Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Trendy Trends?

Michael O'Hanlon and his collaborators have their regular report at the NYT on progress in Afghanistan and Iraq and now Pakistan as well.

First, the meta-trends: the report started out as solely Iraq and then added Afghanistan a few years ago.  I think this is the first time Pakistan has been included.  The Iraq report here is very thin--only five indicators.  It used to have trends in electricity production, oil production, cell phone access and other economic/development indicators.  Now, it is pure military--US troops, Iraqi troops, and deaths.  The Pakistan indicators are all conflict-focused (troops deployed, deaths of security forces and of civilians) with GDP as the sole exception (and not GDP per capita, I think).  The Afghan indicators are  similar to the past Iraqi ones--military and civilian with more weight on the civilian.  The figures reported are from the past three Aprils, so it might be that April is a typical month or atypical, but we don't know that from these reports.

So, what are the trends?  Everything is mostly hunky-dory in Iraq: US troops down, Iraqi security forces up slightly, deaths by both are less than half of what they were last year, and civilians are at lower risk than last year although not that much lower.   While this is all good news, suggesting that Iraq is not unraveling as fast some might think (see occasional posts at ricks.foreignpolicy.com), the key dynamics are in the political realm--how will the election results shake out?  Who will be excluded?  Will the former Awakening folks become alienated and resort to arms?  What is Iran urging their allies to do?

Pakistan: The numbers suggest some progress as Pakistan Security Force deaths are down from last year and more Afghan resistance leaders are being killed or captured.  On the other hand, civilian deaths are up even though drone attacks seem to be getting more precise (95% of those killed by drones are not civilians according to whatever source used by the Brookings folks).  Because there are twice as many attacks, the number of casualties from drones may not be that much less even if they are getting more precise.  GDP seems to be growing but not that much, my guess, if the stats here do not account for population growth.  So, I'd say that these numbers from Pakistan really are not saying that much at all.  Again, the big questions are the political ones--how stable is the Pakistan government?  How much control do the civilians have over their military?  How much control does anyone have over the ISI?

How about Afghanistan?  These figures are much more positive than one might have expected.  Boots on the ground are increasing.  US, NATO, Afghan all are up with the US more than doubling its commitment with some more of the surge still to arrive.  NATO is killing fewer civilians.  The political-civilian side is making some progress with more US civilians on the ground, more officials facing corruption charges, and the polls of Afghans moving slightly in the right direction.  On the downside, both Afghan security forces and civilians are getting hit harder this year than the last two years.  The statistic that I would love to have is: are the numbers of actionable intel tips going up or down?  Are the Afghans betting on the government/NATO winning or on the Taliban?  I still think the most relevant number of the past year is this: how many times Karzai has disappointed his own people and the outsiders.

These numbers of the three arenas are more positive than we might have expected but far from any guarantee of positive trajectories except perhaps in Iraq, and that last one is pretty fragile.

No comments: