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Thread: Patronage and the war in Afghanistan

  1. #1
    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    May 2008

    Default Patronage and the war in Afghanistan

    The idea that Afghanistan was on its way to democracy or republic
    has faded away. It has become obvious that Karzai is focusing on maintaining
    power for him and his corrupt clique, not much unlike Putin.
    A democracy without democrats or republic without republicans.

    A piece of paper with letters on it is only as powerful as much power the
    people lend to it. Its powerful if people obey the letters, and just a piece of
    cellulose if not. To call it "constitution" doesn't change this and never did,

    So what they're having in Afghanistan and Russia as well as many other
    countries is the system that's competing with democracies: No matter what
    it's officially like, in reality it's a patronage-based system.
    Students of history recall such systems from the ancient Roman Republic;
    powerful patrician patriarchs were heading an extended familia including
    many ordinary citizen, who gave followership (especially politically) in
    exchange for protection. The patriarch was their lawyer, lobbyist and
    sometimes also their bank.
    It wasn't very different in Germanic tribes, where leaders formed group of
    people following them and getting advantages (such as spoils of war) in return.

    ISAF and other Westerners were working a lot along multiple fictions in
    Afghanistan. One being the fiction of a republic. The people knew there was
    none, and it was all about patronage. The people in power extracted wealth
    (for the time being mostly from the naive foreigners and drugs) and this
    wealth did to some degree trickle down in exchange for followership. The
    way to government services was followership, not going to court or waiting
    for government turning competent AND altruistic.

    The foreigners were not meant to provide a patronage parallel to the
    government, for they were supposed to support the government, to stabilise
    it. This kept them from gaining followership they wanted; even if only
    followership for their cause. They could buy some followership temporarily,
    but they're astonishingly incompetent in followership politics. They can tell
    you a lot about elections and parties which are mere tools of the patronage
    systems, but have no clue about patronage.
    Maybe ISAF lacked enough South Italians and Greeks.
    (excerpt; the rest is of no use here)

  2. #2
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    Nov 2011

    Default Aid as a contributor to Patronage and Disorder?

    The following article could be entered into a variety of threads here based on the intense pro-and-con discussions regarding the merits of developmental aid within the context of stability operations:

    Much US aid over the last decade was spent in the middle of war, the ultimate breakdown of the rule of law. Half of the increase in aid in the seven years following Bush's announcement went to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Another fifth went to other violent, corrupt or autocratic places where "nation-building" also had little chance of succeeding, such as Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia.

    The "failed states" mandate put USAid on an untenable defensive. It tried to keep the failures secret, which only called more attention to the inevitable leaks. Human Rights Watch documented that the Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi manipulated American aid to starve supporters of the democratic opposition. A 64-mile stretch of road from Gardez to Khost in Afghanistan was shoddily constructed and is still incomplete after three years of construction. As of May 2011, the project was expected to cost $176m, two and a half times the initial budget. As with most wartime aid, much money went to security – including to a local warlord linked to the insurgents – which did not prevent 108 roadside bombs that killed 19 workers. Another 2010 report found aid flying out of Kabul in suitcases. A 2009 audit of a USAid project in Iraq found that some of the money got diverted to anti-American insurgents.

  3. #3
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    Nov 2011

    Default There are successes, the article suggests focusing on those....

    The article also discusses success stories as defined by the author, the point being that systems with slightly better governance, or more purely humanitarian aid such as medical aid, is more likely to "take" and less likely to support patronage or misuse overtly.

    If stability operations are going to be important in the future for all NATO countries then we should examine this stuff in a more intellectually rigorous fashion, IMO.

    Difficult to do, I know, because metrics are always tough to guage when we are talking about any attempts at social engineering, or steering any human activity really.

  4. #4
    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    May 2009
    Latitude 17° 5' 11N, Longitude 120° 54' 24E, altitude 1499m. Right where I want to be.


    So Afghans govern like Afghans, and the political culture didn't change because we said it should. Who could possibly have expected that?
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

  5. #5
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    Oct 2005


    Karzai’s Office Gets Bags Full Of C.I.A. Cash

    Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.

    “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”
    I guess if we can't figure anything else out, or simply lack the skill to do so, we throw more money at the problem and in the meantime we're furloughing our air traffic controllers? We spend millions on government oversight that doesn't work.

  6. #6
    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Mar 2006


    We are five--maybe six-- years down the path of a decision that we should have turned away from.

    The crazy thing about it is our failure in AFG will get mixed in with the surge, and the root cause of the poor decision-making won't be laid bare.

    It was pretty clear when Bremer et al. screwed up Iraq, and although I know in my heart and my noggin how we got it wrong in the graveyard of empires, it will be very difficult to parse out the lessons for future conflicts.

