Thursday, February 4, 2010

Possible Afghanistan Futures

Over coffee this morning, I was asked by an Oxford graduate student and current Sauve Fellow at McGill about my guesses about the future of Afghanistan.  Given that he has far more experience in Afghanistan and expertise about the place, I had no problem ruthlessly speculating.  In the course of discussion, we came up with a few scenarios:

  1. Pakistan 2000-ish.  My first guess is that the effort to build a competent national army leads to the development of only one national institution that finds itself hampered by corruption at the center.  That is, the Afghan military launches a coup, takes over and reigns in a similar way as Pakistan's did for most of the Aughts.  Its influence varies from light to heavy across the country, still focused largely on the Taliban but co-opts various elements across the country (some drug barons/warlords, but not others).  
  2. Somalia of the past twenty years.  The international community gives up, leaving behind a largely stalemated civil war that peaks and ebbs.  US sends drones/special forces when terrorist targets appear.
  3. Status quo plus a.k.a. Afghanistan of 2003.  The surge works to reverse the Taliban's momentum so that it becomes more of a nuisance than a threat.  The government of Afghanistan stumbles along without really providing that much improved governance while some development takes place.
  4. Constitutional decentralization/accommodation.  Elements of the Taliban would be brought back into government, and much of the government's authority would be pushed down to the provinces or even further below to districts.  
I can see Obama deciding in 2011 that trying to do it the right way (the current surge with pop centric warfare) still hangs on a political process that is going nowhere and that the US can leave, as it left Somalia, since staying is too costly in lives and in $$ given the budget deficit challenge.   This would lead to scenario 1 or 2.  However, I can also see the surge working to reverse the Taliban's momentum, resulting in 2003 or 2005 all over again.  That level of casualties might be sustainable--scenario 3.  Getting to scenario 4 would require some significant agreement in Kabul, which is unlikely, but would be the best outcome over the long run.

If I had to bet on one, my guess would probably be #2 as the military might not be strong enough to hold together to take power.

But your guess is as good as mine, so what do you think?

No comments: