31 May 2011 @ 4:38 PM 



The United States has been meeting with the Taliban’s Tayyab Agha, who is either one of Mullah Omar’s best friends or he is on the outs with him… depending on who you listen to. While the news was pretty much under the radar as far as news coverage, there has been plenty of opinion expressed by many Americans about the concept of a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. Much of it is reflexively negative.

Why shouldn’t we be negative towards reconciling the Taliban with Afghan society? The Taliban have a miserable record as a government and as an insurgency. They are every bit as brutal as most pernicious insurgencies have ever been. Terrorizing the population in order to control them is an ancient insurgent tactic. It causes deep divisions and grudges that last for decades, if not centuries.

It has been pointed out how past insurgencies have ended in one of three ways. Either the government wins, the insurgent wins, or there is a “mixed outcome.” A mixed outcome keeps the government largely in place while compromises are made to resolve the issues that drove portions of the population into the arms of the insurgency. Insurgents are allowed to take part in the political process in exchange for laying down arms and rejoining the process.

What is there to compromise about? What do the Taliban have that GIRoA needs? Well, other than the fact that they use violence that the government needs for them to eschew, they do have some things that the people actually want. The Taliban were a horror by any analysis of what a real government is. During the Taliban tenure, infrastructure, education and health care all went to hell in a hand basket. Nothing there. However, while they were undoubtedly ineffective by most measures of governance, they were not widely perceived to be corrupt.

While the average American Joe cannot relate a lot of deep knowledge about Afghanistan, they do know one word that goes along with any real discussion of GIRoA; corruption. GIRoA is rife with corruption, and the average Afghan citizen is affected by it deeply. The average Afghan pays hundreds of dollars a year in bribes, this out of an income that may be less than $2,000 a year. Nowhere is this more deeply felt than in court. Criminal prosecution and conflict resolution are key issues in nearly every Afghan community, and both are seriously hindered by corruption.

For the average Afghan, access to justice relies on being able to pay the bribes. Often, there is a race for corruption that begins with the police and offers opportunities to short-circuit the system all the way up the chain. An honest judge can be done in by higher courts. An honest policeman can become seriously disheartened by the knowledge that his best work can be undone by a corrupt prosecutor or judge.

Insurgency in the Afghan context is about a competition to govern, and that competition is most often leveraged by the insurgents in the area of justice. The Afghan legal system is so corrupt that it is all too easy to supplant GIRoA courts with shadow courts. In 2007, the story was that the Taliban would arrive with a traveling court and force the residents to bring their cases before the Taliban court. Something sounded fishy about that. How do you figure out who has a grievance that needs to be aired? Well, it turns out that this was wishful thinking. The populace didn’t need to be coerced to access Taliban justice.

They sought it out.

The only thing that the Taliban ever brought to Afghanistan, and the only thing that the people actually miss, was swift and incorruptible justice. That’s just one idea of what the Taliban possess that GIRoA doesn’t. Would it be a bad thing if the one strength of the Taliban was assimilated into a future Afghanistan?

What if the Taliban were allowed to be a political party? What if they ran for office? What if they won a few seats in parliament? Would it be the end of the modern world? No, clearly not. Our own revolution had to do with the inability to redress grievances. Taxation without representation; a lack of ability to participate in government. What would have happened to the American revolution if the king had made concessions that removed this issue?

Would the revolution have been forestalled or even completely avoided? We will never really know. But it is very possible, especially given the number of hardcore loyalists in the thirteen colonies, that the revolution would have lost steam. Another good example would be our own civil rights movement here in the United States. Had the various laws and executive orders not been put in place, is it possible that violence related to the civil rights struggle would have become widespread? Is it possible that greater access to participation, to redress of grievances, even as halting as it was, was enough to prevent more people from seeking to express these frustrations violently?

Is the American civil right movement a good example of a latent insurgency that was derailed by compromise?

History shows us that insurgencies often end with compromise. Afghanistan is not some imponderable morass of humanity where the eternal verities of man are suspended. Job number one is to stop the shooting. That requires a combination of security-related actions, improvements in governance and socio-economic development that remove the prerequisites of insurgency; the key drivers of instability. Then the serious work of developing the capacity to govern and grow begins. Part of the governance work may very well include some compromises that bring the now-distant factions close enough to stop shooting at each other.

