of the area concerned? I'm not saying that that ratio is necessarily the Truth revealed, as it is just an estimate - yet do the math because it might be telling.
Bucharest may have been the middle of the trans-Atlantic world for these few days, but elsewhere other things noteworthy from a diplomatic perspective have been happening.
E.g. Pakistan and Afghanistan starts a new quarrel over the highly sensitive issue of whether Pakistan has dumped nuclear waste in Helmand and Kandahar in the Taliban era. Pakistan has certainly dumped there a lot of Taliban in the past, and now comes this nuclear waste issue.
April 4, Friday
Jalaluddin Haqqani (alive and apparently well, with a 200,000 dollar bounty on his head) announces the Taliban's latest spring offensive for the media's attention. He also praises Turkish-German suicide bomber Cüneyt Çiftçi (a.k.a. Saad Abu Furkan) for an attack in March in Khost province (despite the improvements there, such attacks still occur).
A more important development of the day is that Russia agrees to let at least "nonlethal" supplies get to Afghanistan across Afghanistan's northern frontier, from the direction of Russia. Not quite what NATO wanted, but still significant.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai meanwhile visits Budapest, Hungary, coming from Bucharest, and meets President László Sólyom, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, defence minister Imre Szekeres and some others here. Hungary for its part affirms its commitment to send "between 80 to 100" more soldiers to Afghanistan. Hungary will guard Kabul's airport in the future, send a special forces unit freely deployable anywhere, as well as send an OMLT (of exactly what composition, for what training role and exactly where, I'm yet to find out).
April 5, Saturday
The Taliban are deeply offended by France's commitment of sending a battalion to eastern Afghanistan. Or at least so they claim, hoping they can remind the French public of earlier and contradicting rhetorical pledges by Sarkozy.

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