Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Disintegrating Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan is a mess. U.S. troops are dying at a newly elevated rate; NATO troops are dying; Taliban are dying; and Afghan and Pakistani civilians are dying. There is no evidence that much is coming of all this killing except more killing.

The Afghans held an election, but no one believes it was honest or fair. No one is likely to think whatever "government" comes of it, if any, amounts to more than a corrupt cabal either.

The latest U.S. General who is supposed to sort this out is on the verge of sharing his assessment with the President. The usual pre-release leaks tell us that the situation is bad, but more of something (lives and treasure usually) will somehow make it better. Meanwhile for the first time since 2001, polls suggest that a slim majority of people in this country don't think this war is worth the costs. The usual prattlers say the President would be "brave" to defy the people, the people who chose him in part because he knew there were such things as "wrong wars." And nobody can tell anybody what the goal of the dying might be or how we could measure that goal's achievement.

Into this mess, the International Crisis Group -- a sort of talk and research shop for wiser globalizing "statesmen" usually from less powerful countries -- has pointed out another, not yet recognized, reality that further complicates the Afghanistan situation. It turns out that when you carry campaigns of death and destruction to the far regions of a dispersed countryside, people start moving around to get out of harm's way. How obvious ...

So, as we have seen in Iraq, war in Afghanistan is leading to refugee flows that further complicate life in a country that has been fought over continually for 30 years.

With the rural areas increasingly insecure, many returning Afghans have migrated to towns and cities, causing rapid urbanisation that is contributing to rising poverty, unemployment and criminality. Kabul's population has tripled in just seven years. Since young, displaced and unemployed men are particularly vulnerable to recruitment to the insurgency, the needs of a fast-growing poor and largely marginalised population must be urgently addressed. Moreover, as Afghans attempt to resettle in their home provinces or migrate to the country's more secure and economically productive zones, land disputes risk sparking deep-rooted tribal, ethnic or sectarian violence.

Afghan mobility should not be perceived solely as a source of conflict and instability. Internal and regional mobility has enabled families to diversify their sources of income. Remittances are essential to the economy, and households that are able to provide for themselves are a blessing for a state struggling to ensure security and provide basic services. ...

The country's institutions are ill-equipped to meet the needs of repatriating families, overcome obstacles to resettlement, and tackle the continued refugee presence in neighbouring countries. The government's inability to provide for and protect its returning citizens by ensuring nationwide basic services and the rule of law has led to an increasing questioning of its legitimacy. These shortcomings compel many Afghans to rely on informal networks and other parallel structures based on patron-client relations that undercut the establishment of a durable state-citizen relationship.

Yes -- we have here the familiar recipe for the exploitation, speculation, graft and warlordism that follow in the wake of outside cash flowing in and people being wrenched from stable communities.

In Iraq, these destabilizing conditions played out as ethnic cleansing carried out on Islamic sectarian lines, Sunnis and Shi'as striving for territorial power. In Afghanistan, Derrick Crowe at Return Good for Evil has published two maps that show how the war is cutting up Afghanistan on "tribal" or linguistic lines. Here's the map showing the language groups (via the CIA.)

And here are the areas of conflict and of peace and quiet on the date of the recent election, according to the BBC.

Distressingly similar, aren't they? The Pashtuns (shades of green in the first map) are the largest population group. Afghan President Karzai is a Pashtun, though not from the most important branch. So are most of the Taliban. Note which areas on the election map are red and pink conflict zones, areas where the Taliban rule far more than the "government".

The forces the U.S. used to overthrow the Taliban in 2001 come from smaller ethno-linguistic groups, mostly shown in browns and oranges on the first map. Note where the peaceful gray areas are. Those maps look awfully similar.

Now more and more people uprooted by high tech combat and guerrilla resistance are floating around this smashed country, grasping whatever safety and security they can find. Around them ethnic groups are grabbing whatever power they can get in this chaotic mess. Has the United States imposed itself in the middle of another violent internal civil power struggle? Has this occupation also unleashed ethnic cleansing, this time on linguistic and tribal lines? We shouldn't be surprised if the answer is yes.

And meanwhile, what was the U.S. goal in the Afghan war, again?


Nora Leah said...

Excellent post. Thank you.

The President can't explain what victory in Afghanistan would look like. Why would you continue fighting a war under those circumstances?

Darlene said...

This is what happens when you start a war in a country that you know nothing about. The ethnic and tribal differences are always simmering and war brings them to the surface. What a tragedy for those poor innocent Afghans who just wanted to be left in peace.

Tina said...

What i don't understand is why there are no demonstrations and vigils and public actions against the destructions and killings done with US taxpayers money. Why this apathy in the US? The good people know, why are they not in the street?

i wonder if it is not because besides the soldiers US citizens know nothing about wars.

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