April 10, 2005

'Sup, Afghanistan?

Never thought I'd say this about any Weekly Standard article, but last week's cover story on Afghanistan, by Thomas Donnelly and Vance Serchuk, is easily the best reporting I've read on the subject. It's not at all easy to summarize, so read it through. One point it brings up that I certainly haven't quite grasped is that sometime in early 2003 the United States shifted from a strict counterterrorism campaign in Afghanistan to a broader counterinsurgency project that dovetails a bit more neatly with nation-building. There are still a lot—a lot—of hurdles to clear, and Donnelly is very emphatic about this, but the general project seems more promising than it once did.

A few quibbles though. Donnelly seems to think that many of the warlords are in the process of disarming so as to prepare for the upcoming parliamentary elections (in which candidates are not allowed to have "military or quasi-military aims and organizations.") But other reports have indicated that the warlords will largely pretend to disarm—it's pretty easy to fork over a few thousand AK-47s and still keep the bulk of your arsenal—and then use parliamentary victory to legitimize their rule. The key, I guess, is how well they can hide it. On another ominous note, too, Syeed Saleem Shahzad reports in the Asia Times today that the Taliban insurgents may have been intentionally laying low over the past few months, getting ready to kick start an Iraqi-style insurgency, conceived after several Taliban commanders went to Iraq to train with Ansar al-Islam.

So we'll see. Also… one of these days some enterprising PhD student somewhere will compare the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and wonder why the latter went so much more smoothly (relatively). My own pet theory is the power of the loya jirgas, where a truly broad swath of Afghan society was allowed to meet, discuss, and engage in all sorts of political horse-trading long before a new government was elected. (The pre-election Iraqi National Conference was a farce by comparison.) The consensus surrounding Karzai's presidency was another convenient factor. And Donnelly brings up a third possibility: Afghanis are exhausted after decades of civil war and anarchy. Now they just want peace. Many Iraqis, by contrast, seem to still have a good deal of fight left in them.
-- Brad Plumer 6:03 PM || ||