A Very Long Engagement in Afghanistan/Pakistan

Mothers and Daughters

There seems to  be no time, no space for rest and soft breaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As Elizabeth Bumiller and Mark Landler write, for the Times, “Even before the election, a January Defense Department report assessing progress in Afghanistan concluded that “building a fully competent and independent Afghan government will be a lengthy process that will last, at a minimum, decades.”  There are no precise measures of progress in Afghanistan; progress, under some tenuous definition, runs counter to itself under other measures.  For example, though the Afghan seems to be responding well to training the Afghan force “is widely considered corrupt and feckless.

Pakistan, in the meanwhile, is tearing itself to pieces.  This is no Cassandric pronouncement; this is no surreal Dalian appetizer for the senses.  The Pakistani military has been shown to be vulnerable to internal contagion.  The military, long held aloft with great public fan-fare as a bastion of moderate leaders and meritocratic leadership, was under siege only a few days ago by a handful of well-equipped and well-trained militant insurgent.  Since at least 2007, the military has been under pressure from militant organizations, and only recently has it become obvious that it is not too dire a diagnosis to suppose that some consider the military itself is under existential threat.  And, of course, this helps explain the recently announced push into South Waziristan, after the so-considered successful recapture of Swat.

Recent news begs the question: is Swat under government  control or military encampment?  I’d argue the latter, based on the recent extra judicial killings of supposed members of Taliban.  Today’s report of the attack on a military vehicle, along with the recent spate of bombings and violence, shows that the various organizations aligned under the Taliban umbrella  are capable of devastating strategic volleys that undermine  the writ of both the military and the government in the Swat Valley, and in Pakistan as a whole.

Why is this?  Why is violence in one house, tantamount to a plague in all their houses?  I’d argue that, though our battle is  a fight for the hearts and minds of Pakistani’s and Afghani’s, it is better understood as  a conflict over the heart and minds of  the median, swing voter who by his choice determines a majority coalition and, thereby, also determines the content of a minority coalition.  We need to convince the man, woman and child in the middle, who, now, stand on the fence between two opposing visions of politics and economics in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  When violence runs through and around Swat, Rawalpindi is alerted to its slow creep.  Individuals anticipate where their allegiances lie, based on who stand to be the immediate victor of the current run of violence.  In each case, in each country, U.S. and NATO policy must be to compel an alignment of U.S and NATO interests with the interests of that swing voter who makes an calculation of his expected gains of alignment with one or the party party in battle for Swat, Rawalpindi, the hearts, minds and souls of the people and the places that make for stability and rest.

The ways to go about that differ across the two countries.  Rory Stewarts assessment on Afghanistan takes seriously the differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  My next post will be precisely on that assessment of differing strategies and differing visions of what is feasible to want and do in each country.

~ by Faheem Haider on October 12, 2009.

2 Responses to “A Very Long Engagement in Afghanistan/Pakistan”

  1. Western interpretation of the AfPak conflict will remain useless as long as they fail to effectively counter the following :
    1) the Pak media, dominated by the sympathizers of the Army and the ISI, continue their campaign against the war NATO lead
    2) the systematic brain washing of the people in the mosques by the religious preachers

    The strategy of “winning hearts and minds” will never be achievable as long as the above counter forces are not effectively neutralized by legal and administrative force.

    • i agree that the pakistani media is something of a problem. this has much to do with the near vainglorification of the army. but as things deteriorate, the army is losing some of its sheen. there might be a tipping point where the army owns up to its mistakes–as it seems to be doing by attacking some of the culprits out there. but at least there are viable solutions to this problem. i dunno anything about broadcast regulations in pakistan, but surely there’s a market for someone to come in and provide a new voice. (thanks, by the way, i’d been meaning to look into bias in news coverage; i’ll post something on this soon). at any rate, i’d think that the wealthy and educated members of Pakistani society are more inclined to consume more internatioanlly oriented media.

      the real problem comes in sideways, through your second point. the second problem that you point out is much intractable and requires a long-term strategy to achieve a definable goal for youth education, cultural awareness, etc (not with the view of establishing anything close to a western model of education, or a program of sociological and cultural sensitivity, mind you). the problem is that goal is yet undefined.

      i don’t think winning hearts and minds is a strategy; its a goal. the strategy to achieve that goal is, perhaps, a more diversified socio-economic development scheme. the agricultural program in afghanistan that incentives yielding wheap crops, as opposed to poppy is just one such strategy. so, your pointed comments are nevertheless, consistent with a broad attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people in the area.

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