A matter of opinion?

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Skynet, Aug 8, 2007.

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  1. Afghanistan becomes main focus for UK

    Patrick Wintour
    Wednesday August 8, 2007
    The Guardian

    The Foreign Office has decided that Afghanistan, and not Iraq, is the frontline in its battle to defeat terrorism, even if it may take decades to improve the country - as well as far greater international coordination than at present.
    The UK military also wants to concentrate its forces in Helmand province, an area described by Tony Blair as the crucible in which the battle for the 21st century will be fought.

    Ministers want improved coordination under the banner of the UN, and not just Nato, but suspect the US wants to maintain independence for part of its military operations aimed at al-Qaida in the country. Britain is backing the idea of a strong military, diplomatic and reconstruction coordinator.
    Paddy Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, has been mentioned in British circles, but he is reluctant to take the job. In the spring, in a sign of British commitment to Afghanistan, Britain appointed one of its most highly regarded diplomats, Sherard Cowper-Coles as ambassador, and expanded the size of what would normally be a run-of-the-mill embassy. Ministers believe that if Afghanistan falls into the hands of the Taliban, Pakistan may also fall, with dire consequences for British security.

    The decision by David Miliband, the foreign secretary, to go to Kabul was intended as a symbol that the UK regards Afghanistan and Pakistan as vital to fighting terrorism.

    Britain has been pressing for greater cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but recognises that the border means little to local tribes. It still believes its counter-insurgency techniques are working, and the fact that the Pakistan and Afghan government will hold a joint parliament next week shows there is a mood to cooperate.

    However, the foreign office minister Mark Malloch Brown has conceded that Britain may need to review its policy on the link between the military and development workers in its reconstruction work. The UN, where Lord Malloch Brown used to work, has always opposed development and military workers operating next to one another as it confuses the local population.

    The Foreign Office does not seem to favour a radical change in policy in battling against opium production in Helmand, saying greater security will gradually lead farmers to sow alternative and currently less profitable crops.

    The ministerial view is that Afghanistan is winnable and that British troops can act as a force for good - which is less easy to argue in Iraq. Nevertheless, the government is nervous that any withdrawal from Iraq this autumn will be criticised by allies of the Bush administration, especially if the report by general David Petraeus deems that the troop surge has been successful.



    It takes inane optimism to see victory in Afghanistan

    This war against the Taliban is part of a post-imperial spasm. The longer it is waged, the graver the consequences

    Simon Jenkins
    Wednesday August 8, 2007
    The Guardian
    The British government is lining up Paddy Ashdown to rule Afghanistan. This is not a silly season story or a Gilbert and Sullivan spoof, merely a measure of the lunacy now polluting British foreign policy. Ashdown has time on his hands and Gordon Brown wants to show himself as firm a liberal interventionist as Tony Blair. He, too, wants to make Afghanistan a peaceful and prosperous democracy and may as well start now. So Paddy's the man.

    To the British left, Afghanistan was always the "good" war and Iraq the "bad" one. It is permitted for ministers to assert that they were "privately opposed" to Iraq so long as Afghanistan is seen as a worthy cause. With Britain at its helm, Afghanistan would be all it was not under the Americans. It would make Britain look macho. It would revitalise the UN and Nato after perceived debacles in former Yugoslavia and it would fulfil Britain's historic role as nation-builder to the world.
    Iraq is post-imperialism for fast learners, Afghanistan for slow ones. While the concept of a benign outcome in Iraq is strictly for armchair crazies, such an outcome remains received wisdom in Afghanistan. The British ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, is building himself an embassy to compare with America's in Baghdad and has forecast a British military presence of 30 years. Brigadier John Lorimer in Helmand says he can suppress insurgency in 10 years but will need "longer than 30" to establish good governance. Such things were being said in Iraq until two years ago, when the body bags began to talk.

    Paddy Ashdown returned recently from Kabul consumed with imperial zeal. On these pages he admitted the current chaos, a city awash with thousands of troops and aid workers from some 36 countries, all supposedly involved in "security and reconstruction" and almost none able to leave the capital by land. A reputed 10,000 NGO staff have turned Kabul into Klondike during the goldrush, building office blocks, driving up rents, cruising about in armoured jeeps and spending stupefying sums of other people's money, essentially on themselves. They take orders only from some distant agency, but then the same goes for the American army, Nato, the UN, the EU and the supposedly sovereign Afghan government.

