Innovative Methods Can Thwart Afghan Warlords
12 Aug 2015
James O'Brien, a principal in The Albright Group LLC, was special presidential envoy for the Balkans in the Clinton administration.
In Afghanistan, the warlords are fighting each other again, as they have for decades. Their rivalries threaten the peace our soldiers won. Their violence could cost the lives of Americans now guarding President Hamid Karzai.
We have seen this before. In the Balkans, we also ran up against warlords. Eventually, we found tools that worked, some of them not quite what might be expected. Bosnian warlords, for example, were stealing from their own people's pensions and companies, building empires that undercut legitimate democratic authorities. After years of frustration, we hired auditors -- yes, auditors -- to combat the warlords. Eventually, international troops staged an early morning raid while an auditor, a young Texan, hurriedly gathered crucial information. When the dust cleared, the warlords were barred from leadership, and people who support democracy took their place in government.
In Afghanistan, the Bush administration isn't using the tools those of us who worked for Bill Clinton developed during years of experience in Bosnia, Timor, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and elsewhere. That may reflect this administration's public distaste for those earlier operations. If so, it is a triumph of ideology over realism. Like Afghanistan, all of those places had warlords who would drag their societies back into failure if allowed to dig in, as Somalia taught us. After years of trying to get by with less, we found four tools that work:
* Control the ground.
A large, assertive international military force can keep paramilitary bands from cutting up Afghanistan. The Bush administration has refused to authorize a large-enough multinational force or to let it go where it needs to go to confront warlords.
* Get a robust international police force.
Fifty cops at the right door can be the best answer to warlords. Soldiers have other responsibilities. The international community should have its own police, but this would take a strong international mandate. The Bush administration's preferred answer -- domestic police and courts -- won't work anytime soon, as we know from Haiti and Bosnia. The best international police around -- Spain's Guardia Civil, Italy's Carabinieri, or France's gendarmerie -- might go, but first Washington likely would have to stop angering their governments on tangential issues such as international treaties.
* Follow the money.
Warlords thrive on organized crime, theft, informal "taxes" and shady privatizations. The best remedy is an invasive international program of fact gathering, reporting requirements and strict scrutiny of moneymaking approaches. This worked in Bosnia and Kosovo, but it took international authority over elections, economic decisions and law enforcement.
* Punish those responsible for past abuses.
The people causing the most trouble now could well be the same ones who committed atrocities during war. Holding them accountable for their old crimes can deprive them of money, positions and international support. When that happens, they will weaken, and other Afghans will rise up to take their place.
In the Balkans, we made clear that war criminals could not be part of the future. Far from hurting stability, this removed from politics some of the people most likely to drag their societies into violence. The Bush administration, suspicious of international justice, offers a long-term plan to build Afghanistan's domestic courts and possibly a truth commission. Afghanistan will need both -- but only if its transition gets that far.
No matter what happens, Afghanistan faces a hard, long journey. This administration deserves credit for reversing its campaign rhetoric and deciding to stay with Afghans while they rebuild their country. But by failing to use tools developed during the 1990s, Bush officials are doing less than they must to win. As a result, we may see warlords dig in, the country slide toward chaos, and Washington lose the peace after American troops won the war.
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