Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rory Stewart's sorrowful assessment of the Afghanistan project

Rory Stewart, the man who walked across central Afghanistan in winter, and later urged light-touch, sustainable engagement underpinned by modest expectations, is back with a sorrowful assessment of the West's options as the training mission collapses:
In the absence of “victory”, three alternative strategies have been proposed: training the Afghan security forces, political settlement with the Taliban and a regional solution. But training Afghan forces, which cost $12bn in 2010 alone, will not guarantee their future loyalty to a Kabul government. Two years and many regional conferences have passed since the formation of the Afghan Higher Peace council, and the clear Nato endorsement of reconciliation: but there is no sign that insurgents, the Kabul government or its neighbours will reach a deal, or feel much desire so to do. So there is no military solution, and no political solution either. Nor will there be before the troops leave. We will have to deal for decades with a troubled Afghanistan, which is not likely in my lifetime to be as wealthy as Libya, as effectively governed as Iraq, as educated as Syria, or as institutionally mature as Pakistan.

What then? The point is not what the US and its allies ought to do but what they can. We have reached the limit of our knowledge, power and legitimacy. Whatever the west feels obliged to do, it is not capable of bringing a political or military solution. That task will be for Afghans. The west should continue financial support, so the Kabul government does not collapse, as it did in 1991, and give enough military support – air power in nearby bases, for example – to prevent the Taliban mobilising tanks and aircraft, as they did in 1995. But this is support, not a solution. Honesty about this will be the start of better policy.
This assessment is congruent with Stewart's earlier recommendations -- cut troops to 20,000, aid worthy civilian projects, do the minimum to prevent a Taliban takeover, help whatever wisps of government exist to muddle through decades of slow development:
The international community should aim to provide a patient, tolerant long-term relationship with a country as poor and traumatized as Afghanistan. Judging by comparable countries in the developing world (and Afghanistan is very near the bottom of the UN Human Development index), making Afghanistan more stable, prosperous and humane is a project which will take decades. It is a worthwhile project in the long-term for us and for Afghans but we will only be able to sustain our presence if we massively reduce our investment and our ambitions and begin to approach Afghanistan more as we do other poor countries in the developing world.
 Stewart's current stance is a kind of humane, humble mirror image of Gingrich's cruel and arrogant message to the Afghans: " "You know, you’re going to have to figure out how to live your own miserable life. ... Because you clearly don't want to learn from me how to be unmiserable."  Stewart, though, continues to recommend whatever engagement can be managed without making the situation worse.

No comments:

Post a Comment