« June 2007 |
| August 2007 »
Well, Canada is doing a good job too but the Yanks are basically making things worse for ISAF. Below the BBC's Paul Wood summarises the commons defence committee's report on operations in Afghanistan. They can be summarised even further into one point - lack of resources.
Basically, in an age when deaths overseas have a direct impact on the ballot box, Afghanistan is proving the inefficacy of our NATO allies. Every military death is tragic, but the unwillingness of the other European nations to allow their troops to do the jobs they are supposed to do simply makes life more difficult and dangerous for the Brits and Canucks. There is no point deploying the military if you are not going to put them in harm's way with all the kit they need to support them.
Secondly, the reason ISAF is there is to establish security so as to create the conditions for development - and thus general happiness and well-being in Afghanistan. That's the greatest obstacle to Talibanisation, not armed action. Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude seems to be that development should be left to the NGOs. In fact there are few worse people to do the job. NGOs exist simply to fulfil narrow and often irrelevant single issues eg. introducing women's theatre groups to towns where there's no running water. What Afghanistan really needs is big money and big business with the backing of Western governments.
Do the job properly or not at all. Put the cash in, put the kit in and put the people in. And this is a defining moment for Europe. Does it really have a role in the wider world, or is it content to let the 'Stan slip back into total anarchy? It would probably take Pakistan with it, and now that the GWOT has kicked off, the existence of a revived black hole full of terror training camps would have grave consequences for Europe's own domestic security.
If the battle in Afghanistan is lost, the war will be fought in the streets of Londonistan instead.
BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Afghanistan warning decoded
1. There are too few troops on the ground to win.
If the mission is to succeed, says the committee, it will require a commitment of size and strength greater than the international community is "willing to acknowledge, let alone to make."
2. If we are not exactly losing, we are not winning either.
The committee said: "Violence is increasing and spreading to the relatively peaceful Kabul and the northern provinces."
3. Too many Afghan civilians are being killed.
The committee said: "Civilian casualties undermine support for (the Nato force) Isaf and the Afghan government and fuel the insurgency, further endangering our troops."
4. There are still not enough British helicopters to do the job.
"UK helicopter operations in Afghanistan are not sustainable at the present intensity."
5. Some of our Nato allies are leaving us in the lurch.
"The reluctance of some Nato countries to provide troops for the Isaf mission in Afghanistan is undermining Nato's credibility and also Isaf operations."
6. You can't fight the Taleban and opium at the same time.
The coalition's strategy lacks "clarity and coherence". "Uncertainty among Afghans about Isaf's role in poppy eradication puts UK forces at risk."
7. The Afghan security forces are a disappointment - some useless, some corrupt, some actually working against us.
"Police failure and corruption alienate support for the government of Afghanistan and add to grievances which fuel the insurgency." Even the Afghan army "are some way off operating independently".
8. So the exit strategy has problems, as in Iraq.
"We recommend that the government clarify its planning assumptions for the UK deployment to Afghanistan and state the likely length of the deployment beyond the summer of 2009."
9. The media war isn't going well, either.
"The Taleban is ahead in the information campaign. The government (must)...co-ordinate more effectively the presentation of Isaf's objectives and the way in which developments in Afghanistan are reported."
I think it's a little tenuous to suggest that the sole reason for Musharraf's crackdown on the Lal Masjid was the abduction of seven Chinese brothel workers. However, this author takes a close look at China's strategic relationship with Pakistan and considers how much Beijing's influence contributes to the conflict with Islamist extremism.
Foreign Policy In Focus | China, Pakistan, and Terrorism
U.S. pressure on Pakistan to clear the region of the Taliban and al-Qaeda has forced Pakistan into an ever-tighter embrace of China. Musharraf's crackdown on the Lal Masjid, a potent symbol of this strategic Sino-Pakistani alignment, also sent a blood-soaked message to religious militants that Chinese interests will remain off-limits. Musharraf is not apologetic about defending Chinese interests in Pakistan and punishing those who dared to harm them.