    In the provinces, the Americans are running a guerrilla army out of Bagram, trying to kill as many "Taliban" or "al-Qaida" as possible, while the British heroically re-enact the Zulu wars down in Helmand. Neither takes any notice of President Hamid Karzai, whose deals with warlords, druglords, Iranians and Taliban collaborators are probably the best hope of stabilising Afghanistan when the foreign occupation is over. But since that is claimed by Britain to be virtually never, the only certainty is a rising tempo of insurgency.

    Ashdown said he found "bewildering ... the international community's tendency to repeat whatever fails". He then illustrated his own point by repeating the normal inane conditional optimism. Success, he wrote, was still "probable" if we "increase resources and redress the disastrous failure of the international community to get its act together". All that has been said and tried for six years with conspicuous failure. Kabul is not Bosnia, where Ashdown as UN "high representative" could behave like the leader of the Liberal party and do what he liked with the backing of a few big donors. Afghanistan is supposed to be an autonomous state. The idea that Kabul's Tower of Babel will ever replicate Bosnia is absurd.

    Ashdown's bewilderment shows that he does not understand occupation. Over time, the occupying force falls apart and its components fight for their own vested interests. Consider three policies now being pursued in Kabul. The first concerns drugs. There are 15 separate organisations devoting their time (and £200m of British money) to eradicating Afghanistan's one indigenous source of income, opium. In that time, the opium harvest has broken every record, while trying to suppress it has alienated farmers and fuelled insurgency. Everyone in Kabul knows the policy is both stupid and counter-productive, but since grants and jobs are tied to it, the policy is entrenched and will not change.

    Then there is the bombing of Pashtun villages for sheltering the Taliban. Thousands of civilians have died as a result, inducing hostility to occupying forces and a desire for revenge that recruits thousands to the cause of killing western troops. But soldiers sent to fight the Taliban have been ill-equipped and outgunned and needed air support, while air forces have craved a "battlefield role". Again, the policy is known to be counterproductive yet continues because it delivers a cheaper "kill rate" and satisfies military interests.

    A third policy is the most overhyped in British military history, that of "winning hearts and minds". Not only is it meaningless without adequate security, which would require 50,000 rather than 5,000 troops in Helmand alone, it also involves tipping large sums of cash into nervous tribal villages, tearing apart power structures and creating feuds and dissension, the money usually ending up with warlords or the Taliban. All this is known in Kabul, but the money has been allotted and must be spent, however counterproductive the outcome.

    In each of these cases, the mismatch between what makes sense and what is implemented is total. Ashdown is right that the same mistakes are constantly made. But his belief that they can be overcome by a British "coordinator" with enough money and power is naive. He will get neither. Kabul is already a monument to how vested interests can negate the best of interventionist intentions. Toppling foreign regimes is a dangerous and unpredictable business. But when invasion becomes occupation, freelance nation builders become freelance empire builders, each with budgets and jobs to protect.

    Getting out of Basra is now a firm diktat of British defence planning. The only sensible question in Kabul is how long before the same diktat applies there. The longer it takes to blow away Ashdown's "bewilderment" the weaker the alliances engineered by Karzai over the past three years will become and the more certain his fall will be. The longer Whitehall thinks it can win a war against the Taliban, the more it risks tearing Pakistan apart and sucking Iran into the conflict, both of which would be completely daft. Yet that is where liberal intervention is now leading. It is a post-imperial spasm, a knee-jerk jingoism and plain dumb.

    simon.jenkins@guardian.co.uk
     
  2. yet again not only a waste of money but also a waste of lives. NGO's and some government departments end up wasting huge sums of money doing a job that is destined to fail, why would the Afghan give up opium when it is their only source of income, has anyone of these departments or organisation thought of or been trying to help these people find other sources of income that match what they are getting at the moment????

    As for fighting the Taliban, well I agree with the war as we need to stop these religous nuts taking over any more countries, but yet again we are trying to do the job with too few troops, once wehave taken an area we need to dig in and stay there, if there is a village there then lets give them power, water etc, there must be loads of generators laying around the UK and the US that could power a small village, and as it won't be all that long before they start thinking about winter again, if we are giving them power and heat etc surely that must be a good way of winning hearts and minds.

    I don't see personally any thing wrong with nation building, some many of the countrys that wanted independence are now either now no better off or they are worse off than when we left or other European nations come to that.

    But as usual it comes down to money and man power, as has been said we need 50,000 troops in there not 5,000..... but alas it is doubtful the UN will get involved as much as we would like them to and good old Gord won't give the armed forces any more money

    Dunc
     
  3. For the Afghan giving up opium - the EU is currently doing much the same with the Moroccans farming cannabis. We're paying them to farm olives instead, and it seems to be successful.

