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America won’t solve Afghanistan’s social or political problems by continuing to wage a cruel and apparently endless war. Soldiers will never be able to change Afghanistan’s social behavior or end tribal customs and feuds that go back thousands of years. They are too busy defending their bases from angry Afghans, and it’s time to leave them alone.

There’s a reason why Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires.

From the time of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan to the British, Soviets and now the US and NATO, Afghanistan’s poppy fields, barren plains and rugged mountains are filled with the ghosts and treasuries of would-be conquerors. Sooner or later, America, Canada and NATO will meet the same dismal fate as everyone who went before them.

George Bush invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to rid it of al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors, taking away a "safe haven" for plotters of the 9/11 attacks. Since this was accomplished in a matter of weeks with relatively few American deaths, Bush’s neo-con puppet masters then made two disastrous mistakes.

First, they sent troops off to fight a stupid, illegal and totally unnecessary war in Iraq, a country which posed as much threat to the US as Bermuda.

Second, Washington installed a pretend government in Kabul to create a democracy by forcing a strong, central government on the nation – something that is an anathema to the very soul, nature and character of dozens of centuries of Afghan history.

To keep voters from becoming as questioning as they are now, once the Taliban was gone, Bush marketed the Afghan War by claiming it is about democracy, women’s rights, education and nation building. President Obama still says the US is in Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda. But al Qaeda barely exists; its handful of members long ago decamped to Pakistan’s unruly and ungoverned tribal regions.

In fact, this war has become all about oil pipeline routes and Western domination of the energy-rich Caspian Basin. And, of course, there is pressure on Obama from the right that the US cannot afford to "lose" a second war under his command. So he seems to feel that his only option is charging full-tilt over a cliff. Unless he ends this daft misadventure, his granddaughters may see American soldiers still fighting in the badlands of Afghanistan.

Put bluntly, Afghanistan is a bloody mess and America, Canada and NATO add to the problem every day we're there. It’s way past time for us to go home.

Buying Poppies

Before any stability can be returned to the country, the Taliban and other insurgents in the south have to be cut off from their cash flow: Opium smuggling.

Since drug dealers, traffickers and customers are protected by corrupt officials in Kabul and provincial capitals, the only realistic answer is for America and NATO to become poppy farmer’s highest paying customer. It’s a tactic that was wildly successful in Turkey and it can work in Afghanistan, as well.

Some part of the crop can be resold to pharmaceutical companies which use opium as an ingredient in many legal drugs; the rest can be burned. It’s far cheaper than the current cost of the war. Moreover, within a year, the West will bankrupt the Taliban by deriving it of the estimated $300-million the illegal drugs trade produces and which it uses to buy weapons, food, pay bribes – and buy next year’s poppy crop.

On an on-going basis, America and, hopefully, the EU can subsidise Afghan farmers to grow other crops, using our vast knowledge of agriculture to teach people who still live in the third century how to feed themselves and, eventually, their nation. Again, it’s a far less-expensive venture than fighting a hopeless, unending war even though this may become a semi-permanent part of America’s foreign policy.

As crucial, buying up the poppy crop for a few years will make it incredibly difficult for the Taliban to re-supply, re-equip and re-emerge as a potent force in the region. If destitute farmers and unemployed teens can’t find piece work burying IEDs or launching RGPs for the Taliban, much of its amateur infantry who get paid $5 a day to kill foreign troops will disappear.

Reintegrate The Pashtun

Once the opium supply is controlled and eradicated, the US should put on hold the fruitless task of building up the central government and even most provincial governments, turning its attention instead to bolstering Afghanistan’s traditional source of political power: Tribal leaders.

Like most of its foreign policy, the Bush Administration was wrong-headed about handling Afghanistan once the Taliban were routed. Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribes, who make up 55% of the population, were excluded from power as Washington deceived itself into believing that a strong, central government could be created where one never existed.

The neo-con’s never grasped that Afghanistan is a three-legged ethnic stool and, by removing the Pashtun leg, stability became impossible.

There will be neither peace nor stability until the Pashtun majority is enfranchised.  This means dealing directly with Taliban, which is largely Pashtun. The West cannot run Afghanistan by using the minority Tajik’s, Uzbek’s and Shia Hazara.

