Astri Sukhre describes how and why the US led international project in Afghanistan is in the trouble that it is. This helps with getting the picture right, for only then can prescriptions be examined for their worth. Currently, the US is engaged in getting the Taliban into a dialogue. It is simultaneously negotiating with the Afghan Government to-wards establishing a permanent US strategic presence in Afghanistan. It would be difficult to reconcile the latter with the former. This is likely to continue the series of US missteps in Afghanistan since 9/11, comprehensively critiqued by Sukhre in her book under review. It is not so much for her description of the past decade, but for the implications for the coming one that the book is important.
The book is on how not to do peace- building or nation-state making. Not that the US was interested in undertaking this at the outset, given the distaste of the Bush-Rums-feld combine for employing the US military on nation-building tasks. However, if that was not their intent, then it can be said that they should have let the otherwise distasteful regimes stay in place, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than have reduced the two states to rubble by concerted, and vindictive, military action. If it was unable to reconstruct it should instead have chosen a political and policing approach post 9/11. Since the US chose the military route, it cannot be absolved for misapplying the ‘light foot-print’.
Outsourcing the work of rehabilitation of a state at war for two decades prior to Operation Enduring Freedom to the UN, even as military action continued under the aegis of the NATO in an out-of-area operation, was equally self-delusive. No less than a Marshall Plan was warranted, along with a peace keeping mission. However, with the Taliban kept out of the Bonn Conference, peace making was ruled out at the very outset, leaving peace enforcement by the ISAF as the only possibility. The outcome has been evident in the tension between security and reconstruction, unsparingly brought out by Sukhre.
The superpower’s self-image, and hubris of its neoconservative minders, along with the need to keep Afghanistan from becoming the ‘graveyard’ of the NATO, kept the military template operational till Obama belatedly applied a course correction in the form of a ‘surge’. Even in this the military surge proved more consequential than the ...
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