    I say 'seems', because the main results are the tripling of cannabis cultivation within the EU, and now Spanish olive farmers cannot of course compete on price with the Moroccan ones so the EU's having to pay them massive subsidies to avoid them going on the dole or switching to cannabis farming.

    It's a laugh, innit?
     
  4. excatly, having studied agricultrual economics at uni, it is going to be a long term project, by that I mean 10 to 15 yrs plus, we are not going to rebuild that country over night, as long as we go about it the right way then there is no problem being that long, are we helping re build schools, hospitals, etc, the things they really want??? if that is the case then its a start, but it is going to be a long slog and we will need to get Pakistan involved as much as possible
     
  5. Were I a betting man I'd put money on Iraq being more stable that Afghanistan in 10 years time. At least Iraq's sole export is legal.
     
  6. What exactly is Jenkin's problem with Ashdown?

    I think he understands it a damn sight better than you Mr. Jenkins.

    So Jenkins in fact agrees with Ashdown's assessment , expands on what the problem is in detail, but still says Ashdown has no idea?

    Mr. Jenkins, I refer you to the BBC Hardtalk interview with Paddy Ashdown. I think you'l find exactly where he is coming from, and what needs to happen to stabilise the region.

    There will be quite a few NGO bosses getting their P.45's the moment he's in position. Ashdown is not renowned for his tolerance of fools and wasters. He is a fairly unique character, in that he understands both the Military and Civil roles in an occupation and re-build.

    I suggest if he is given a mandate to legalise and control poppy production for pharmaceuticals , we can yet turn the corner on this.
     
  7. That will be much easier than getting them to grow something else.
     
  8. Much more profitable too , and the locals will want to protect their new 'legal and free from government interference" cash crop.

    Which of course makes it easier for us to base troops in the region, makes it easier for the NGO's to do their job etc etc tetc.

    I think the Broon is a touch more pragmatic, and less tainted with religous zealotry than the previous incumbent.
     
  9. Won't it make Afghanistan reliant on food imports, as every farmer and his donkey flock to scatter poppy seed on their fields?
     
  10. Not neccessairily.

    Increased revenue from legal Poppy, means more available to develop agricultural infrastructure, and more efficient methods of arable farming.

    One of the conditions imposed on being a legal farmer, could be that 1/4 of the available area is set aside for agricultural use. In return, we give him a guaranteed market for Poppy and crops, through a new Afghan agricultural stock exchange.
     
  11. Cow

    Cow LE

    MOD UK Link Defence Secretary visits Helmand's frontline. Some progress seems to be being made, but if the locals are convinced already that we're doing a good job and its the fighters from outside that are attacking forces, is it ever going to make a difference?

    Paddy Ashdown should be good for the area. They need to concentrate on what is needed for the country, not what we say they should have. PTP is right, give them an economy to look after and benefit from and they will want to look after it.

    There is a shortage of Morphine which the the Poppies can be used to reduce. They're not going to go far without food to eat and growing it is surely cheaper than importing it?
     
  12. There is a big difference between Iraq and Afghanistan.

    For USA Iraq is unresolvable problem, it is a constant headache. And likely the problem will remain unresolved.

    As for Afghanistan then the main American objective is military, strategic presence in the region. And the objective had been reached long ago. Full control over the country is impossible without local armed forces. But the Americans don't make any attempts to build big and strong Afghani army because in this case there would be no ground for USA to stay in Afghanistan.

    Victory over Taliban is impossible. So USA tries to use its allies in endless and senseless war that can't be won even in theory. And for USA not victory but military presence is more important.
     
  13. Simon Jenkins:
    Brilliant, in a nutshell, on the head, in the back of the net, bish bosh, thinking job done.
    Now let everyone pack up and fcuk off back home.
     
  14. It strikes me that allowing ourselves to be constrained to "fight" al Qa'eda and the Taliban in Iraq or Afghanistan is not very modern doctrinally speaking. We don't need to fight them there in the very symmetrical ways we currently are, surely?
     
  15. At the tactical level it might be both hard to avoid and actually quite a good thing to engage in attritional-type fighting, in order to create the security necessary for other operations (both military and civilian). Manouevrism at this level is only so easy when faced with the reality of the enemy on the street. It is when such thinking permeates into operational and, in particular, strategic levels, that the problems occur. If the strategic objective is concentrated on a load of tactical outcomes (ie killing baddies) rather than seeing such tactical results as part of a much wider package, then it is hardly worth calling it a strategy.