Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:45 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:45 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan aims? Don't ask Holbrooke


Sam Roggeveen


This post is part of the Afghanistan debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

14 August 2009 12:22

This post is part of the Afghanistan debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Well, this is reassuring. The speaker is US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke:

Asked about how to measure success and progress in Afghanistan, Holbrooke remarked, "In the simplest sense...We'll know it when we see it."

To be fair, the NY Times reports that the National Security Adviser is working on a document setting out nine objectives for the mission, but they seem to reflect the worryingly expansive terms in which the Obama Administration now sees the Afghanistan operation: building the Afghan Army, decreasing corruption, increasing local cooperation with police and coalition forces, improving election processes. Marc Lynch takes the words out of my mouth:

...what happened between President Obama's March 27 declaration of a limited set of objectives --"I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future"  -- and the expansive goals of "armed state building" which appear to now define the mission?

According to Jim Molan, 'the solution to reducing terrorism in Afghanistan looks a lot like nation-building', though he insists this is not equivalent to rebuilding the political, economic and social institutions of the country. So what is it equivalent to? And if counter-terrorism demands nation-building, then is Jim also in favour of nation-building missions in Yemen, Somalia, the southern Phillipines and half a dozen other lawless places around the world where al Qaeda could lodge itself?

I'm assured, though, that the anti-terrorism mission is not the only reason we are in Afghanistan. Jim says 'the real reasons are related to domestic politics, alliances, self interest, humanitarian and values reasons, and geo-politics.' My colleagues Anthony Bubalo and Michael Fullilove had their own list of reasons, which I questioned here and which brought a response from blogger Jari Lindholm, who states with no supporting evidence that 'the Western presence in Afghanistan and the simultaneous diplomatic efforts have indeed reduced the chances of an atomic war between India and Pakistan'.

If anything, the Afghanistan operation may have increased the nuclear danger. The Times of India notes an American report which says that there have been three jihadi attacks on Pakistan's nuclear weapons infrastructure over the last two years. These facilities are positioned far away from Indian territory to protect them from Indian attack, but as the full report says, 'The concern...is that most of Pakistan’s nuclear sites are close to or even within areas dominated by Pakistani Taliban militants and home to al-Qa`ida.' That domination can only have increased since the Taliban and al Qaeda were driven out of Afghanistan in 2001.

It's all a reminder that the real danger (nuclear terrorism) is in Pakistan, and although there's no obvious solution anyone can offer to that country's problems, that does not excuse the fact that we are throwing so many resources at the wrong problem.

It's said that when a drunk drops his keys, he looks for them under the lamp-post, because that's where the light is better. Time to sober up.