Authoritative figures such as Lords Inge and Ashdown have reiterated the fact that Britain is in the 'Stan for the long haul. Their foreboding does smack of the 'domino effect', but the danger in Pakistan is more real than it was in Southeast Asia back in the '60s. The battle of Las Masjid is testament to that. And if both Afghanistan and Pakistan succomb to Islamism, then the potential for a stream of trained-up bombers heading for the Piccadilly line multiplies fivefold.
The Lords are also correct to identify a double problem - NATO's lack of coordination with the US forces in country and lack of long-term development. Development can only come with security in place, goes the theory, though I wonder if anyone has ever tried promoting development and waiting for the security situation to calm down as progress is made.
Lastly, Iraq. The Brits look like pulling out of Iraq and leaving it to the Americans: the other side of the deal should be an American withdrawal from Afghanistan. That way, NATO can attempt to deal with Afghanistan - which is certainly not a hopeless case - without American impediments, and America can be left to its deserved fate in Iraq.
Generals' warning on Afghanistan | World | The Observer
Ashdown told The Observer that Afghanistan presented a graver threat than Iraq.
'The consequences of failure in Afghanistan are far greater than in Iraq,' he said. 'If we fail in Afghanistan then Pakistan goes down. The security problems for Britain would be massively multiplied. I think you could not then stop a widening regional war that would start off in warlordism but it would become essentially a war in the end between Sunni and Shia right across the Middle East.'
Update: Things just went from bad to worse. The fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked, and one could even go so far to say that the Durand Line is no real border - they are one and the same problem.
Events in Islamabad over the last few weeks have now provoked the Taliban sympathisers in Waziristan to relinquish their tenuous truce - an added headache for both Musharraf and NATO. What chance is there of a NATO intervention within Pakistan proper?
One of the most frustrating things about writing a thesis on contemporary international issues is that, once you have handed in the text, new developments occur and new information becomes available. This Economist Intelligence Unit brief on China and energy could almost have been cut and pasted from my opus magnus, but it does offer extra information. The 'energy intensity' (ie. inefficiency) element didn't occur to me; nor did the economic effects of subsidies.
One sentence is particularly prescient: "For one thing, the need to maintain political stability limits the government's ability to improve efficiency." The point is that an energy crisis will trigger political unrest, but a cut in subsidies to improve efficiency will do too.
Energy for China | Economist.com
China's energy crunch is exacerbated by the country's high energy intensity (the ratio of energy use to economic output). This is partly due to the large share of industry in the economy, but it is also because many sectors—such as steel and cement—are plagued by over-production, waste and inefficiency. China's overwhelming reliance on coal for the bulk of its energy—around 70%—also poses problems. Coal is relatively dirty, inefficient and difficult to transport, but it is by far the most abundant energy resource in China.
China's energy needs are also having geopolitical repercussions, as the country's relative paucity of domestic oil reserves prompts efforts to expand imports and secure supplies abroad. For example, energy competition is a factor in China's territorial disputes with its neighbours, particularly in the East China Sea (with Japan) and the South China Sea (with eight South-east Asian countries). Large potential reserves of oil and natural gas are at stake in these disputes. China's energy security concerns also bolster its determination to develop its naval power, and to impose its rule on Taiwan, a de facto US ally that is adjacent to the shipping lanes to northern China.
A report speculating that the possible delivery of Pakistan's long-owed F-16s is part of a geopolitical strategy on the US's part to undermine the SCO's (and therefore China and Russia's) influence. America also worries about a popular uprising against Musharraf's government - a government that it is increasingly losing the power to manipulate.
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - Pakistan heading for a crackdown
From the proceedings of the meeting of the SCO's Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) held in Bishkek on Monday in preparation of the summit on August 16, trends are available that must definitely be annoying Washington. There is no mistaking that the SCO is slouching toward Afghanistan and Pakistan with an irresistible offer of mutual engagement in terms of shared interests of regional security and stability...
For the first time, the SCO is likely to pose a challenge to the United States' monopoly of conflict resolution in Afghanistan. The CFM has taken the view that the existing pattern of involvement by the international community is restricted to specific sectoral problems in Afghanistan. It concluded that such a narrow issue-based approach on the part of the international community will not serve the purpose of stabilizing the country.
