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October 29, 2008

The Iraqistan Effect
Posted by Patrick Barry

After watching last night's Frontline on Afghanistan, I think it's safe to say that Frontline cameramen have some pretty big stones.  Stumbling around the Korengal valley, trying to catch up with a bunch of Marines while invisible Taliban raiding parties are shooting at you is frackin' intense. 

Seriously though, last night's episode is important viewing for anyone who wants a view into the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. (minor quibble=Lots of counter-insurgency people, but where are the Af-Pak experts?)  Watching mountain-top insurgents reign bullets down on cameramen and marines, it's pretty clear why people are clamoring for 20,000 troops, suggesting we need to talk with the Taliban, or proposing that we rely on Lakshars to keep the peace in Pakistan's tribal areas - things in Afghanistan are not good.

One of the most striking facets of the unfolding debate over Afghanistan, and something which the Frontline broadcast brought out, is a paradox born out of Iraq, which causes people to fixate on its lessons, while recognizing the diminished utility of those lessons in other situations.   You can see this in the way that nearly everyone who is working on this problem adamantly emphasizes the unique aspects of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategic landscape, and simultaneously accepts recommendations that could be described as Iraq-centric.   

To give an example from last night's broadcast, nearly every expert interviewed Robert Kaplan excepted) insisted that Afghanistan is a far cry from Iraq, and demands new thinking.  Steve Coll had some especially wise words:

The idea that you can walk over to Afghanistan and try to arm the tribes against Al Qaeda or against the Taliban is a fallacy. … All counterinsurgencies are born from local conditions and local challenges and local problems. You're going to have to relearn, from the ground up, in Afghanistan how to change security conditions there. …

However, when you look at the tactics that have crept into the discussion - an influx of troops, arming local tribes, separating out moderate Taliban elements, it's difficult to shake the perception that they were ripped from the Iraq player's guide.  And maybe that's ok, so long as Afghanistan strategists don't forget that while general precepts are useful, context is everything.  If not, we're headed for big trouble. 


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Frontline asks: "What are the next president's options?" Well, one option is to allow the people in the area, the ones who are the victims of the wrongful US invasion and occupation, to solve the mess that the US created, while the uS gets out.

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistani and Afghan representatives decided in a jirga (tribal council) on Tuesday to seek dialogue with the Taliban, saying the ‘door is now open’ for reconciliation.

The announcement came in the form of an Islamabad Declaration, adopted after two days of dialogue between 50 officials and elders from both sides. The jirgagai, or mini jirga, was a follow-up to a larger Peace Jirga held in Kabul in August 2007.

“We agreed that contacts should be established with the opposition in both countries, joint contacts through the jirgagai,” said former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, the leader of the Afghan side. “Those who are willing to take this opportunity and come forward, the door is open.”

Asked whether that included the Taliban and other militants, NWFP Governor Owais Ghani, who led the Pakistani delegation, said: “Yes, it includes all those who are involved in this conflict situation.” Abdullah said that the mini-jirga had advised both governments “to deny sanctuary for the terrorists and militant elements which are a threat for both countries”.

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