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Afghanistan: Lessons of the Soviet occupation

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/Afghanistan/article6971683.ece

…Nation-building alone is not enough either. The Soviets implemented a programme far more extensive than the coalition has so far. They built roads, factories, hospitals and schools and trained the Afghan elites, often by sending them to Moscow. “We got into nation-building long before we went in,” said Aushev. “Most Afghans loved us. That changed when we sent in the military because inevitably civilians get killed.”

The Soviets and the coalition made one fundamental mistake, according to the general. Both went in with a clear and limited objective but allowed themselves to get bogged down in pursuit of unattainable goals.

The Russians sent in troops to stage a coup and stabilise the situation, but then sought to Sovietise Afghan society. The coalition went in to remove Bin Laden and the Taliban, but is now trying to “democratise” the country. “In 2001 you told the world you were going in to remove a terrorist threat, not impose democracy, but now you are trying to stage western-style elections in a country where most people can’t read,” says Aushev. “You dispersed the Taliban and had some local support. That’s when you should have gone home leaving the Afghans in charge. We made the same mistake, seeking to impose our Soviet way of life, telling them they should have collective farms, pioneer camps and so on.”

The historical parallels go further. With Karmal, the Soviets backed a weak, unpopular president who rarely ventured outside Kabul for fear of assassination. A hostage in his own country, he was guarded round the clock by KGB special forces. The same, argued Aushev, is true of Hamid Karzai, the western-backed Afghan president who, shadowed by US special forces, is back in power for another five years following the country’s recent hotly-contested elections.

….By the time the Russians left Najibullah in charge they had trained an Afghan army three times the current size. But that did not save him once the Kremlin cut supplies.

In the general’s eyes no viable political solution can fail to include the Taliban, even if they insist on imposing sharia law in regions where their influence is at its strongest. “What’s wrong with that? It’s the same law used in Saudi Arabia but you are not seeking to impose democratic elections there,” said Aushev.

…in their eyes the solution to the country’s complex problems is not military — despite the urgency of strengthening the Afghan armed forces.

It must focus on an ambitious long-term programme to help develop Afghanistan’s economy to improve the lives of millions of Afghans. How? Through aid but also direct investment, to build factories and businesses that generate revenues for local communities rather than the authorities. It is a concept Butler has embraced with enthusiasm since retiring and heading CforC (Corporates for Crisis), which provides political, business and cultural advice to investors interested in emerging and frontier markets. “It’s difficult because of the cycle of violence, but I’m a huge believer in the importance of attracting investment into post-conflict zones. We are facilitating business recovery, through foreign direct investment, in Africa and it could work in Afghanistan. Regrettably, development budgets there are only a fraction of what is spent on the military.”

“Turn to a tribal leader,” hypothesised Aushev. “Tell him you want to build a local leather factory which will bring jobs. Of course he’ll provide security. Get the locals involved on all fronts. Build milk, meat factories. Surely that’s not so difficult for a coalition of 40 countries. What’s cheaper, to keep a 100,000 strong army there or build 100 new factories? Today the Afghan leadership is hiding behind your shoulders and worrying only about private matters, just like they did with us.”

by teru kuwayama at 2010-01-03 08:00:55 UTC | Bookmark | | Report spam→


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