Daily Archives: March 30, 2010

Afghanistan beginning or end?

Yesterday I went to see a panel discussion on Afghanistan over at Princeton U.  Here are my notes:

Dramatis Personae

Daoud Yaqub, Visiting Research Scholar Collaborator at LISD/WWS, Princeton University.

Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, Director of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination (LISD).  (As an aside, this has to the the coolest name out there with the added bonus that he comes from an ‘institute’ which means he can say cool things like:  “I’m from the institute.” and “Yes, you should come visit me at the institute.” or “You don’t understand.  I must get back to the institute immediately…I’m Dr. Danspeckgruber!”

Ambassador Robert Finn, Lecturer of Public and International Affairs, Research Associate, LISD and former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan

Lt. Col. Christopher J. Ireland, U.S. Air Force officer with the Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell at the Pentagon

Wolfgang: Where Afghanistan is today: Real change since 2008 – not good.

  1. the end of international involvement is on the horizon (2011/2012)
    1. Dutch gov’t fell b/c question to remain in Afghanistan
    2. ramifications throughout Europe
    3. fatigue – on part of international community and Afghans
  2. Mobilization of region
    1. So much focus on Afpak and we forget Iran/Afghanistan border and tensions there
    2. crisis with Iran or elsewhere (mid-east) risks throwing Afghanistan back into a tidewater
      1. Pakistan could then fill the void left by the international community again like it did in the 1990s
  3. Afghans are aware of Wests pressure for a timeline and are manuevering for post involvement position
  4. role of spoilers
    1. there are plenty of state/non-state actors who would like to discredit international community/U.S.

Finn: Afghanistan is in a rapid state of change and engaged in the first tentative steps towards national reconciliation.

The roots of the mutual distrust between Karzai and the international community go back a long way.

Karzai’s management style is tribal rather than executive – multiple meetings to reach mutual agreement rather than a ‘to do’ list with direct followup – this is one reason for tension.

Karzai in ‘denial’ about the current state of Afghan (I guess that would be another reason for tension between him and the international community)

The international community has undermined Karzai in several ways:

  • IC supported warlords
  • did nothing to stop vote fraud which began months before election
  • hiring away few educated/talented Afghans instead of letting them work for Afghan gov’t

Afghan government is only in charge of 23% of the money spent.  The rest is made up of NGOs (less than 10%) and (most – around 70%) comes from foreign gov’ts and UN.

Much donor money never gets to Afghanistan.  Instead it goes to contractors/think tanks/etc.

Marjah…gov’t in a box hasn’t yet demonstrated ability…will be weeks or months before success can be determined

AF security forces (up to 400,000). Will take years to train…who’s going to pay for them? AF will not be able to generate enough cash to pay for such a large force.

Pledges of support are slow and small. The U.S. Has only given 60% of its pledged support (!)

67% of Pakistanis think Taliban governed AF better than Karzai governmen’t

80% of Pakistanis see U.S. As occupier of AF

While al-Qaeda/Taliban might not be as close as they were…predictions of a big split are more wishful thinking.


McChrystal changed his assessment from serious and deteriorating to just serious which is important since McChrystal chooses his words very carefully…

Popular support for Taliban is at ‘all time low’ (He seemed to indicate that this was synonymous with support for coalition forces that might be true but those two things aren’t necessarily linked.)

Pakistan approach to frontier provinces has been a ‘sea change’ over the past year.

Pakistan is considering moving towards common ground with U.S. And internatioanl community on Afghanistan.  (Kind of interesting what that means.  DoD seems to be admitting that Pakistan was NOT on the same page for the first eight years of the conflict.)

The upcoming offensive in Kandahar city will not be a ‘clear, hold, build’….Afghan security will squeeze around city and Afghanistan government will provide services.

From military perspective we’re in the ‘end of the beginning’ rather than ‘beginning of the end’

We haven’t gotten our brain around the issues of reconciliation and reintegration


Afghanistan in the 1990s was not civil war but rather a regional proxy war (?)

Result of communist decade was a legacy of people who have high expectations of government services which is a marked difference from previous Afghan generations.

Afghanistan intelligence services have limited powers of arrest (?) Only for counter narcotics and counter terrorism.  It’s fundamentally different from the intelligence service of the Soviet era.

Made it sound like they’d like to return to 1970s level/style of corruption among civil service

Accountability and transparency needs to occur both in Afghanistan and with the international community.  The current aid system and contracting practice fuels corruption.

The international community hasn’t relied on building indigenous capacity for governance/reconstruction…instead we’ve relied on diaspora and foreign contractors.

Diaspora often has different agenda (more radical/ethnocentric) than local Afghans

Diaspora voice drowns out that of local afghans (since they talk/act/think like Westerners they get most attention)

While Obama’s declaration that the U.S. would be out of Afghanistan in 2011 was primarily geared for a domestic audience it was interpreted differently in the region.  Pakistan could interpret it as a signal that in a short time they’ll be able to go back to their old policy of interference in Afghan affairs.  (Yaqub was interesting to watch here…he initially avoided naming Pakistan directly, preferring to talk about ‘one of Afghanistan’s neighbors’ but he couldn’t restrain himself and tore into Pakistan directly saying that they ‘promote extremism as foreign policy’.  Not that I disagree with that.  I just thought it was interesting to watch.)

And then it kind of ended with Wolfgang saying that he knew (as fact) of at least 2 occasions when special forces had bin Laden’s coordinates (with 90% certainty) and they were given clear orders NOT to act.  He didn’t specify a time period for that and I’m unable to judge his reliability here (plus he has that Austrian accent so it’s possible I misunderstood his context or something) but that was a bit of a bombshell to drop right before serving refreshments…