Rory Stewart: The T. E. Lawrence of Afghanistan – UPDATED

Rory Stewart: The T. E. Lawrence of Afghanistan

What would [Rory] Stewart’s version of muddling through in Afghanistan look like? While General Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan calls for more than 100,000 American troops, and Joe Biden’s bare-bones counterterrorism proposal reportedly keeps troop numbers around their current level of 68,000, Stewart believes the foreign-troop presence in Afghanistan should actually be reduced–all the way down to 20,000. Those troops would then be used exclusively to fight Al Qaeda terrorists; the Taliban would no longer be an enemy. At the same time, while Stewart’s plan envisions continued aid to Afghans to support electricity, water, health, education, and agriculture development, the United States would cease with its state-building project and essentially leave the Kabul government to its own devices.

Stewart’s plan stems from his strange mixture of pessimism and optimism. On the one hand, he argues that the Afghan central government lacks the strength or legitimacy to actually run the country, nor does he have much faith in the ability of the United States to help it on those counts. “I have some friends in Afghanistan who will say, ‘If the U.S. government is infinitely flexible, capable, superbly informed, able to deliver programs precisely in every rural area, and its soldiers are able to avoid killing anybody and can identify exactly which tribal chief at the sub-district level to deal with, everything will be fine,’” Stewart says. “To which my answer is, ‘That’s a big if, and that’s not how our bureaucracies and administrations work.'” But Stewart also believes that things in Afghanistan aren’t as precarious as some fear. “There’s a certain kind of worst-case scenario view that Afghanistan is like this horrendous nightmare and, if we don’t get in there and sort it out, we’ll have global jihad, we’ll have a completely destabilized region, terrorists will have their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, American credibility will be finished forever,” Stewart says. “And these are not really, I think, fully developed positions.”

Under a “muddling through” plan, Stewart concedes that the Taliban might take some provincial capitals in Southern Afghanistan, but he believes that the Hazara, Tajik, and Uzbek populations are stronger than they were in 1996 and, thus, would be able to keep the Taliban out of their areas. He also thinks it would take a minimal foreign military presence to prevent the Taliban from marching into Kabul. With the Taliban confined to certain parts of Afghanistan and its ability to exploit the ideology of religious resistance lessened due to the absence of a substantial foreign military presence, the rest of the country would, with substantial foreign assistance, be able to develop. Although his walk across Afghanistan led Stewart to believe that the country is, in some respects, ungovernable, it also gave him great faith in individual Afghans, on whom he depended for food, lodging, and frequently directions. (He didn’t carry a detailed map on his trek, since it might have made people think he was a British spy.) “We do consistently overestimate our own capacity and underestimate the capacity of others,” he says. “In every case, Afghans are more competent, more canny, more capable than we acknowledge, and we are less so.” [continued…]

UPDATE: Editor’s Comment — Readers who have been following the extraordinary career of Rory Stewart may be interested to hear that yesterday he took the first step in the next chapter: he was selected as the Conservative Party candidate for the English constituency of Penrith and The Border. This is a safe Conservative seat and with the Labour Party struggling in the polls, Stewart stands a good chance of not only entering Parliament after the next general election in Britain but quite likely gaining a position in the next British government. Talent is no guarantee of success in politics, but it will be interesting to see how far Stewart advances and what he might accomplish.

Taliban demand election boycott

The Taliban called on Afghans to boycott the upcoming presidential elections runoff and threatened to attack polling sites, sparking fears that thousands of voters will stay home on election day.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan urges the people of Afghanistan to not participate in the elections, and once again prove that they are true believers,” the group said in a statement emailed to the Wall Street Journal, using a name referring to the Taliban and allied groups.

“All mujahedeen are ordered to do their best to disrupt the elections and carry out attacks on enemy outposts and prevent people from going to the polling centers,” the statement continued. The group hinted that they would target election workers and voters. “If anyone, including the participants and the workers, gets harmed they have only themselves to blame, since the Islamic Emirate warned them in advance.” [continued…]

Afghan challenger considers runoff boycott

The challenger to President Hamid Karzai is considering boycotting the upcoming runoff if his demands are not met to remove the leaders of Afghanistan’s election commission who he believes are biased against him, campaign officials said Sunday.

Despite his public promises that he will participate in the Nov. 7 runoff, Abdullah Abdullah has been discussing the possibility of pulling out, an outcome that could create a new political crisis and throw the legitimacy of any new government into question. His aides argue that it would be dangerous to enter an election that might reproduce the massive fraud that discredited the vote in August.

Abdullah’s main running mate, Homayoun Shah Assefy, said that it was clear that the United States and the international community would resist such a boycott but that it might be necessary if the Independent Election Commission is not purged of its prominent Karzai supporters. [continued…]

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2 thoughts on “Rory Stewart: The T. E. Lawrence of Afghanistan – UPDATED

  1. DE Teodoru

    Mr. Stewart is a model of the brave youth old men like me can have hope in. During the Vietnam War many such brave unarmed and open-minded Mr. Stewarts roamed the combat zone to clarify what the air-conditioned “intel” guys were missing by only sampling the booze and night life of Saigon. Contrast him with the men in spacesuit-like armor we send to “secure” the Afghan population. The PBS FRONTLINE show “Obama’s War” shows us how these “kinetic” types schooled in Israeli anti-Muslim rage deal with the people they supposedly “secure.”

  2. Aditya

    I like this particular answer from Stewart, when he was asked what policy makers’ reactions were to his advice:

    “What they would like is little advice on some small bit. I mean, the analogy that one of my colleagues used recently is this: it’s as though they come to you and they say, “We’re planning to drive our car off a cliff. Do we wear a seatbelt or not?” And we say, “Don’t drive your car off the cliff.” And they say, “No, no, no. That decision’s already made. The question is should we wear our seatbelts?” And you say, “Why by all means wear a seatbelt.” And they say, “Okay, we consulted with policy expert, Rory Stewart,” et cetera.”

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