Afghanistan voices


7:28 pm - June 21st 2010

by Conor Foley    


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I have just started work on a short desk-study on Afghanistan, after a break from the country of almost two years.

Yesterday brought the British death toll there to 300, prompting a series of, not particularly insightful soul-searching articles in the media. The problem with most mainstream media reporting is that the news is entirely driven by western perceptions of the ‘problem’, which is at best simplistic and often quite crudely propagandist.

I thought that I would instead just post a few links over the next few days to recent reports produced by organisations that I have found credible and reliable in the past.

I will start with one from the International Crisis Group, published last month, which is the most sobering that I have seen it produce in the last seven years. It concludes:

For nearly a decade, the Afghan military has been promoted as the cornerstone of counterinsurgency in the country. Billed as a rare success story in a conflict with few bright spots, the Afghan armed forces will undoubtedly prove pivotal to stabilising Afghanistan. Yet nine years after the fall of the Taliban, there appears to be little agreement between the government of President Hamid Karzai and its international backers on what kind of army the country needs, how to build it or which elements of the insurgency the Afghan army should be fighting . . . . . The Afghan National Army’s (ANA) strategic role in stabilising Afghanistan should not be underestimated. History has shown that failure to build a cohesive national army has often led to the diffusion of state force among disparate actors, hastening the collapse of governments in Kabul.

Despite billions of dollars of international investment, army combat readiness has been undermined by weak recruitment and retention policies, inadequate logistics, insufficient training and equipment and inconsistent leadership. International support for the ANA must therefore be targeted not just toward increasing the quantity of troops but enhancing the quality of the fighting force. Given the slow pace of economic development and the likelihood of an eventual drawdown of Western resources, any assessment of the future shape of the army must also make fiscal as well as political sense. Although recent efforts to consolidate the training command structure under the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) are encouraging, the U.S. emphasis on rapid expansion of the army, in response to the growing insurgent threat, could strain NTM-A resources and outpace the capacity of Afghan leaders to manage an inherently unwieldy system.

These shortcomings, combined with the international community’s haphazard approach to demobilisation and reintegration (DR) has undermined the army’s professionalism and capacity to counter the insurgency. The proliferation of weaponry provided by Kabul’s international backers also feeds an illicit shadow economy, which further empowers patronage networks within the military. Kabul powerbrokers are distributing the spoils of increased NATO spending on army development among their constituents in the officer corps, fuelling ethnic and political factionalism within army ranks.

These developments are all the more problematic in light of current proposals to reintegrate and reconcile elements of the insurgency. Limited progress on dissolution of illegal armed groups and reintegration of insurgents has given Kabul wide berth to continue its time-honoured tactic of exploiting divisions to consolidate the government’s hold over power. Government-backed reintegration programs have emerged as little more than distribution of patronage by a few Afghan elites. With Taliban groups in control of large swathes of the country since around 2007, many Afghan military leaders believe that in the current climate of high instability, the time is not right for negotiating with the insurgents, and that to do so would be from a position of weakness and not strength. Most also strongly reject proposals to reintegrate the Taliban into the ANA.

Where the Afghan government might once have had limited potential to be a legitimate guarantor of a broad negotiated peace, the Karzai regime’s unrestrained pursuit of power and wealth has bankrupted its credibility. Under these conditions, reconciliation and reintegration, as currently conceived by Kabul and the U.S.-led coalition, does not represent a route to a permanent peaceful settlement of the conflict. Nor is it an exit strategy. Rather, it is an invitation for the country to descend further into the turmoil that led the Taliban to give succour to al-Qaeda and other violent extremists in the first place. The current debate on reconciliation with the Taliban also threatens to widen factionalism within the army.

I will post some more in the next few days.

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About the author
Conor Foley is a regular contributor and humanitarian aid worker who has worked for a variety of organisations including Liberty, Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He currently lives and works in Brazil and is a research fellow at the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham. His books include Combating Torture: a manual for judges and prosecutors and A Guide to Property Law in Afghanistan. Also at: Guardian CIF
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Reader comments


This is a scandal.

Where is the left in condemning a policy that has resulted in 300 working class kids being slaughtered to NO PURPOSE WHATEVER.

It is a war without any justification and without any prospect of an end game other than humiliating retreat.

We need to GET OUT NOW.

You obviously missed the story last week in the American papers about mineral deposits there.

These wars are not fought for freedom. They are fought for Anglo American corporations. If you are going to join the military you should understand you are fighting not for king and country but the international investor class, the elite. Our corporate masters.

Thanks, this is really interesting reading.

4. Conor Foley

no Sally, I didn’t miss the story

Sorry Conor, I was talking to the troll.

That was fascinating.

What’s interesting as Sally alludes to and as Tim Worstall has demonstrated at length is that there is a propaganda effort being launched to make the campaign in Afghanistan look profitable and worthwhile.

The current operation appears neither and without worthwhile change it will not become so any time soon.

Conor – if making the Afghan army fit for purpose is not going to happen, then that questions the central plank of how ISAF is judging its success right?

In which case, is there much of a case to carry on supporting this war?

@ Sally

“I was talking to the troll”

As I was the only previous poster I have to assume you are referring to me? But I don’t understand your point.

I was advocating immediate withdrawal from a pointless foreign excursion. You were implying an underhand capitalist conspiracy was at work (which you presumably want to end).

Are we not….deep breath…on the same side in this debate?

Sally, I doubt the geological investigations are that reliable: certainly would not invest my money.

Conor ,you ignore the Police. Corruption and criminality by the Police is a massive problem and a major cause or support by the Taliban.

There is the issue that non Pushtun soldiers and police officers tend not to be acceptable to the Pushtun .

How much of the problem with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan is due to Pushtun nationalism? Many of the Pakistan Army and senior Civil service are Punjabis.

Unless there is a competent and relatively corrupt free, Pushtun manned army and police units ,on both sides of the Afghanistan /Pakistan border combined with an acceptable degree of development, then I cannot see a major decline in support for the Taliban.

Charlie: it is universally agreed that the police are a disaster. It was because there had been higher hopes for the ANA that I found the ICG report interesting. I will pick up on another part of their report later today.

@8 Pagar

“Are we not….deep breath…on the same side in this debate?”

Evidently….., sadly it’s the wrong side however.

I find it rather frightening that so many people I might otherwise have much in common with, are so determined to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Is the going getting tough? Yes..? Well then, let’s just withdraw from Afghanistan now eh? Who cares if it sinks back into islamic fascism and a level of barbarism that would have made Genghis Khan wince?

Your views are as callous as they are misguided. Miltant Islam is a threat that has to be dealt with – the fact that the operational aspect of the Afghan “adventure” has been a bugger’s muddle does not mean that the best option is to walk away. Do you people have no sense, or just no conscience?


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