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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Afghanistan, Kandahar, tribes, awakenings, the West and other elusive concepts

I've just read an excellent paper (an Afghan Wire occasional paper) by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, titled "Tribal Solutions for Kandahar." I have to blog on it on the run, having to speed off not long from now. It's a shame, because the overall message of the paper is something I agree with very much, and it's also, by the way, full of actual insight from the ground, in Kandahar (meaning not only today's Kandahar, but the actual Greater Kandahar, with e.g. Uruzgan to the north and other provinces included).Take this excerpt for an example, showing you the complexity of injecting resources into a resource-scarce environment:
"It is easy and cheap to pay someone to make, set up and plant a bomb for you to target someone else. There is a blanket security vacuum in town – where even the police headquarters has been successfully targeted by suicide bombers three times in as many years. Given all this, it is natural that initially healthy economic competition can develop into battles to eliminate their rivals. February was particularly bad in this respect – contractors were putting IEDs in each other’s bridges. There were at least 3 such attacks. Each time they wanted to eliminate their rivals so that they could take over the contract themselves."
Yep. Joshua Foust wrote the other day an excellent essay (find link to it here) on how if it's not white that bleeds, it rarely gets attention. As the illustration above shows, the situation is made even more complex by all that is white and bleeds not being necessarily connected to what is casually referred to as the Taliban's insurgency.
As to the overall message of the paper, it deals with pitfalls of following up on vague ideas of arming the tribes in Afghanistan, which the title rather ironically refers to. It would be an interesting point to make to say that currently, the decentralised Taliban/neo-Taliban are actually bad for road security (extensively described by Graeme Smith here), unlike what the movement's emergence meant in 1994. But betting the emergence of a counter-movement on this, among other things, is a weak idea. To make just two points that the paper itself deals with, the ulema networks' mobilisation potential should be used to achieve anything, and it is very problematic to find a way to do that. Many from the ulema are simply on the other side. Those who are not, can actually face rather harsh consequences for their stance (see this 2007 example from Uruzgan). Another point to make would be that incentivising fence-sitting leaders out from neutrality might not work well, if they are first armed by us and then bribed out of loyalty by others. There are other parties to this conflict who may not play according to our script (deliberate understatement, of course), and might use their resources to alter outcomes. So there's enough reason to be sceptical.
Development, aid, those should do the trick in actually stabilised areas. I'm not sure if I should just say "development aid" - might mean a different thing on occasions. Currently, the system of providing development aid to Afghanistan is definitely not suited to context, and there's more that's wrong with it than merely the security rules staff have to abide by (not to say that this article is not worth reading).

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