Leadership: The Message In Afghanistan

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September 16, 2009: In Afghanistan, the U.S. has something of a paradox on its hands. The more American troops penetrate Pushtun areas, the more the Pushtuns will be likely to oppose the intrusion, even if they're not all that happy with the Taliban. It's what Pushtuns do. So the U.S. needs a major PR campaign to keep reminding them that America really don't want to be there and will leave as soon as the business (i.e., destroying the Taliban, Al-Qaeda) is done. So making a big deal about how the U.S. is pulling back in Iraq is likely to be of some help with the Pushtuns.

In addition, there is a need to keep reminding the Pushtuns that America is there because the Taliban and Al Qaeda (who, by the way, are foreigners too) "invaded" the U.S. and those of American allies, in the form of various suicide attacks. 

The U.S. also has to solve the problem of the drug business. Apparently Helmand province is something of a Garden of Eden for Afghanistan, the most fertile and productive agricultural region in the country. Can this be done by showing the way through promoting luxury agriculture in other, friendlier, fertile regions? There are crops like saffron and vanilla that are almost as profitable as poppies, and a lot safer. Then there is the international flower trade. Demand for these products is generally increasing, so a rise in production won't necessarily lead to a precipitous fall in global pricing.

Thus the renewed effort to improve the rural economy of Afghanistan is directed at the cash flow of the drug gangs, and the Taliban. NATO countries with forces in Afghanistan are particularly enthusiastic about this approach, which the U.S. has pioneered back in 2002, with its PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams). The Taliban has fought this effort from the start, as they see prosperous Afghans as an obstacle to their regaining control of the country.

 


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