Assessing the Afghan-Pakistani Conflict
November 30, 2007
The Afghan conflict is not a forgotten war, but it has received far less attention than the conflict in Iraq, at least in terms of measures of progress and of the effectiveness of US, NATO, and allied military and aid efforts. The attached briefing is one of two briefings highlights the critical problems in US government, allied government, NATO, Afghan compact, and UN reporting.
The second briefing provides detailed graphs, maps, and data points on the course of the fighting and aid efforts. This briefing too, however, provides a status report on many key developments in the war, as reported in US government, Canadian government, UN, and JCMB reporting. The broad impact of such reporting is that the Afghan government and NATO/ISAF seem to be winning the tactical battle, but may be losing the strategic battle for hearts and minds and the control of political and economic space.
The Lack of Meaningful and Honest Reporting by Governments and International Organizations
One of the striking aspects of this report, however, is the sheer lack of useful or meaningful unclassified reporting by the US and other governments, NATO/ISAF, JCMB, and the UN. While the US domestic political debate over the Iraq War has gradually forced the US government to provide useful metrics in terms of progress in the fighting, the nature of violence and civil conflict, the impact of aid to governance, the local economy, and local forces, similar reporting does not exist on Afghanistan.
As the attached report makes all too clear, many key issues and developments are ignored, and a large percentage of unclassified reporting lacks credibility or is deliberately misleading propaganda. No government or international body discussed in this report emerges as trustworthy in terms of its integrity or willingness to honestly address the progress of the war, key aspects of the aid effort, the competence of the Afghan government and Afghan forces, or the level of time, effort, and patience necessary to win.
The Problems in Providing Meaningful Reporting on Only Part of the War
The report makes specific suggestions as to how to provide adequate reporting, and the kind of measures of effectiveness that would be useful. It does, however, focus on the fighting in Afghanistan and not on the broader and more important issue of how to address the fact that the Afghan conflict is really an Afghan-Pakistan conflict that is so intimately linked to Al Qa’ida’s core operations that it cannot be separated from the war on terrorism. One of the most critical, and perhaps fatal, flaws in unclassified governmental, UN, JCMB, and NATO/ISAF reporting on the war is that it focuses on part of the conflict, not the entire struggle, and often effectively pretends that Pakistan and Al Qa’ida do not exist.
The Special Problems in Aid Reporting
It is also clear that the aid effort presents even more reporting problems in this war than in the war in Iraq. Far too much of the reporting on aid efforts lack any meaningful measures of effectiveness or credibility in terms of validated analysis of how money is actually spent and what it actually accomplishes. Money allocated is often used as a measure of effectiveness or merit with no credible reporting on how the money is spent or what it actually buys.
Aid activity is seen as successful if it accomplishes anything without regard to effectiveness, the requirements to be met, or sustained impact over time. Most aid reporting is highly optimistic at best, and decoupled from the reality that Afghanistan is at war, is fighting on an ethnic level, and has a weak and corrupt central government. This decoupling of aid reporting from the impact of aid on the war ignore the fact that any sustained progress requires dollars and bullets to be used to win before any longer term effort can hope to succeed.
Reporting on aid has four other serious problems:
• One is the fact that the counternarcotics program has so far done far more to aid the Taliban than affect the flow of narcotics, and far too much of the aid analysis ignores the real world problems of corruption, coverage, and incompetence in dealing with eradication and alternative crops.
• Another is the focus on central government activity and nation-wide programs rather than by region, ethnic group, etc. The level of resolution is often so broad that the reporting has no practical value.
• A third is the lack of public opinion polling or realistic survey data to measure how Afghans see to impact of aid – nationally, regionally, or by conflict area. Like governance, and security developments, little official effort is made to realistically or objectively measure and analyze Afghan perceptions and understand the “hearts and minds” that governments and international organizations are attempting to influence.
• Finally, a large amount of aid reporting assumes that Western values are universal and can be implemented or imposed in Afghanistan at the same time combat is taking place, or far more quickly than many elements of Afghan society can accept.
The Lack of Credible Timelines, Long Term Plans, and Commitments
The attached report touches upon the need for credible time lines, patience, and long-term resource requirements. In broad terms, however, one of the critical problems is official reporting on Afghanistan that is shaped by the lack of honest and detailed plans, setting goals that are too ambitions in scope and deadline, and systematically ignore the resource commitments over time that are necessary to succeed. No system of reporting on governmental and international efforts that pretend that 5-10 years of action can be accomplished in 1-2 years can be useful or credible.
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