29 October 2009

Above all, be realistic

One of the things that struck me from reading Seth Jones' "In the Graveyard of Empires" was exactly how tumultuous Afghanistan's history was. I always knew it was bad--after all, the first Anglo-Afghan War left only one British survivor--but I began to grow increasingly skeptical of those who talked about Afghanistan's stable periods. Indeed, Afghanistan, when left to its own devices, has a tendency to eliminate its own leadership periodically.

A Newsweek article from two weeks ago painted a picture of Afghanistan that was perfectly stable until the Soviet invasion, but this is completely false. It was Afghanistan's instability and successive coups which prompted the Soviets to invade in the first place. The most oft-quoted period of stability occurred from the early 1930s to the early 1970s, when a number of reforms led to a democratic state, which even gave women the right to vote. Nevertheless, it was mired by corruption and economic strife (sound familiar), and ended in a coup in 1973.

If we are going to set up a government in Afghanistan, let's not pretend it will be a perfect democracy. This is not what they want, nor what they will recognize. It should simply be able to deliver justice, police its own people, provide security, and be able to provide basic services (water, food, schools, electricity). It may not even be a democracy as we know it at all. This is perhaps the best "success" we can hope for in Afghanistan.

1 comment:

Paul said...

So far as the Afghan area is concerned, it has always been a “fault line” major civilizations and, just like geophysical fault lines, it’ll always be unstable. That’s what has bothered me about the one tribe at a time approach. Actually, that’s what bothers me about this whole enterprise. What happens then?

Even if you get all of the tribes of each ethnic group to row in the same direction at the same time, what do you do next? You still don’t have a viable nation state. In order to form a viable state, you would still have to get some sizable portion of the power structures of the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Baluchi, Hazaras, Aimaqs, Nuristanis, Turkmen, Kirghiz, Pamiri and who knows who else, to set aside their history of infighting and work together toward a goal of setting up such a state. What would cause them to work together on a project such as this? And you would have to do this at the same time that Russia, Iran, China, all of the -stans, India and Pakistan are all trying to influence the outcome. Does anyone really think that we’re going to be able to do this in the next 100 years or so?