Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How to Win in Afghanistan, Food Crisis Edition

Whooee! Well friends an' foes, there's a bigass discussion raging over at StageLeft. It's all about Afghanistan and there are over 75 comments there. It makes for good readin' and good boogin'. There are thoughtful and considered comments coming in from all sides. There's also a bit of namecallin' and juvenile quips that have been effectively thwarted by the master debaters SL and Balbulican. It's well worth the read.

Like usual, I'm a lazyass and I'm recycling a comment I left over there concerning what we should do. Commenter Brent used the typically American phrase, "cut and run" and he threw out a challenge.

If you can suggest a way to resolve this conflict short of giving up, I’d love to hear it (so would the government).

Since there's no problem too large for know-it-all JimBobby's massive intellect, I decided to reply and I'm copyin' that reply here. BTW, I'm not so sure the government would love to hear my solution. They've wrapped themselves in a cloak of false patriotism and don't want any solution that doesn't involve increasing military spending under the guise of rebuilding the Canadian Forces.

We cannot win the war without winning hearts and minds. Afghans have slipped deeper into poverty, desperation and hunger during the course of the occupation. We are spending billions on war materiel and scant millions on aid. Thanks to our benign acceptance of Karzai’s corruption, much of the aid money we have sent has been siphoned off for governors’ mansions and out-and-out graft.

Every friendly fire death, every poorly targeted NATO airstrike has helped the Taliban recruit new fighters. Pure financial desperation and hunger have driven fighters to the Taliban where they are paid $14 a day compared to the $4 a day paid by the ANA and ANP.

Take a look at who we’re fighting for. Karzai has personally appointed the provincial governors. His talent pool has been the Northern Alliance warlords. Under our occupation, the country became officially established as The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The new constitution enshrines Sharia Law. Oipium harvests fuel both sides of the civil war that was raging prior to 9/11. Karzai admits to holding secret talks with the Taliban for several years and has publicly said that he would welcome Taliban inclusion in his government.

Cut and run (such an American phrase) or continue to support a corrupt regime that cannot even be trusted with its own police payroll? Cut and run or continue to prop up a regime that issues the death penalty for conversion from Islam to Christianity? Cut and run or continue supporting an Afghan senate that upholds the death penalty for “humiliating Islam” by questioning the treatment of women?

Alexander the Great cut and ran. The British cut and ran. The Russians cut and ran.

Afghans are suffering due to the worldwide food crisis. If we want to make lemonade, we can capitalize on that situation. By mounting a massive food distribution campaign, we can win hearts and minds. Desperate Afghans are selling their daughters for food money. They’re taking up arms in order to feed their families. If we divert a fraction of the money we’re spending on offensive seek and destroy missions to food aid, we will win hearts and minds. If we continue to support the corrupt Karzai regime and spend all of our time and money on shooting and killing and trying to achieve a military victory, we ensure failure.

I expect to hear the old refrain, “Without security, there can be no aid.” Hogwash. We can safely drop bags of grain and flour just as easily as we can drop bombs and shells. We can set up secure food distribution centres that would be welcomed and protected by the hungry locals. We can insist on oversight of the Afghan government that we helped install. We can keep track of the prisoners we hand over to ensure they don’t bribe their way back to the Taliban ranks. We can establish a market for legal, medicinal opium production. We can provide seed and fertilizer to help farmers move from opium to food crops.

The Manley Report calculates that Canada spent $6.1 billion on its military effort in the central Asian country between fiscal 2000-01 and 2006-07. The total financial aid between 2001-02 and 2006-07 was $741 million. Up to 90% of that $741 million is known to have been diverted to corrupt government officials.

There are about 2,500 military personnel deployed in Afghanistan. In comparison, there are 47 civilian government employees assigned to the country: at the embassy in Kabul, at Kandahar Airfield and in the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) office in Kandahar City. Of the 335 PRT team members, 315 are military personnel.

We’ve put nearly all of our eggs in the military basket and we cannot hope to win hearts and minds with that sort of lopsided approach. Again, if we don’t win hearts and minds, we will not win.



Anonymous said...

It becomes more urgent that we start focusing on Afghanistan's agriculture, as the weeks pass. Let's get our Canadian Wheat Board working over there for Opium and Pot, post haste!

Some people may laugh off that idea, but I think when bombs and guns fail, diplomacy and bureaucracy is all that is left.

JimBobby said...

Dang right, Sasky. Afstan ain't the only place where more focusing on agriculture is needed. The food crisis is partly due to World Bank and IMF policies that encouraged (or forced) poor countries to abandon subsistence farming in favour of export crops. In Kenya, for example, they switched to growing flowers for the European market. as long as fuel prices made transportation relatively economical, Kenya could export flowers and import food. When transportation costs went through the roof, the Yerpeans quit buyin' Kenyan roses and the Kenyans no longer could afford food.

If western economies pumped a small fraction of what we spend on military folly into seeds and fertilizer, we could head off an impending global security nightmare.

Thankee fer commentin'.


Anonymous said...

Our government blew this for us, and Afghanistan, when it decided to change the focus of our mission from reconstruction and construction to active combat.

We're good at making friends and helping to rebuild infrastructure and that's where we should be.

Our reputation, our credibility, and our mission in Afghanistan in general are being compromised because Harper wants to be a bigger player on the world military stage and that sucks the big one - for us, and for the people of Afghanistan.