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

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Economist on enterprising Dutch athletes on the island of Uruzgan

Entirely accidentally, I bumped into a month-old article in the Economist about... Afghanistan's Dutch model province, Uruzgan. It was an amazing experience.

I left closely monitoring developments in Uruzgan towards the spring of last year, after being a keen (remotely located) observer of them for over a year. What is amazing to me is to see that the discursive reality has not changed at all since then, when it comes to such media as the Economist.

For them, the ink blot strategy is still a peculiar Dutch invention, and not, somehow, ISAF's counterinsurgency conceptual framework in the entire south of Afghanistan - a framework taken from British experience in Malaya. Oh, those crazy and yet inventive Dutchmen! The article seems to be lost between appreciation for how daring these good-meaning Dutch guys are and between bashing them for not dying like the others. Like, it is all their choice what they are doing on this island called Uruzgan, while far over the horizon, on other islands like Kandahar and Helmand, Canadians and Brits are slogging it out in much more bloody fashion, just because they like not to shy away from the fight.

Meanwhile, who the hell cares about the reality on the ground in Afghanistan? This is still only about a competition of talented Western nations, don't you see?

Which European country finds the right balance when left out there in the wilderness - it is almost like the Olympics, you see. And right now the Economist is intermittently worried and ecstatic that those enterprising Dutchmen could run away with gold medal here.

Of course, at least by chance, one does find telling bits of commentary quoted in the article. Example:
"The Afghan army’s commander in Uruzgan, General Abdul Hamid, says the Taliban use remote districts of Uruzgan as training areas. So they have a reason to “live and let live” for now."
Studying actual differences in approaches tried here and there is important. Go ahead with that, guys. But you will have to identify differences by much more reliable metrics, and without looking at Afghanistan through the Eurolympics prism. (Start with reading Hans de Vreij's excellent comment on the article.)


Joshua Foust said...

Actually, the idea of an ink-spot approach to counterinsurgency was invented by a French dude named Lyautey in the 19th century, but the British made a big deal out of implementing it in Malaya.

Otherwise, HILARIOUS why I never read the Economist any more.

Péter MARTON said...

Lyautey's was the tache d'huile, or oil spot concept which is of course not much different really. Oil for ink. It is still the British experience in Malaya that keeps being referred to in the Afghan context.

Which reminds me, Josh, of an excellent point you made about the COIN discourse recently, that it is getting increasingly canonised and narrow-sighted. Vietnam, Algeria and Malaya are the cases mentioned all the time, when there is an overwhelming number of cases in post-decolonisation Africa and Asia that could also be interesting.

Even the Soviets had a concept in the 1980s that they should try to extend influence from mujahideen-surrounded towns in northern Afghanistan in "concentric circles." Quite familiar at that...