Sunday, November 30, 2008

a network of friendly militias

Packer vs. Kilcullen in the New Yorker. Here's the key paragraph:
Police are another main issue. We have built the Afghan police into a less well-armed, less well-trained version of the Army and launched them into operations against the insurgents. Meanwhile, nobody is doing the job of actual policing—rule of law, keeping the population safe from all comers (including friendly fire and coalition operations), providing justice and dispute resolution, and civil and criminal law enforcement. As a consequence, the Taliban have stepped into this gap; they currently run thirteen law courts across the south, and ninety-five per cent of the work of these courts is civil law, property disputes, criminal matters, water and grazing disuptes, inheritances etc.—basic governance things that the police and judiciary ought to be doing, but instead they’re out in the countryside chasing bad guys. Where governance does exist, it is seen as corrupt or exploitative, in many cases, whereas the people remember the Taliban as cruel but not as corrupt.

Beyond that, I was struck by how much the Gesamteindruck of the whole thing reminded me of the sort of thing John Vann was saying in 1969 or thereabouts - it's still possible, really it is, and we can probably find a reduction in the number of troops at the same time by realigning completely around a classical counterinsurgency strategy. Kilcullen is hardly optimistic, but he's still desperately committed. (I think I've mentioned before that A Bright Shining Lie was this blog's secret sauce right back to 2003, when Donald Rumsfeld was still denying there were insurgents in Iraq.)

Now, consider this story; first of all, the Indian navy was being lionised for giving a pirate vessel the good old sturm und drang off Somalia and chastening the eurosexual NATO-weenies. It was like 2006 and the Ethiopian army all over again. However, it was only a few hours before it turned out that the Indians had sunk a Thai trawler which they apparently mistook for a pirate mothership - effectively, they saw a funny looking fisherman and just executed 14 people. Now, it's very true that foreign trawlers are a big part of the problem. Perhaps the international naval patrol could do something about it, if it can find the ships whilst also dealing with pirates.

But this is no way to do anything; I've pointed out before that the recent history of Islamist movements shows that given the choice, people will choose law in general over lawlessness.
Given the choice of what is marketed as order without law, but which as always turns out to be chaos, and some sort of legal order, the people pick the latter.
We're still offering them the Behemoth; we're on the wrong side of history, supporting the pirates, Viktor Bout, and a world of bent coppers. The upshot, as Arif Rafiq observes in an instant classic post, is that Pakistan is being turned into Iraq.


John B said...

It's really, really basic Thomas Hobbes stuff - people prefer living under stupid and cruel rules to no rules at all, because under the former you at least have the option of behaving in a way which doesn't get you killed.

The fact that our genius foreign policy strategists don't appear to have picked up on 300-year-old insights, much less recent philosophy and sociology, is a bit depressing...

Anonymous said...

According to a recent Chatham House report, there was a sharp dip in piracy during the months that the Islamic Courts were in charge in Somalia. You would think that Western governments would notice that kind of thing.

So why haven't our genius foreign policy strategists picked up on these 300 year old insights? I know people in Africa who think that Western governments want weak and failed states in certain areas of the world. Then there is the question of neo-liberalism that seems to induce a belief that the market is all-important and that the state and institutions are unimportant.

guthrie said...

At the end of last week I heard some talking head moron on the radio, talking about how to get resolution in aghanistan they would needed to organise talks with interested parties, i.e. Afghanistans neighbours.

Funnily enough, he never mentioned actually asking the Afghanis what they wanted.

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