What’s Missing in Senate Report: To win ‘hearts and minds,’ the corrupt and incompetent Karzai regime must be reined in

Tasneem Jamal

Ernie Regehr

Published by the Toronto Star

Canadian military briefings on Afghanistan now routinely include the proviso that peace and stability will not come to that troubled land by military means alone. But that is a reality the new Senate report, “Canadian Troops in Afghanistan,” has not fully absorbed.

The senators, in a report by the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, do acknowledge that the mission will have to focus more on assisting Afghans and less on military conquest if there is to be “any hope that we can start being seen as a positive alternative to the Taliban.” This by now routine nod to the importance of “hearts and minds” efforts is appropriately complemented by the equally obvious and oft-repeated call to “stop Taliban infiltration” across the border with Pakistan.

What is still missing is any recognition that success will remain elusive on both counts unless current military and reconstruction efforts are accompanied by some significant political changes to the makeup and the behaviour of the government of Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

Hearts-and-minds efforts are now focused on the so-called second-tier Taliban. They are young Afghan men who fight, not because they are driven by the movement’s ideology but because they are simply part of a broad, largely Pashtun, community that is sufficiently disaffected with Kabul to be susceptible to the Taliban’s overtures.

Hence, accelerated reconstruction and access to government services in the skeptical south are regarded as key to winning over villagers who, given the incompetence, corruption, and political exclusiveness they associate with Kabul, are currently drawn to supporting any organized opposition to Kabul.

The Senate report accordingly recommends that more CIDA funds be made available to Canadian Forces to support reconstruction until such time as the security situation is stable enough to allow non-governmental organizations to operate safely and, the senators acknowledge, to do the reconstruction work more effectively.

But, to dissuade Afghan villagers from joining the Taliban military campaign, Kabul will still have to face the south’s deeply held suspicions toward the central government.

It will have to include overt steps to convince southerners that the Karzai government is, in fact, striving to be representative of and sympathetic to the needs and interests of the people of the south.

If current accelerated reconstruction efforts – for example, in the Panjwai district, where Canada is the prominent military presence – are to have the desired political impact, Kabul will have to show it is not controlled by traditional adversaries of the people of the south (i.e. that it is not dominated by the Northern Alliance at the expense of the Pashtun).

Only then will southerners be persuaded that the short-term benefits of projects by foreign soldiers will be converted into a long-term commitment to the well-being of the south.

Political credibility is not the product of a one-time event, even if that event is an election. It has to be constantly renewed through political engagement and accommodation.

If the south continues to view the regime as untrustworthy and not inclusive, loyalty will not be bought with a few projects delivered by Canadian soldiers.

In other words, a government in Kabul that earns the confidence of the people of the south is essential to producing a political culture that actively discourages defection to the armed resistance of the Taliban.

The Pakistan problem, of course, is the rest and resupply haven that is available to hard-line Taliban combatants and leaders across the border in Pakistan.

As Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay’s January visit to Pakistan attests, intensified public and quiet diplomacy are now underway to persuade Pakistan to stop the free movement of insurgents and their supplies between the two countries.

The Senate report calls for “a defensible buffer zone” on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan.

But an intensified NATO military presence will not succeed without some parallel political work. The cooperation of Pakistan is clearly necessary and that, in turn, requires demonstrating to Islamabad that a stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s best interests.

Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, Barnet Rubin makes the point that “the haven and support the Taliban receive in Pakistan are partly a response to claims Afghanistan has made against Pakistan and are also due to Islamabad’s concern about both Indian influence in Afghanistan and Afghan backing for Pashtun and Baluch nationalists” in Pakistan.

In other words, Pakistan’s full co-operation in denying the Taliban sanctuary will depend on Kabul recognizing Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns, accepting the Durand line as the boundary between the two countries, and on adopting a posture of explicit Afghan neutrality in the Pakistan-India conflict.

Strategies designed to separate the Taliban from their haven in Pakistan and from their foot soldiers in Afghanistan make a lot of sense. But both are fundamentally political rather than military challenges.

There is thus at least a twofold political agenda that will have to be pursued to give credence to the acknowledgment that peace in Afghanistan will not be won by military means alone: A political process that is inclusive and serious about building a southern Afghan stake and confidence in the government and national institutions anchored in Kabul, and a reorganization and reorientation of the central government to demonstrate that it is not hostile to the interests of Pakistan.

© 2007 Torstar Syndication Services

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