The article continues:
Plainly speaking, the SCO is unambiguously proclaiming its intention to work closely with Kabul and Islamabad - a turf that has hitherto been tacitly accepted by the regional powers as more or less the exclusive playpen of the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This runs counter to the consistent US approach based on keeping Russia out of Afghanistan, and disrupting any Russian-Chinese coordinated policies in Afghanistan.
An extremely useful summary of China's energy relations with the Middle East - if only I'd had this while I was writing my thesis. Main point to note, highlighted in italics below, is that the big three - Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq - see the main benefit of trading with China as "China is not America". Read into that what you will.
China Brief from the Jamestown Foundation
As the world’s third largest oil importer after the United States and Japan, China is projected to import 70 percent of its oil from the Middle East by 2015, according to the International Energy Agency’s forecast. For this reason, China intends to open a dialogue with OPEC countries. Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhai Jun stated, “China wants to participate in making big decisions in the world. We want to set up a mechanism to negotiate and discuss oil market issues with the OPEC countries” (Gulf News, December, 6, 2006).
There appears to be an equal amount of enthusiasm from the Middle Eastern countries to take advantage of the world’s fastest growing market. China’s presence is largely perceived as non-ideological, economically oriented and pragmatic. Furthermore, there is little concern that China’s increasing status as a world power will constitute an international threat. “Hegemony, domination, imperialism are associated with the United States and Europe. China is not seen that way,” commented Sami Baroudi, a Lebanese political scientist, “Arabs appreciate its economic might, but don’t see it as a political threat” (Reuters, November, 27, 2006).
The siege of the Lal Masjid is over, but in what looks like an increasingly critical juncture for General Musharraf, the repercussions will now begin.
In the next few days, weeks and months, the following questions may be answered. How will the 'martyrdom' of the hardliners and madrassa students who chose to remain at the mosque be perceived in Pakistan and the wider region? Will they inspire a larger movement, or only fuel the growing crisis of Talibanisation in the border regions? How will the aftermath of the siege react with existing political issues such as the sacking of the Chief Justice and the forthcoming elections?
It is also interesting to note that part of the Islamist's agenda relates to Chinese influence in Pakistan. The incidents are comparitively minor, but it appears that one of the extremists' grievances in Islamabad was a Chinese-run brothel: meanwhile, three Chinese workers were shot near Peshawar during the weekend. If this continues, Beijing may have to say a few private but stern words.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Pakistani soldiers storm mosque
Security forces began a full-scale siege of the mosque last week, not long after mosque students abducted seven Chinese workers they accused of running a brothel.
The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says the military operation is a gamble for President Pervez Musharraf who risks a backlash from supporters of those inside the mosque.
In recent days the army has redeployed thousands of troops in north-western Pakistan where pro-Taleban militants opposed to President Musharraf have been carrying out a string of attacks said to be linked to the mosque siege.
I've been thinking this for quite a while, and looks like Gordon has been too. The essential problem with the Global War on Terror (GWOT) is that it is not actually a war. 'War' implies some kind of competition for territory and resources; even the Cold War was stretching the point, being as it was an economic and ideological conflict fought for real only by proxy.
The thing is that, once you have got into the 'war' mindset, your approach to the situation is defined by it. Military commanders throughout the world are obsessed with retaining a warfighting capability - MBTs, carrier groups and suchlike that project power over national borders. But the situation we are facing now is not about national borders. Terrorists simply cannot be fought with conventional military forces. Even guerilla armies can't be beaten this way - look at Vietnam.
What the US needs to do is acknowledge that there are two ways to defeat terrorism - through both hard power and soft power. The hard power part is about eliminating those terrorists who are an immediate threat, either through small tactically-inserted special forces teams working overseas or via intelligence and policing within home territory. Wading in with tanks and Apache helicopter gunships will simply create alienation and more terrorists, something the Israelis too have yet to cotton on to. The soft power part is about tackling the warped ideologies that fuel terrorism, which in turn are inspired by disenfranchisment and economic or social deprivation.
