Fixing the unfixable

As relieved American troops happily troop out of Iraq after about long years of occupation of the country the other group of American soldiers stay fixed in Afghanistan preparing for their honorable exit.

Why? They have a job to finish. They want to fix something that appears quite ‘unfixable’. They feel that the local Afghan national army is not yet trained to fight battles and protect themselves and their Government from the hungry clutches of the Taliban.

Well, what might that involve and how many more years would that take?

It would involve, as they say, some well meant rigorous training in the use of arms and honing of skills involved in modern warfare that would take another desperately four long years, if done sincerely. They believe that once this is done they can then leave the country in safe hands.

So a lot of resources are now being diverted to the army. The number of foreign trainers has been doubled to improve the instructor to pupil ratio from a poor 1 to 80 or 1 to 466 to something more respectable. There is also a hike in salary of local soldiers from a measly $ 120 to a handsome amount of $ 165. The local soldiers would now appear in neat bandoleers rather than Rambo style local dresses. That would make them look smarter but would also help Taliban troops to rat them out more easily in the rough and hostile desert terrains. Recruitment is up. The goal is to ramp up the present strength from 134, 000 strong to 171, 600 by October 2011. Quality over Quantity is the motto. However, improving quality and standarization would increase the cost of maintaining and running this well trained outfit from the present level to $ 6 billion a year. This year alone the ambitious training plans bled $ 11 billion from this poor country. How on earth Afghanistan would pay for all this — through internal taxes or foreign loans? Afghanistan can ill afford this expense through taxes so they would have to reach out and take loans from outsiders and always worry about repaying it back over years. However, this supposedly still makes economic sense to Americans since this would in the long run turn out to be cheaper than paying for foreign troops, where each American soldier cost $ 1 million to sustain in Afghanistan. It would also help fuel the military market of the US.

This represents a classic case of hard system thinking. There is an objective and the objective has to be fulfilled at any cost and done well too. Never mind why we want to do it in the first place. We don’t question the underlying assumptions and therefore the plans.

The question is why is all these needed? Is it to civilize the natives? Or is it to bring back democracy in the country that lost it many years back? Or is it have a hold over a strategic military position between Iran, Russia and Pakistan? Or is to divide and rule the Muslim world? Or is it simply to lay a proper claim over the largest deposit of thorium that lies untapped under the soil of Afghanistan? Or is it to create a virtual monopoly in the military market, a source of high on going revenue for country desperate to cling to its standard of living which some say has gone down by 20% in the last 2 years?

No one seems to know for sure. The problem is that such objectives are never spelled out clearly. The public face is always more gentle and nobler than what it really is.

All this happens because public memory is usually short. None seem to realize that Afghanistan is possibly the only country in the world that could not be humbled and made to taste defeat by any of the world’s military power in its entire history. The British failed and retreated. The Russians failed and fled. And now it is the turn of the Americans. They have realized this after trying hard enough but are now putting up a brave public face in the face of clear defeat.

This proves that no system, including social systems, can be changed from the outside however good the intention might be. All changes of any significance are to be done from the inside by insiders with the available skill, knowledge and resources. Interference of any sort with well meant foreign helpers rushing in never help. Strange that this principle holds true even for one’s personal development.

So, what is the need of such wide scale military training to local Afghan men who have remained invincible for the last 300 years? They know how to defend themselves and they know how to fight and fight well. These local boys know how to train and fire sophisticated weapons whether it is American or Russian. Both parties have been supplying them such arms for about half a century most of which were given free. What remains is the classical ethnic fight between the Mujahideen and the Taliban that has been raging on for years each tenaciously clinging onto their side of their territory, their beliefs and their stories.

Why not let Afghans sort out their own fate? People anywhere are not foolish to accept anything that is thrown at them. They never have nor will they.

We simply have to be patient for the natural emergence to take place where the people would decide what is good or bad for them. One can, if one likes, certainly help if asked for but never become a helper fighting their ‘battles’ to decide their collective fate shoulder to shoulder.

One simply can’t fix the ‘unfixable’ from the outside.

But is anyone listening?


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