Neither the Manley-Harper formula that focuses on intensified efforts to militarily "clear" more parts of the country of Taliban insurgents, nor the alternative that focuses more on holding and developing (economic, governance, reliable security institutions) those parts of the country that are already cleared of the insurgency, can obviously guarantee success in Afghanistan. Neither can assure gradual and irreversible progress toward the safer future that Afghans want and need. But if our responsibility in the Canadian political debate is to identify the course of action with the better chance of success, we would do well to heed experience, which tells us that the odds do not favour the Manley-Harper formula.

Scholars who study post-WW II armed conflicts and their ultimate resolution draw some telling conclusions.[i]

Insurgencies are for the most part deeply rooted in grievance, conflicting interests, and a sense of exclusion, not in a detached or apolitical fanaticism. In other words, while ideological extremists may exploit disaffected populations, insurgencies are based on deeply held goals from which they are not easily deflected. An insurgency gains genuine staying power when it is able to draw on a large or core ethnic group for support (in this case, the Pashtun communities) and when it can access an independent income source (poppies) and safe havens (Pakistan). The Manley Panel (p. 14) seems to agree, acknowledging that "few counterinsurgencies in history have been won by foreign armies, particularly where the indigenous insurgents enjoy convenient sanctuary in a bordering country."

International military support tends to do little to improve the host government's chances of prevailing over the insurgents. Instead, such support serves primarily to prolong the war because, with external support, governments take longer to face or own up to the disturbing reality that they are not going to prevail militarily. Put another way, external support tends to delay government recognition of a hurting stalemate, but does not ultimately avoid it.

Thus, wars against insurgents tend to be long wars, especially if foreign forces are involved. And the longer such wars last the more likely it is that they will be stalemated and require a diplomatic solution. Hence, the classic objective of insurgency is durability, not military victory. By dragging out the fight—often committing heinous crimes in the process—insurgents gradually force the government under attack to recognize that it must finally negotiate with the very people it once described as lawless perpetrators of atrocities and utterly unworthy of civil discourse. Insurgents win if they don't lose; governments lose if they don't win.

By this account, the Afghan Government and its ISAF partners are losing. When combat operations manage to clear the Taliban out of certain areas of Kandahar Province, for example, neither ISAF nor the Afghan security forces have the capacity to hold those areas in ways that ensure sufficient security to undertake significant development. The Manley Panel (p. 12) puts it more delicately, but there is no escaping the point: "security generally has deteriorated in the South and East of Afghanistan, including Kandahar province where Canadian Forces are based, through 2006 and 2007." This conclusion is reinforced in much more categorical terms by a host of other studies, including a recent US study byCo-Chairs General James L. Jones (Ret.) and Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering[ii]and the reports of the Secretary-General.[iii]

The Manley Panel (p. 28) recognizes that "no insurgency—and certainly not the Afghan insurgency—can be defeated by military force alone. The Panel holds strongly that it is urgent to complete practical, significant development projects of immediate value to Afghans, while at the same time contributing to the capacity and legitimacy of Afghan government institutions." It correctly emphasizes more immediate-impact reconstruction and better coordination of the counterinsurgency effort, but refuses to acknowledge the need for political attention to the conflicts and grievances that fuel the insurgency. In the end, it turns to an intensified military effort (p. 35): "a successful counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan requires more ISAF forces." And the odds do not favor such a strategy.


[i] See, for example, the Journal of Peace Research, vol. 41, no. 3 (2004). The focus of the entire issue is the duration and termination of civil war.

[ii] "Afghan Study Group Report: Revitalizing our Efforts, Rethinking our Strategy," Center for the Study of the Presidency, January 30, 2008 (http://www.thepresidency.org/pubs/Afghan_Study_Group_final.pdf)] and the UN Secretary-General's 2007 report on Afghanistan.

[iii] UN Security Council. 2007. The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security. Report of the Secretary-General. September 21. A/62/345-S/2007/555.http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/sgrep07.htm.

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