The solution to this no-longer-necessary war is not more phoney elections but a comprehensive peace agreement between ethnic factions that largely restores status quo before the 1979 Soviet invasion. This means a weak central government in Kabul – for which Hamud Karzai is ideal – and a high degree of autonomy for self-governing regions.

Instead of pretending that Kabul governs any of the country beyond its suburbs, the government should reinstate the loya jirga, or tribal sit-downs. Decisions are made by consensus, often after lengthy haggling. This is the tradition of Afghans and many Islamic societies. Afghanistan worked pretty well for several thousand years under this traditional, informal and easy-going system.

Historical Reality

There’ll have to be a quid pro quo with the tribes, beyond buying the opium crop, teaching farmers how to grow other vegetables and short-circuiting the Karzai government.

First, integrate the Pashtun back into civil society. At the moment, the Taliban are the ethnic group’s only voice.

Second, stop all drone attacks on insurgent targets where civilians always end up bearing the brunt of the bombings.

Third, make it clear to tribal leaders that the US doesn’t care about their disputes with other tribes, and won’t interfere as long as it doesn’t spill over into killing American and NATO forces.

Fourth, recognise that cash goes a long way to buy loyalty in Afghanistan. It always has and always will. Just as the US did in Iraq with Sunni militias, put the tribal leaders on Washington’s payroll – with the understanding that killing of Americans will stop immediately. It worked in Anbar and other Sunni provinces and it will work in Afghanistan.

Fifth, pay tribal leaders – and members – if they provide actionable intelligence about Taliban activities in their area.

Sixth, use US and NATO ground forces to secure areas where needed but rely on the tribes to police themselves.

Seventh, at a loya jirga – rather than in Karzai’s presidential palace – ask Afghan elders to draw up a list of benchmarks that establish when and under what circumstances Western forces will leave. It may take months to achieve a final agreement but, in the meantime, it’s likely that violence will decline slowly and, at the end, a close-to-peace and stability situation will endure.

We won’t solve Afghanistan’s social or political problems by continuing to wage a cruel and apparently endless war. Our soldiers will never be able to change Afghanistan’s social behavior or end tribal customs that go back thousands of years. They are too busy defending their own bases from angry Afghans and it’s time to leave them alone.  

Originally posted to Charley James on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 05:26 AM PDT.


Do you support a plan that will get the US and NATO out of Afghanistan?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    Charley James The Progressive Curmudgeon

    by Charley James on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 05:26:52 AM PDT

  •  you posted this at RedState first (0+ / 0-)

    And it didn't go over well.  Let's see how it does here.

    For the record, I do not agree with your conclusions or prescriptions.

  •  A Few Weeks Ago I Listened To (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    scorpiorising, Lujane

    Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. It is the story of 4 CIA agents with a suitcase of cash and 16 Special Forces. They went into Afghanistan before any of us knew they were there. Got a few tribal leaders (with said suitcase of cash) to fight with them.

    All they had where some guns, horses, and a promise of US air support to take on the Taliban's Soviet tanks and armored personal carriers.

    In the first couple engagements the air support didn't work out so well. The Americans told the tribal leaders they should retreat, not attempt an assault on horse back.

    They would have none of that and fought to the last man.

    I always thought the "a place empires go to die" was a little overblown. I am not so sure anymore.

    "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

    by webranding on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 05:42:59 AM PDT

  •  I want the U.S. out of Afghanistan now (0+ / 0-)

    But I disagree with this premise:

    George Bush invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to rid it of al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors, taking away a "safe haven" for plotters of the 9/11 attacks.

    I believe the invasion was planned long before the 9/11 casus belli, and had motivations other than defeating terrorism.

    War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus. ~Antoine De Saint-Exupery

    by miranda2060 on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 06:41:18 AM PDT

    •  Errrr... what would the motivation be? (0+ / 0-)

      I believe the invasion was planned long before the 9/11 casus belli, and had motivations other than defeating terrorism.

      Errrr... like what? Future oil pipeline control?

      That premise doesn't explain why the Afghanistan theatre became the red-headed stepchild to Iraq's blonde-haired, blue-eyed cherub.

      We have plenty of smoking guns on Iraq being a premeditated invasion. But if PNAC had an equally raging hard-on for Afghanistan, they kept it INCREDIBLY well-hidden.

      Shoring up political points at home, in order to better sell the Iraq war seems to be the motivation in hindsight. If we had immediately gone into Iraq, it would've been WAY too obvious.

