The US has a plan so cunning it would put a particularly cunning weasel to shame. They’re suggesting arming tribal militias in Afghanistan to fight off the Taliban. It worked in Iraq so why not here. Both countries are in Africa so should be pretty similar. Doing this will allow the Marines to put their feet up for a while, empower local villagers, and defeat the bad guys all in one foul swoop.
This cunning plan has been around for a while, and seemed to have been knocked on the head last year. But then it popped up again on the BBC World Service this morning, causing me to splutter porridge all across the table. Seems they’ve just changed it slightly from ‘tribal militias’ to ‘village militias’.
What the Afghanistan government thinks of this plan is by the by (which gives me the sudden image of America as the world’s Baldrick, with no Blackadder to keep him in check). America wants to have a trial run in Wardak province, arming groups of disaffected young men to defend themselves and their local warlords. I was in Wardak province for a few days last month so can obviously now speak with authority about the local socio-economic and political situation, providing great insight into the affairs of this troubled tribal terror-ridden territory. I may choose not to, but I could if I so wished.
Arm them, you say? After all those millions of dollars spent by the UN trying to disarm them? Well it will keep the UN busy I guess. I try and only be rude about one group at a time, but really has the UN been that successful? I always had the impression that those tribal chaps were quite well armed already. Admittedly the Stinger missiles the US gave them last time round may not work so well these days, but then the Taliban aren’t flying about in helicopters yet.
You can never have enough guns I suppose. But then a lot of chaps are managing to re-arm themselves perfectly well without the aid of the US (maybe the National Rifle Association can hold a fundraising tea party or donate some of their cast offs? ‘This rocket was brought to you by the American People’). Since the conflict between Kuchis and Hazaras last summer, word on the street in Wardak is that both parties are stocking up on weaponry in preparation for next season’s shooting season.
But then the US isn’t talking about Kuchis or Hazaras are they. No, they are talking about the well known, clearly defined, homogenous groups of ‘tribes’ and ‘villagers’. Who are no doubt all lovely and entirely trustworthy, but maybe just possibly won’t do exactly as those bloody foreigners ask them, just potentially having a few ideas of their own.
You can rent an Afghan but you can’t buy him. You can sell him a missile but he might default on his loans. You can give him a gun and he can shoot for a day, but teach him how to fish and he can run rings around any bloody idiot forever more. Or something like that, I may be mixing up my whatsits.
[If my cutting academic analysis of this plan hasn’t convinced you it might all end in tears, go have a look-see at Ghosts of Alex and Registan. And proof that I wasn’t dreaming it this morning from the FT.]