Image courtesy PAPYRARRI
Time Magazine this week has a disturbing image of a girl with her nose chopped off by Taleban justice (her long hair disguises the fact she no longer has any ears either). In the UK The Spectator is running with the headling ‘How we lost the war’.
In this post-Wikileaks environment, which while not releasing very much we didn’t already know, sets in stone a 360° view of Taleban resurgence. Perception is a powerful lens and it’s the sheer volume of data released that highlights the depth of the problem we face. The enemy is spreading it’s influence to parts of the country that for long periods faced little or no Taleban threat, granted while still under the benign rule of local warlords.
To exacerbate matters a politically-motivated date for retreat has been set for UK forces at least – giving the Taleban a timetable for takeover. So how do we get out of this mess?
Look across the border to Pakistan.
Afghanistan has shared the largely unmarked Durand Line border with it’s neighbour to the south east since 1893 (when Pakistan was part of the then colonial British India). As the border demarcations of the era tended to do, the line in the sand cut appeared to take no account of the tribes of the region cutting as it did right through the Pashtun heartland. Pashtun nationalists believed the line divided their homeland.
Fast forward to today and little has changed. Both the Taleban and current governments of Afghanistan are largely Pashtun in background and both are hostile to the thought of a border with their brothers. But across the Line Pakistan has kept it’s own internal strife with Pashtuns largely confined to the Tribal Areas.
The lesson is simple – Afghanistan and it’s allies should focus on first containing the Taleban threat in the largely Pashtun South and East and effectively seal these areas off to the rest of the country, allowing normalisation and good governance the essential breathing space it needs to bed in. If this means a step back to Tribal Law for these regions so be it.
The warlords in the north who come from ethnic Uzbek and Tajik backgrounds should be put on a programme for assimilation into the legitimate state forces and government structures.
The heroine trade in the north should be destroyed by the rapid industrialisation using rich Afghan mineral deposits in the region. Porous borders should be guarded more closely in order to cut off the smuggling routes and organised government ‘purges’ of poppy growing areas should happen in parallel to the growth of the natural resource extraction industry.
Troops should be tasked north of this boundary to police this change in a robust manner. Troops to the south should remain on a war footing with the large build up of non-combat provincial reconstruction teams being recollected to the north.
Fundamentally all mentions of a ‘timetable’ for withdrawal should be erased. The job gets done when the job gets done.
If it succeeds, it will likely result in the two-tier development of the country. But the coalition is fast running out of other options in order to reverse the slow march to defeat.