    Everyone, and I mean everyone, rates their fair share of the sh*t sandwhich, but as we draw towards 2014, it is going to be smeared all over the place.

  7. #7
    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Mar 2006


    A French guy seems to get it:

    Departing French Envoy Has Frank Words on Afghanistan

    April 27, 2013

    KABUL, Afghanistan — It is always hard to gauge what diplomats really think unless one of their cables ends up on WikiLeaks, but every once in a while, the barriers fall and a bit of truth slips into public view.

    That is especially true in Afghanistan, where diplomats painstakingly weigh every word against political goals back home.

    The positive spin from the Americans has been running especially hard the last few weeks, as Congressional committees in Washington focus on spending bills and the Obama administration, trying to secure money for a few more years here, talks up the country’s progress. The same is going on at the European Union, where the tone has been sterner than in the past, but still glosses predictions of Afghanistan’s future with upbeat words like “promise” and “potential.”

    Despite that, one of those rare truth-telling moments came at a farewell cocktail party last week hosted by the departing French ambassador to Kabul: Bernard Bajolet, who is leaving to head France’s Direction Génerale de la Sécurité Extérieure, its foreign intelligence service.

    After the white-coated staff passed the third round of hors d’oeuvres, Mr. Bajolet took the lectern and laid out a picture of how France — a country plagued by a slow economy, waning public support for the Afghan endeavor and demands from other foreign conflicts, including Syria and North Africa — looked at Afghanistan.

    While it is certainly easier for France to be a critic from the sidelines than countries whose troops are still fighting in Afghanistan, the country can claim to have done its part. It lost more troops than all but three other countries before withdrawing its last combat forces in the fall.

    The room, filled with diplomats, some senior soldiers and a number of Afghan dignitaries, went deadly quiet. When Mr. Bajolet finished, there was restrained applause — and sober expressions. One diplomat raised his eyebrows and nodded slightly; another said, “No holding back there.”

    So what did he say?

    That the Afghan project is on thin ice and that, collectively, the West was responsible for a chunk of what went wrong, though much of the rest the Afghans were responsible for. That the West had done a good job of fighting terrorism, but that most of that was done on Pakistani soil, not on the Afghan side of the border. And that without fundamental changes in how Afghanistan did business, the Afghan government, and by extension the West’s investment in it, would come to little.

    His tone was neither shrill nor reproachful. It was matter-of-fact.

    “I still cannot understand how we, the international community, and the Afghan government have managed to arrive at a situation in which everything is coming together in 2014 — elections, new president, economic transition, military transition and all this — whereas the negotiations for the peace process have not really started,” Mr. Bajolet said in his opening comments.

    He was echoing a point shared privately by other diplomats, that 2014 was likely to be “a perfect storm” of political and military upheaval coinciding with the formal close of the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan.

    As for the success of the fight on the ground, which American leaders routinely describe now as being “Afghan-led,” Mr. Bajolet sounded dubious. “We do not have enough distance to make an objective assessment,” he said, “but in any case, I think it crucial that the Afghan highest leadership take more visible and obvious ownership for their army.”

    His tone — the sober, troubled observations of a diplomat closing a chapter — could hardly have been more different from that taken by the new shift of American officials charged with making it work in Afghanistan: in particular, with that of Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the new American commanding general here. This week, General Dunford sent out a news release cheering on Afghanistan’s progress, noting some positive-leaning statistics and praising the Afghan Army’s abilities.

    “Very soon, the A.N.S.F. will be responsible for security nationwide” General Dunford said, referring to the Afghan National Security Forces. “They are steadily gaining in confidence, competence, and commitment.”

    At his farewell party, Mr. Bajolet wound up his realpolitik with a brisk analysis of what Afghanistan’s government needed to do: cut corruption, which discourages investment, deal with drugs and become fiscally self-reliant. It must increase its revenues instead of letting politicians divert them, he said.

    Several diplomats in the room could be seen nodding as he said that drugs caused “more casualties than terrorism” in Russia, Europe and the Balkans and that Western governments would be hard-put to make the case for continued spending on Afghanistan if it remains the world’s largest heroin supplier.

    The biggest contrast with the American and British line was Mr. Bajolet’s riff on sovereignty, which has become the political watchword of the moment. The Americans and the international community are giving sovereignty back to Afghanistan. Afghanistan argues frequently that it is a sovereign nation. President Hamid Karzai, in the debate over taking charge of the Bagram prison, repeatedly said that Afghanistan had a sovereign responsibility to its prisoners.

    His implicit question was, what does that really mean?

    “We should be lucid: a country that depends almost entirely on the international community for the salaries of its soldiers and policemen, for most of its investments and partly on it for its current civil expenditure, cannot be really independent.”


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