Friday, January 7, 2011

Plan B for Bad

I don't have to spend much time blasting Robert Blackwill's Plan B for AfghanistanGeneral (ret) Barno does it for me in a Tom Ricks column.  Blackwill calls for partition of Afghanistan, giving the Pashtuns/Taliban the South and East while allowing the government of Afghanistan to hold on to the rest, more or less.  Partition has heaps of problems, as the literature well documents, but also seems to be the simple solution espoused by folks who apparently don't think about the politics or the consequences.  Otherwise, partition is pretty cool, right?

Giving the Pashtuns a starting point for a greater Pashtunistan would be upsetting to the Pakistanis for one thing.  Second, there are plenty of folks in these areas that are not Pashtuns--what happens to them?  Partition advocates always seem to think population movements are easy or forget about minorities as they are so inconvenient.  Who would want this?  What problems does it solve?  Blackwill seems to argue in a Rummy-esque manner that we could retreat and then come back if necessary.  Remember, Rummy pretty much said that we didn't have to fix Afghanistan as we could always come back again and again to break it.

We are seeing heaps of plans for Afghanistan these days.  While I am no expert on Afghanistan (although I play one on TV), the things to ask of each plan are:
  1. The Underwear Gnome Problem: How do you get from step A to step C?  If the plan is entirely unattractive to one or more of the key players involved, how do you get these folks to agree to it?
  2. Don't forget the neighbors.  This might be a collorary to the first rule since Pakistan is clearly a key player. Even if we do not want to give Pakistan a veto over any deal, it is clear that we need to figure out a future that deals with the reality of Pakistan.  This is one of the rare assessments that builds the neighbors in.
  3. Can you sell the plan at home to countries that have paid significant costs?  "We fought for this?" would be the refrain one should expect to hear.  The key concern is what is the answer to that criticism?
  4. What happens to the guys who have the guns after the agreement?
  5. How is the deal self-reinforcing? Or if only kept credible by outside guarantees, how credible are those?
  6. No deal will involve all elements of the opposition.  And many deals will create new bases of opposition (the former Northern Alliance).  So, the proposed plan will have to be clear-eyed about who is in, who is out, and who is going to be violently opposed to the deal. 
The funny thing is that even a good piece that assesses the current state of affairs quickly becomes entirely too idealistic very quickly.  Ahmed Rashid has an excellent piece in the New York Review of Books, but once he gets to the steps to peace, it unravels quickly.  Here is step 6:
"India and Pakistan enter into secret talks between their intelligence agencies in order to make their presence in Afghanistan more transparent to the other and end their rivalries. Later the two governments come to agreements that would allow each one to tolerate the other’s embassies, consulates, rebuilding activities, and trade interests in Afghanistan. Both pledge not to seek a military presence in Afghanistan or to use Afghan soil to undermine the other."
In what world does this happen?  Violates my number 1 rule.  Any takers?

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