The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
Warlord Management 101
by James Dunnigan
The Tajik faction of the Northern Alliance, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, has established a national government in Kabul. Rabbani's administration contains Pushtuns, Uzbeks and Hazaras. But the UN representative has arrived to try and talk them out of it. This is going to be difficult. Among the Afghans, words like "pride" and "honor" mean a lot - a whole lot. The UN and the United States want a democratic government in Afghanistan, but this may be an impossible dream for the moment.
Working with the Northern Alliance is another matter, and it provides many opportunities to bring Afghanistan into the 21st century. It's understood that Afghanistan needs, and will get, a lot of foreign aid. But that aid can be delivered in a way that does further entrench the feudal political structure.
One mustn't forget that just about every adult male in Afghanistan has a weapon. Millions of AK-47s were sent to Afghanistan during the 1980s. Added to this are the modern weapons (including more than a few century-old Lee-Enfield bolt action rifles) the Afghans have obtained throughout the 20th century. There are currently nearly 200,000 armed men, commanded by 500 or so tribal chieftains (or "warlords"). Many of these guys have major league egos and are easily aroused if they are being dissed, being lectured to, or patronized by, foreigners. "Death before dishonor" is not an empty phrase in Afghanistan.
But money talks quite loudly in the mountain valleys. You become a warlord not just because you are the smartest and toughest Afghan in the neighborhood, but because you can take care of your people. This often involves stealing from neighbors (looting is something of a national sport). But if Americans handed out "gifts" of money to the warlords, they would have less reason to loot. And these payments would have to be clearly marked as gifts, or payment for real services, lest honor be tarnished.
Sending humanitarian and economic aid to Afghanistan is tricky. Corruption (as we define it) is rampant and considered perfectly normal behavior. There are ways around this. Non-governmental organizations, facing corruption worldwide, have long realized the importance of personally delivering aid to the people who need it. The local big shots will often protest, but the NGOs have found that saying, "do it my way or no way" works. The local officials know they can take some credit for the aid, and if their people are better off, so are the local leaders. In Afghanistan this technique can be extended. American engineers and accountants can supervise construction projects. The warlords can still steal from the workers, but remember all the guys over there have guns. You can keep the warlords happy by hiring them to provide security, to prevent other warlords from stealing the payroll or construction materials.
You can also offer to train and pay (directly) a national police force. Afghans would still run the police force, but as long as the cops receive their pay directly from American paymasters, it would be more difficult for police chiefs to make off with a large chunk of the payroll. You can also afford to pay the cops enough (a lot by local standards) that they would have less incentive to be corrupt themselves.
Other forms of economic aid can be run the same way. Most Afghans keep livestock, and a lot of these animals died in the recent three-year drought. The United States can buy new livestock in the region and have American agricultural agents personally deliver the animals to the tribes that need it. Of course, a local warlord would be hired to protect the animals as they are moved to their destination.
Afghan-Americans can also be hired to help out. Most of these people were born in Afghanistan, but they understand these crazy (by Afghan standards) American techniques and can go a long way towards bridging the cultural gaps. This would be particularly useful for a program of "micro-loans" (lending small amounts of money, especially to women, to start small businesses). Setting up schools, road building and even a large program like a railroad, will all work only if the money is not siphoned off by corrupt local officials. The warlords have to get their share, but you have to prevent these guys from taking so much that the relief projects fail.
Getting aid to the people will change Afghanistan more than a lot of jawboning by UN and American diplomats. The Afghans don't want peacekeepers; they don't want to be lectured to by foreigners. But if the Afghan people are prosperous and educated, democracy will come, as it usually does. The alternative is a lot of wasted effort and an Afghanistan ripe for another round of chaos and civil war.
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