Feast or Famine

There are many different problems in Afghanistan. It can be difficult to discern any kind of purpose when one reads deeply into what happens there. This short piece by a NavyLive blogger, lieutenant Sarah Higgins, (via USFOR A (US Forces, Afghanistan)) shows very clearly how difficult it is for Outsiders in Afghanistan, let alone those of us not fortunate enough to be able to be out there.

(As an aside: I say ‘fortunate’ in the most humble of senses, not to imply envy of those who are forced to live there, but a respectful humility. I would consider it a great honour, not to mention a privilege and a learning experience, to be able to visit Afghanistan.)

Lieutenant Higgins’ task in Afghanistan is “to advise officers in the Afghan National Security Forces. I basically spend my days coordinating, guiding, explaining and pleading. I don’t actually ‘do’ anything.”

I think that this notion of not really doing anything is an important part of the development process. The NATO forces that are in Afghanistan are going to be there for a long time. Perhaps they won’t be there in such large numbers. NATO can neither afford this kind of financial and physical commitment, nor will this lead ultimately to a state of affairs that is tenable.

Higgins also highlights something that it a key factor in my general thinking about Afghanistan. “Each task is accomplished in baby steps. It would be so easy for me to take over and get the job done. But that isn’t my mission. I need to ensure my Afghan counterparts can do the job after I leave. After we are gone. When only Afghans are here.”

It is vital that we establish the Afghan security forces as independent entities. They must be self-policing, self-governing and self-sufficient.

It is important, as Higgins finishes this piece, to remain patient. What we are trying to achieve in Afghanistan took arguably 150 years in Western Europe and America. The wholesale emancipation of women; massive liberalization of cultural interactions; wider, faster, unprecedented spread and change of ideas. All of these things took time, and a lot of people wringing their hands and portending the end of society and harking back to the “good old days,” but we, in the West, are where we are now, and Afghanistan is where it is. We want to bring it up to our ‘standards’. At the very least, we want to help it integrate into the global economy, especially considering how rich it is in natural resources (oil and iron ore.

I should read Great Powers, I think.


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