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Afghanistan: The Final Curtain Call for NATO?

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Message Carlo Ungaro

Rome , August 31, 2012



As the U.S. and NATO approach the final curtain call in Afghanistan,  their doomed venture is gradually  fading out of the media. Meanwhile, however, scores of people, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are still being killed, either by Drones, by military action or by "terrorist attacks". We are invariably told that all those killed by NATO actions were "militants", or, perhaps, "suspected militants", but never "civilians", for even the term "collateral damage" is no longer being used. The fact that also a small but steady number of allied military personnel  are still dying is more or less ignored, apart from brief emotional outbursts in the  opinion of their respective native country. It is seldom pointed out that most of these deaths indicate the existence of staggering gaps in the preparation of a credible Afghan security apparatus, which ostensibly should  take over only a few months from now. Some publicity -- but rather subdued in tone -- was given to the fact that the number of U.S, dead has reached 2000, while  no body counts regarding the   enemy  seem to be available.

A small number of  commentators were quick to point out the initial  errors committed in a hastily prepared, strategically flawed and morally indefensible operation meant  essentially to impress   domestic audiences. As time went on, the sequence of strategic, political and psychological errors became  increasingly evident even to some of the traditionally "obedient" mainstream international media, while those who had the dubious  privilege of being physically close to the events could easily observe how the leaders of the operation themselves were swiftly becoming victims of their own propaganda.

As the drumbeat of wilfully misleading slogans rolled on, and words of advice were either scorned or ignored, the inevitability of disaster loomed ever closer, and yet no concrete, credible steps were taken to modify  the situation and to give -- albeit belatedly -- an aura of credibility and legitimacy  to the foreign presence on Afghan soil.

At this stage Afghanistan's future appears to be a matter of contention among three different entities, none of which offer great hope.

One the one hand, of course,  ISAF and NATO military forces are still on the scene, and in considerable numbers. There has never, however, been a coherent political agenda  for them, and now all energies  appear directed at hastening  their departure. These are the forces,  it has to be remembered, who repeatedly assured world public opinion that the enemy was "on the run".

In the course of the long occupation --  perhaps the longest in post-colonial history -- one of the most important tasks  for the NATO forces and their civilian  collaborators was to have been "reconstruction" (hence the creation of several "PRT's" or "Provincial Reconstruction Teams",  sagely distributed throughout the Afghan territory). There have been  some  modest, yet  encouraging successes on a local level, but  the formation and training of Afghan  military, police and security forces  has  had lamentable  results, and there will lie the  core of most future problems.

The Afghan Government certainly has  a vital role to fulfil, and there can be no doubt of the fact that a number of Afghans -- men and women -- have rallied in good faith to serve their country, either in Parliament or in public positions which have often put them at risk. Legitimate doubts can be expressed, however, on the  capacity, the competence or even the real political will of Afghan ruling political forces to undertake  their  difficult and potentially dangerous mission, once  the foreign military presence will no longer be there to give them protection and assistance. There is ample and justified reason to worry about the safety  of those -- particularly women - who have attempted to serve their Country, for they will be considered  as "collaborators" by future administrations.

The third actor, of course, is the "Insurgency". Who the insurgents really are, whom do they represent and  what are their real numbers are all unanswerable questions. It would be much  more encouraging if a real insurgent force could be identified, with  credible leadership from whom, even at this late stage,  specific guarantees could be asked for the future.

As things appear to stand now,  the alternatives to a renewed civil war in Afghanistan are rapidly diminishing,  and  the allied efforts should  concentrate on attempts either to prevent this outcome or to limit its  deadly results, rather than on the elimination of presumed "militant" groups in Pakistan by actions which, in the long run, can only encourage the potential destabilization of what used to be an important ally.

For years, now, it has been evident that urgent, audacious solutions should have been sought in the attempt, if not to solve, at least to alleviate the epochal problems which Afghanistan will be facing in the near future. International leaders, however, never appeared willing or capable of going beyond the repetition of well-worn shibboleths about the need to guarantee  a democratic future for the country, while still remaining anchored to the  principles  espoused in a distant  Convention on Afghanistan held in Bonn in 2001. It is probably too late now -- time is not "running out", for it has "run out" years ago -- but surely  it would  worth attempting  a new  approach, one that actually takes local realities, not all negative, indeed, sometimes encouraging, into due account.


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I am a former, now retired, senior Italian diplomatic officer. I have spent many years (over 25) in Central Asia (sixteen in Afghanistan).
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