By Mac McCallister | Published: June 16, 2010
Marc Ambinder, politics editor of The Atlantic, explains that there exists a general perception among theorists and policy planners in the Pentagon’s policy shop that General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy has failed to sustain Hamid Karzai’s government in critical areas and is therefore destined to ultimately fail.
“This is not how the war is supposed to be going. . .”
So, why isn’t the war going as planned? Maybe we should assess the counterinsurgency effort from President Karzai’s perspective and focus less on our Americo-centric point of view.
What is President Karzai’s counterinsurgency strategy?
President Karzai’s “clear-hold-build-consolidate” approach to counterinsurgency is mostly political. Politics in counterinsurgency is about the distribution of power and political strategy all about influencing the will and actions of both your allies and adversaries.
Afghanistan is a place where you fear your friends as much as you fear your enemies.
To “clear” the field of competitors in Kandahar, President Karzai installs his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai to administer the province. Ahmed Wali Karzai enters into relevant patronage relationships with local families to “hold” and control the territory. The members of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s newly established patronage network then “build” and “consolidate” control.
The Karzai administration now controls Kandahar.
If President Karzai trusts his brother to expand his patronage network in Kandahar, could this be why the local administration and Kabul are less than enthusiastic about our proposed military operations in the area?
President Karzai, through his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, is also allied with Matiullah Khan in Uruzgan province. Matiullah Khan controls the northern approaches (trade routes) into Kandahar City and staging areas into Hazara territory. His militias will eventually be integrated into the central government security forces (if history is an indication for how local strongmen are integrated into the state security apparatus).
Now, let’s take it one step further. President Karzai is also allied with Nangahar Governor and Karzai loyalist (for now) Gul Agha Sherzai. Gul Agha Sherzai continues to undermine the local poppy economy and now controls the distribution of development aid to assist in consolidating his position and power in the province. A major trade route connecting Kabul, Jalalabad and Peshawar in Pakistan is located in Nangahar province.
President Karzai is presently engaged in direct and indirect negotiations with select Taliban factions to exploit the movement’s more ambitious leaders and inherent rivalries.
I personally give President Karzai a hell of a lot more credit for how he is managing his “clear-hold-build and consolidate” strategy than his naysayers. But then all that is needed to bring peace to Afghanistan and for the Karzai government to be considered legitimate is for him to eliminate corruption, distribute basic services and to administer the rule of law equitably amongst all Afghans—just like we do in the United States. . .