Tags Tags: , , , , ,
Categories: Afghanistan, COIN, development, Stability Operations
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 31 May 2011 @ 04 38 PM


Responses to this post » (3 Total)

  1. Very astute analysis of the situation. Negotiation with the Quetta Shura Taliban has always been a foregone conclusion in any eventual peace. The GIRoA has been anything but a legitimate host partner, which violates the primary tenet of a successful COIN campaign. As for the Haqqani Network and HiG, I’m less sure that they will seek accommodation with Kabul, but if the QST come to the table, anything is possible.

    This also would hardly be the first time that we will have incorporated enemies into the political process, after all for a lasting peace, the settlement must mitigate any cause for lasting struggle.

    I wonder however, if a semi-autonomous Pashutnistan will be the price for peace. Though that is a price I would support for ending this nation building exercise and pursuing those who actually attacked us.

  2. Old Blue says:

    Actually, many “former” HiG members have joined the process. The governor of Kapisa, for instance, is former HiG. The HiG were actually a spinoff of another political party, the Hizbi Islami Kulis (HiK). So they are often amenable to rejoining the process.

    As far as Pashtunistan, there are a fair number of Pashtuns for whom this would be desired. Personally, I do not see Afghanistan or Pakistan going along with it.

    I hate the term, “nation building.” Assisting a country in building the capacity to govern itself increases our own security, but building a nation, presumably from scratch, is primarily the job of the citizens of that country. I think that we are learning from our experiences that our former approaches to “nation building” could be improved upon. As discussed previously, we are learning that pouring money liberally into an economy that cannot usefully absorb it actually plants the seeds of corruption… and fertilizing the corruption that sprouts from those seeds. Knowledge and expertise do not spring magically from the ground in developing countries, enabling them to establish enduring institutions that appropriately provide essential services to the populace. The key word is, “essential.” What services are essential for a country to provide its citizens? Some things are standard, such as dispute resolution. Some, such as sewage, come only with further development. Should we be rushing in and trying to fund major infrastructure projects in a country where dispute resolution is absent or broken? I think that we are learning that money may cause more problems than it solves. Money must be applied sparingly and judiciously, not liberally. Building capacity is more of a human task than a money task.

    This brings risk with it. We traditionally associate such risks with the military. We are also learning that the military is not the best governmental organ for much of the necessary capacity building. The military is not the best for establishing courts to provide for dispute resolution, for instance. It turns out that, while money is to a certain extent necessary, it’s the human capacity that is more necessary and more difficult to build. The security challenges that are often present in failed or failing states are often the result of deep-seated insecurities in other areas of life. Civil violence can be the direct result of the failure to provide sufficient dispute resolution, for instance. When a family cannot get equitable, enforceable resolution to a land dispute, for instance, justice will be taken into their own hands. Widespread violence with such causes cause a general insecurity and contribute to an overall failure of rule of law. It also provides a potential breeding ground for insurgency, including extremists. Is the solution to that problem to build massive courthouses? Is it better to assist in establishing a system where the people who are providing the work in that system are not tempted by privilege and opportunity to profit from their positions? Does money provide that integrity, or does it start with the human capacity?

    Similarly, the development community is learning that “feel good” projects do not necessarily build sustainable capacity that decreases instability. We love to build roads, schools, and clinics. They make us feel good. But do they actually address the root causes of instability? Education is never a bad thing, but is it the first thing that we should do? The decision support framework that USAID is implementing, the District Stability Framework, is providing a decision-making process that leads to discovering these root causes of instability and targeting them for solutions that address these issues first. Often, these approaches save money and smooth the way for the success of later projects which may also require less external funding. A stable community may become capable of building its own school. “Sweat equity” is deep in a school built by the local populace for the local populace.

    Just a few thoughts. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Bhel says:

    @Old blue, I also agree with what you are pointing out.
    I think its really better that a country which really need a nation building ~ build up with their own so all of them can work together as a nation not depending to anyone.


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