Afghanistan is a mess, though the worsening situation hasn't made the top of the news lately -- at least not in this country. It has in the UK, with "The death of the first British soldier to be killed serving with the Nato deployment to southern Afghanistan ... before the final batch of troops arrived in the volatile region," reports the Telegraph, a conservative newspaper, which nonetheless takes a dim view of the current operation.
The political smokescreen about the nature of the British mission in Afghanistan that was laid to smooth the deployment has been blasted away much faster than commanders anticipated.
Last month a bloody upsurge in violence occurred as Taliban factions took on Afghan and coalition forces in the midst of the Nato deployment.
The mellifluous language of "peace-keeping" and "deep strategic manoeuvres" as opposed to fighting was belied by the robust nature of the British forces despatched to Afghanistan.
Coalition casualties have been steadily increasing since 2004, according to ICasualties.org. Some 9,000 new NATO troops are heading to southern Afghanistan to replace Americans, and the Taliban-led insurgency has stepped up the fighting. "More than 500 people, most of them suspected fighters, have been killed since mid-May in a resurgence of fighting by the Taliban, an Islamic militia that ruled most of Afghanistan until it were ousted from power in the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001," reports the Associated Press. To bolster NATO and Afghan troops, President Hamid Karzai wants to expand his options. While the AP describes his proposal as "giv[ing] weapons to local tribesmen," the Financial Times and other overseas media are calling it "rearming the warlords" and a serious mistake.
In comparison to the debacle in Iraq, Afghanistan was something we were encouraged to believe we could take to the geopolitical bank, a successful and widely supported international intervention that perceptibly improved the lives of ordinary Afghans. That comfortable image has started to crumble.
Nato is next month due to nearly double its contingent, assume unified command and move into the southern Pashtun heartland of the Taliban. But just as this decisive stage in the pacification of Afghanistan is about to go ahead, the Karzai government - as the FT reported on Saturday - is contemplating the rearming of private militias in the south to back up overstretched police and security forces.
That would be a catastrophic mistake. It would reverse the painstaking disarmament process that has sidelined some warlords, even in a milieu of booming heroin revenues. It would also underscore the powerlessness of the Kabul government, and make it look as though the foreigners had formed an alliance with the drugs traffickers - a gift to the Taliban.
Unfortunately, much of the Financial Times' coverage is behind a pay wall (if anyone out there has a subscription, please send me a better link), so I'll switch to the PakTribune, which is no more enthusiastic about the plan than the FT
"It is a complete scandal. Thugs that we have worked for years to remove from power will come back with a vengeance," said a senior western official
The level of support within the government for arming tribal groups remains unclear, however. Moqbal Zarar, interior minister, said: "I am totally against rearming militias, establishing new armed forces cannot aid security. I have not signed off on the plan."
However, two candidates already positioning themselves to lead tribal militia forces are the former governors of southern Uruzgan province and neighbouring Helmand, where British troops are deploying 2,000 extra troops to bolster security. Both men were dismissed from their posts last year after months of international pressure because of their links to the country's drugs trade.
Pres. Karzai's proposal is deja voodoo with a vengeance.
For Afghans in the south, the plan evokes the ghosts of the civil war years when the communist government recruited militias to fight the mujahideen - a strategy that failed.
"It didn't work then and it won't work now. Rearming the former militias will create a group of thieves and looters," said Habibullah Jan, a disarmed militia commander and MP for southern Kandahar.