A Somber Warning on Afghanistan
Published: Monday, September 14, 2009 at 5:18 a.m.
GENEVA — Western powers now in Afghanistan run the risk of suffering the fate of the Soviet Union there if they cannot halt the growing insurgency and an Afghan perception that they are foreign invaders, according to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former U.S. national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter.
In a speech opening a weekend gathering of military and foreign policy experts, Mr. Brzezinski, who was national security adviser when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979, endorsed a British and German call, backed by France, for a new international conference on the country. He also set the tone for a weekend of somber assessments of the situation.
He noted that it took about 300 U.S. Special Forces — fighting with Northern Alliance troops — to overthrow Taliban rule after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
Now, however, with about 100,000 U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, those forces are increasingly perceived as foreign invaders, much as the Soviet troops were from the start, Mr. Brzezinski said.
For President Barack Obama, Afghanistan is the foreign policy issue that has “perhaps the greatest need for strategic review,” said Mr. Brzezinski, who met with Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign last year, and endorsed his candidacy but was not a formal adviser.
“We are running the risk of replicating — obviously unintentionally — the fate of the Soviets,” Mr. Brzezinski said in his speech Friday night.
The presence of so many foreign troops underpins an Afghan perception that the Americans and their allies are hostile invaders and “suggests transformation of the conflict is taking place,” he added.
A new international conference would help devise a more refined strategy, Mr. Brzezinski said in a brief interview Sunday. Using the military to support a development strategy would help prolong the European presence, he suggested — “our European friends are less likely to leave us in the lurch.”
If the United States is left alone in Afghanistan, Mr. Brzezinski said Friday night, “that would probably spell the end of the Alliance.”
A discussion on Afghanistan on Saturday featured, among others, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British foreign secretary’s special representative for Afghanistan and a former British ambassador to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“All is not doom and gloom in Afghanistan,” Sir Sherard told the conference, the Global Strategic Review of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, a nongovernment organization. But “walking away would destroy everything that has been achieved.”
“The pullout option is not one that any government could responsibly follow,” he added, emphasizing, that America’s role was crucial. “While Obama remains committed, we remain committed.”
In calling last weekend for a conference on Afghanistan, Britain and Germany seemed anxious both to dispel the tension that has arisen surrounding the election there last month, in which foreign observers say there were clear incidents of fraud, and to shift emphasis away from the rising numbers of foreign troops.
Sir Sherard suggested the solution lay in devolving political power back to tribal elders who have traditionally held sway in Afghanistan, and funneling money for development through them.
With 68,000 troops from the United States expected by the end of the year and some 40,000 from other countries, numbers — and the rising number of deaths and casualties — are going to influence not only hostile Afghans but Western public support for the Afghan mission.
Speakers at the conference said that Americans are unlikely for long to support maintaining many times the number of troops from Britain, Germany and France, the three European allies who have sent the most soldiers to Afghanistan.
What is needed now is “the intelligent application of military force” alongside long-promised development strategies, Sir Sherard said, evoking what he called a dream that, by 2011, a truckload of pomegranates would be able to pass unhindered from Afghanistan through Pakistan and into India, that Western students could study Afghan archaeological ruins, and that posters in the Pashto language inviting Pashtuns to “come on over” from the Taliban would be tattered remnants — unneeded rather than unheeded — on the roadsides of southern Afghanistan.
“That,” he stressed, “is the dream.”
From article cited, quote:
"Sir Sherard suggested the solution lay in devolving political power back to tribal elders who have traditionally held sway in Afghanistan, and funneling money for development through them."
That's the core item here for me -- if enacted, it would signal a 360 degree shift in the US's tactics for assuming control in Afghanistan and manipulating its defacto practical, effective leaders.
The US bypassed and delegitimized the traditional tribal elders by establishing local warlords as US representatives to reign over a given area, disburse military aid, weapons, equipment, supplies and economic aid to assist the guerilla war against the Soviets (which Brezinski had cleverly provoked thru Afghan terrorist cross-border hit-and-run raids). I guess the US thought their goal of eventually establishing a centralized civil authority once the Soviet Union had been bled dry would be easier if the public were already weaned from depending on their traditional tribal leaders. The US must have thought that from governor-or-mayor-like warlord chiefs ruling semi-autonomous fiefdoms, the Afghan society could be induced to elect a strong central government by which legal, political and economic reform could be accomplished according to western neoliberal principles.
But once the Soviet Union abandoned Afghanistan, the US quickly lost interest in helping to rebuild the nation they had helped destroy. They also didn't anticipate the venal barbarism of corrupt warlords squabbling among themselves that they had encouraged and rewarded but only nominally controlled. As laws unto themselves, the warlords used their private armies funded and equipped by the US to wage an all-sweeping civil war for power, according to the US's militarized model of rule by force and spoils of war. The lawlessness, chaos, decay, abuses, cruelty and brutality of the post-war period was a vacuum of power and law which the Taliban entered, the only cohesive organization that could hope to restore order and moderate the warlord's abuses. Beyond the warlord's influence, Afghan civil society again relied on tribal elders to administer traditional laws, keep the peace and mediate between secular and religious issues.
And so when the US invaded, once again they thought they would establish a centralized authority by selecting warlords as their strong-arm representatives to supplant the current bad-guys, only this time the Taliban, but with the bribed assistance of Afghanistan's own Northern Alliance troops.
The typical abuses and corruption of unrestrained warlords again alienated the ordinary Afghan public against whom they had no protection, and for which the lavishly promised gift of a democratic government they would elect failed to produce anything like the benefits of law and order -- indeed, the elections were seen as more and more of a mockery, where any authority was limited to the capital while the majority of the nation was ruled by bandits, the Taliban, warlords and their private armies, the Northern Alliance, or US/NATO troops -- and of whom the Taliban seemed to be the most fair, impartial, reliable and decent.
So its quite an ironic twist that the US may turn on their warlord allies and instead enlist the favor and uncommon practical sense and accumulated wisdom and good will of the tribal elders the US has been mistrustful of, ignoring and undermining for over 20 years -- even against the advice of its own experts.
But it sure wouldn't surprise me. Seems US 'leadership' being as dysfunctional, out-of-touch, stuck on its own malicious agenda, lacking decency and humility, prone to repeating mistakes which it is notoriously blind to and overflowing with self-righteous arrogance and conceit which it views as duty and honour, the US will remain oblivious of causing more violence, destruction, and terror than that which it claims it is fighting to eliminate. Besides being oblivious to the hidden agenda that allows it to be so unmindful of its hypocrisy.
Commentary on recent events in Afghanistan:
No Picture Necessary.