Sunday, June 6, 2010

Uruzgan: Microcosm?

The NYT has an interesting piece about one of the powers that be in Uruzgan--a province in Southern Afghanistan.  Uruzgan or Oruzgan has been one of three key provinces in Regional Command South, getting less attention for its insurgents and more for the challenges ahead.  The Dutch have had the lead there, but have been scheduled to depart this year and the Aussies, who have been based there as well, refusing to take this lead position.

Well, this piece largely omits the Dutch and the Aussies, focusing on a warlord/entrepreneur who has combined private security contracting (securing the main road to Kandahar) with other business interests plus working alongside US Special Forces.  The article shows the tremendous contradictions and tradeoffs between security, governance and development.  This guy, Matiullah, is providing security for the convoys (although he may also be making his efforts more necessary either through protection racket like tactics or by encouraging the Taliban to attack to make his services necessary), but also building mosques and developing businesses.  He is independent of the government, and seems to delight in subverting its efforts to develop some competency.

And, of course, he is tied to Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Karzai's brother and the strongman running Kandahar and much of the rest of the south. 
Both Ahmed Wali Karzai and Mr. Matiullah are associates of Jan Mohammed Khan, a former governor of Oruzgan Province and Mr. Matiullah’s father-in-law. Mr. Khan was removed from Oruzgan Province at the insistence of the Dutch in 2006 because of concerns that he was close to the drug trade. He is now an adviser to President Karzai.
I have become increasingly ambivalent about the mission, and news like this is not very encouraging.  Again, the question is one of choices and tradeoffs.  There are few good options in Uruzgan or in Afghanistan in general. Walking away would reduce the direct military, economic and political costs of the effort, but civil war in Afghanistan and another great power "defeated" by religiously motivated Afghans would have ramifications.

The more and more I follow this stuff, the more and more I think it may be the case that Obama's reinforcement surge decision last fall might have been part of a larger exit strategy: "We did all we could do and it didn't work.  Building on the Afghan government is building on sand.  It is time for us to reduce our commitment."  The plan as it stands now: to build Afghan security services seems to be foundering not when it comes to the Afghan Army but the Afghan police.  This article shows that there are better jobs for those who might staff the police, so who is left to do this highly dangerous but also lucrative job?

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