      There might've even been a little (juuuust a little, mind you) actual motivation to get the guys who helped the guys who killed our guys.

      Corporate Dog

      We didn't elect Obama to be an expedient president. We elected him to be a great one. -- Eugene Robinson

      by Corporate Dog on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 07:21:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  World needs more opiate painkillers. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Opiate painkillers are in critically short supply across the developing world. It's crazy that we are not buying up the Afghan opium, processing it into pain relief drugs, and distributing them to poor countries as medical aid.

    Forgive the diary-pimping, but this one I wrote in February has links to and excerpts from material from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the NY Times, Mother Jones, and the Times of London online:

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 06:43:04 AM PDT

  •  Pakistan's farming of terrorists (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    is the root cause of the Afghan terrorist safe haven problem. See the declassified national security archives at the George Washington University:

    Pakistan: "The Taliban's Godfather"?

    Documents Detail Years of Pakistani Support for Taliban, Extremists

    Covert Policy Linked Taliban, Kashmiri Militants, Pakistan's Pashtun Troops

    Aid Encouraged Pro-Taliban Sympathies in Troubled Border Region

    National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 227
    Edited by Barbara Elias

    Posted - August 14, 2007

    Washington D.C., August 14, 2007 - A collection of newly-declassified documents published today detail U.S. concern over Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban during the seven-year period leading up to 9-11. This new release comes just days after Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, acknowledged that, "There is no doubt Afghan militants are supported from Pakistan soil." While Musharraf admitted the Taliban were being sheltered in the lawless frontier border regions, the declassified U.S. documents released today clearly illustrate that the Taliban was directly funded, armed and advised by Islamabad itself.

    Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the documents reflect U.S. apprehension about Islamabad's longstanding provision of direct aid and military support to the Taliban, including the use of Pakistani troops to train and fight alongside the Taliban inside Afghanistan. The records released today represent the most complete and comprehensive collection of declassified documentation to date on Pakistan's aid programs to the Taliban, illustrating Islamabad's firm commitment to a Taliban victory in Afghanistan

    Unless Pak's terror farm system is completely dismantled, the attitudes, arrogance and agenda of Pakistani powers and fundamentalists behind it are irreversibly changed, and China and Saudi Arabia's devious support for Pakistan's anti-social activities is stopped, the Afghan problem will continue to fester.

    US itself has an economic interest in the increasingly important middle Asian region (most of them are former Soviet Republics), and Afghanistan provides the gateway the US needs for access to the region. Such are the global forces at play in the Afghanistan conflict in the present and in the long run.

  •  The price of not winning! (0+ / 0-)

    The price of not winning is that we don't get to dictate the outcome.   That means that we don't get to decide the power split between the notional government and the tribal leaders.

    You suggest that we buy loyalty of the tribal leaders.   Surely these "bought" friends will be loyal as long as it is convent.   When their loyalty if bought by someone else with money or threats we will scream about being betrayed!   It is a dirty game and we are neophytes.

    You suggest buying their opium will eliminate that problem.   We will be out-bid in that effort.   For us buying the opium is a business.   For our competitors it is a matter of desperate need.   They will out-bid us.

    Ultimately, not winning means that we leave with nothing.   We can continue to send them money (free money is always popular) but if we think that the money is buying what we think that it is buying then we are being naive.

    Our only choice is to go!   So we should go.

  •  2 things that will never happen (0+ / 0-)
    1. The "eradication" of opium ( akin to eradicating marijuana, on a much more local scale).
    1. The US disengaging from fruitless wars that do nothing but enrich the military industrial complex.

    We need to get the fuck out.

    But we won't.

    Daddy Warbucks runs the show, and who sits in the Oval Office doesn't mean diddly-squat any more.

    The Democrats just never learn: Americans don't really care which side of an issue you're on as long as you don't act like pussies - Bill Maher

    by Wamsutta on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 07:15:36 AM PDT

  •  Fringe benefit of buying the opium (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The synthetic opiods which have largely displasced morphine in our current medical system are both inherently much more expensive to produce, and protected by patents. Reverg to poppy derived opiates, and hold healthcare costs down.

    Medical Marijuana is Healthcare. does YOUR bill cover it?

    by ben masel on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 08:28:56 AM PDT

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