It's the classic speak-softly-big-stick argument, but I see little evidence that force structures and governmental foreign policy apparatus are being adapted to meet the moderm world. With the military brass - not to mention the defence industry and the trade union lobbies - eager to obtain and supply hugely-expensive power projection platforms, the real need is overlooked. Yes, of course retain a warfighting capability - but realise that a small nation such as the UK is unable to fight a real war larger than a Falklands/Sierra Leone scale without US assistance. Hold on to what we need to stay militarily viable, but spend the rest on restructuring the surveillance, intelligence and development side of the equation - all of which the military could still turn its hand to and prove its usefulness.
Language and terrorism | Don't mention the GWOT | Economist.com
To speak of a “global war on terror” is over-simple. Shortened to the acronym GWOT, it conflated the military campaign against al-Qaeda and its Taliban sponsors in Afghanistan in 2001 with the war two years later to overthrow Saddam Hussein, an old foe who almost certainly had nothing to do with September 11th. That Iraq is a magnet for al-Qaeda is the result of the invasion of Iraq, not its cause. GWOT also implies, wrongly, that there exists a military solution to a problem that for a few countries (eg, Afghanistan) requires a co-ordinated nation-building effort but for most demands patient police and intelligence work. “War” should be the exception, not the focus of the effort against terrorists.
Pakistan has enough problems with Taliban and Al-Qaeda-inspired militants in its border areas. Once the fighting spreads to the cities and the urban middle classes, there really will be trouble.
This is not a massive incident, but with several dead it will undoubtedly provoke something else - maybe a protest, maybe a political move, maybe rioting. It is telling that the ceasefire was negotiated by the MMA, not the military government - which is a further indication that the Islamist parties are strengthening their foothold within the country's fragile political structure.
Add to this the controversy over the sacked judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry, and Musharraf may have a recipe for distaster. All eyes in India, the US and the rest of the world need to be on South Asia in the next days in case this blows up out of control.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Clashes erupt at Pakistan mosque
Fighting around the Lal Masjid raged throughout much of Tuesday.
Deputy interior minister Zafar Warriach told a news conference: "The deaths of nine people have been confirmed so far and more than 140 wounded."
Other reports have put the number killed higher.
Speaking to the BBC, Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani said the government was still discussing how to handle the situation.
The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan who is outside the mosque says the ceasefire was negotiated by a politician from the MMA, a coalition of Islamic parties.
The inevitable reams of analysis on the three bomb attacks in the UK once again miss the point. While there's no denying that there is a large and well-funded network known as Al-Qaeda - which is certainly still in existence notably in the Afghan-Pakistan border area, Iraq and doubtless many other countries in the Muslim world and the West - Al-Qaeda in itself is not really the threat any more.
The incompetence of the June plots indicates that the perpetrators were effectively 'freelancing' more than anything. They could well be a bunch of disparate people with a point to make about Britain's foreign policy - not even necessarily 'Islamists' as is widely assumed, though quite probably disgruntled about the fate of Muslims in the wider world. Had they been 'linked to Al-Qaeda' as the newspapers would love to report, there would have been two symptoms:
1. A greater sophistication of techniques and materiels, and a willingness to die;
2. A greater chance of detection prior to the attacks being carried out.
The truble with freelancers is that, without financial or organisational links to known terror networks, they are that much harder to detect. Intelligence needs a starting point somewhere, and one lead leads to more which lead to more. The readiness of the press and public to assume that all terrorists are somehow 'linked to Al-Qaeda' diminishes the significance of what is going on. These guys are working independently, and though this means greater incompetence it also means they are much harder to find in time.
Comment is free: Strings of terror are knotted internally
Sadly, their lack of professionalism is not necessarily heartening. We know already that the al-Qaida hard core of Osama bin Laden and the few dozen senior militants around him has been seriously degraded in recent years. Experienced, competent bomb-makers are now few and far between.
However, instead there are scores - if not hundreds - of young men who have been radicalised by al-Qaida's propaganda. Al-Qaida has traded competence and discipline for resilience and dispersion. Both are effective in their way. The threat has evolved but remains relatively constant - ie severe.