Wednesday, April 02, 2008

March Statistics: Spotlight on Afghanistan

March Statistics – Mainly Afghanistan

On March 23rd, the 4,000th U.S. service member was killed in Iraq. Over the following eight days, another 12 U.S. soldiers died. This brought March fatalities to 39 and the total since March 19, 2003 to 4,012 for the U.S. military in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But Iraq is not where the Bush administration’s attention is focused this week at the NATO summit. For weeks, in fact, the Vice-President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and now President Bush himself, in Bucharest for the summit, have all been pressing other NATO nations to put more troops into Afghanistan to repel a resurgent Taliban. NATO countries, especially France and Denmark, have committed to send reinforcements, Britain is considering additional deployments, but Germany has said no.

Fatalities continue to mount. In the first three months of 2008, countries allied with the U.S. have suffered 24 fatalities while the U.S. has lost 16. These raise total fatalities since October 8, 2001 to 491 for the U.S. and for the allied countries to 298. This is the first time the allied dead have so outstripped the U.S. killed.

Afghanistan will never be solved by armies in the field. Not united in modern times until 1747, Afghanistan’s incessant history of war and insurrection ought to have warned any sane government to stay. Russia, Britain, the USSR, and now the U.S. risk repeating the obvious lesson the hard way: outsiders have never, nor will they ever be able, to devise and implement a “sane” policy for Afghanistan other than “stay away.”

Unfortunately, having toppled what was in 2001 the Taliban government in retaliation for Kabul’s refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to the U.S. or to a third country for trial in connection with 9/11, the U.S. is responsible for the health and welfare of the people, for the physical safety of the population from domestic criminals or from foreign syndicates, and for the provision of services that are normally considered the responsibility of the community/state.

If these are the responsibilities “to do,” the occupying power is enjoined from altering the form of government, the relationship between the national and local governance, the legal system, and social/ethnic constituencies.

Occupying powers also are to look after the economic recovery and well-being of the population once fighting has stopped or moved on to other regions. The economic aspect, it seems to me, is the key to the riddle – if there is a key. And at this stage, whether the NATO troops are “occupying” or are in Afghanistan under UN auspices and at the invitation of Hamid Karzai, is a moot point.

Studies suggest that the most important program government can undertake in a society dependent on agriculture as a (if not the) chief occupation and possibly the main source of foreign exchange is the construction of all-weather “high speed” (relatively) road and rail networks that, either alone or in tandem, ease the transport of goods from the point of origin to “collection” centers (e.g., co-ops or the equivalent, even road/rail junctions) to processing and distribution (or re-distribution) via conduits that operate along the farm-to-market network only in reverse.

Afghanistan is complicated by the poppy crop grown to meet the demand for illegal drugs. Unable to control demand among their own publics, the “consumer” countries have demanded that the Kabul regime eradicate the poppy fields by slash and burn or by dropping herbicides. Naturally, Karzai is not pleased with either option, especially when the reconstituted Afghan army and 26, 00-plus NATO troops are beset by a resurgent Taliban insurgency that enjoys a virtual safe-haven in Pakistan.

The requirement is educational. The introduction of alternative highly subsidized cash crops suitable to the terrain and weather, starting in the more stable of the 35 provinces using greatly expanded province reconstruction teams (PRTs) balanced between native Afghan and foreign agricultural experts, Afghan social service providers, civil society and micro-economic funding sources – all no “higher” than province and preferably more local representatives. Trained full-time security forces will have to be provided in some areas, especially in the early stages of the effort when the new transportation infrastructure will be used by poppy growers and legitimate farmers.

If the subsidized legal crops can thrive well enough to provide steady income, then the government can go after the poppy crop, again pressing outward from the safer areas to the less safe. Undoubtedly, this process may require a re-re-balancing of the PRTs in the short run to discourage a return to violence as the illegal crops are found and destroyed. But by the time this stage is reached, the stakeholders who became successful in new endeavors financed by micro-loans, together with the stakeholders of larger companies that benefit from an “open road” policy made possible by the national road infrastructure, will not want a return to the old experiences of guns, drugs, criminal and state violence that are part of the opium trade. And Afghanistan’s exports would be less dependent on the success of a single substitute crop.

Should all else fail, it would probably be cheaper to give farmers money not to grow any crops on a commercial scale. Over a ten year period, this just might, if enforced, cut the drugs.

And then there is the other big concern, something only the Afghans can do: diminish significantly official corruption and bribery.


Anonymous sixpacksongs said...

Another option, given the excellent match between the poppy plant and the local environment and the difficulty of growing replacement crops that are robust, profitable, and sustainable, is to legalize the poppy cultivation and buy it up for medical use.

9:08 AM  

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