Sunday, November 16, 2008

Up where we don't belong

Counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen tells 
The New Yorker: 'We have built the Afghan police into a less well-armed, less well-trained version of the Army and launched them into operations against the insurgents. Meanwhile, nobody is doing the job of actual policing -- rule of law, keeping the population safe from all comers (including friendly fire and coalition operations), providing justice and dispute resolution, and civil and criminal law enforcement. 

'As a consequence, the Taliban have stepped into this gap; they currently run thirteen law courts across the south, and ninety-five per cent of the work of these courts is civil law, property disputes, criminal matters, water and grazing disputes, inheritances, etc. -- basic governance things that the police and judiciary ought to be doing, but instead they're out in the countryside chasing bad guys. Where governance does exist, it is seen as corrupt or exploitative, in many cases, whereas the people remember the Taliban as cruel but not as corrupt. They remember they felt safer back then. The Taliban are doing the things we ought to be doing because we are off chasing them instead of keeping our eye on the prize -- securing and governing the people in a way that meets their needs.'

Kilcullen could have said, 'The Taliban have established law and order across much of southern Afghanistan. What can we learn from their success?' ... In a war that was originally billed as being driven by moral imperative, how has it come to pass that in this 'good war' our allies are corrupt while our opponents are able to establish some system of justice? To ask such a question is not to excuse the brutality of the Taliban, but merely underline how utterly lost we have become in a country and a region we insist on trying to reshape while it still eludes our understanding.
Image of the Korengal Valley from The Boston Globe.