India - International Relations
Carl von Clausewitz in Afghanistan
Salvador Raza explains the “center of gravity” of the conflict between the U.S. and insurgent terrorists. He argues that the concept created by Clausewitz is useful to identify the critical dynamics which sustain the conflict. From Washington, D.C.
The recent visit by President Hamid Karzai of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the USA managed to draw out of President Obama the commitment that the USA will continue to be engaged in the conflict of that country, in an effort which has already been dragging on for nine years (since October 2001) with an extraordinary cost of US$ 73 billion for the USA, and more than 1,620 deaths officially counted between the coalition forces and with immeasurable suffering from the Afghans.
The conflict is lodged along the frontier of the interests of nuclear security of the USA against Iran, in the facing off against the local segment of the Al-Qaeda of global terrorism, in the geopolitical stabilization of the Middle East, in the strategic Indo- Pakistani equilibrium, and in the establishment of a buffer zone in the progression of Russian and Chinese interests for Eastern Europe. The Soviets failed in the pacification of Afghanistan. The USA cannot afford the luxury of being defeated. However, all indicates that things are going not very well in the “Cemetery of Empires”, as Afghanistan is denominated in the history books!
The purpose and strategy of the USA in this conflict were clearly expressed in a presidential directive: “Disjoint, dismantle and finally defeat Al-Qaeda and prevent its return to Afghanistan or Pakistan. For this, we and our allies will enhance our forces, attacking insurgent elements and protecting vital population centers, training Afghan forces, transferring the responsibility to a competent Afghan ally and increasing our relationship with the Pakistanis”.
A pragmatic evaluation of the results reached up to now points to two alternative understandings of the why, after nine years of efforts the USA continues without an adequate response to the problem of the conflict in Afghanistan. There is an understanding that is clear to the USA, what would be the center of gravity of the reconstruction and stabilization in Afghanistan under its leadership, but that they cannot implement the actions necessary to give continuity to their purposes in that geopolitical crossroads between the capitalistic east and the tribal Islamic west. And there is another understanding that the USA cannot manage to fulfill their purpose in Afghanistan because they do not know exactly what is the center of gravity of the actions required by the strategy undertaken.
The concept of the “Center of Gravity” was initially conceived at the beginning of the XIX century by the Prussian war theoretician Carl von Clausewitz, as a nucleus of power and movement on which all the rest depended, where all the effort and energy must be concentrated to achieve victory against the enemy forces. Lent to the construction of strategic decisions, the concept is useful for identifying the critical dynamics which sustain the conflict pointing out what relationships of causalities should be attacked so that a given situation may be modified in the direction of the intended and desired equilibrium.
A nucleus of power and movement on which all the rest depended, where all the effort and energy must be concentrated to achieve victory.
For many analysts, the American challenge is in the difficulty (or impossibility, according to the theories and models of action accepted as valid and practiced by the USA in the spheres of security and development) of effectively concentrating strategic actions in the center of gravity of the conflict localized on the confluence of Islamic radicalism of the Taliban with the social-cultural structure of the Pashtu ethnics called Pashtunwali, which defines the identity of the largest tribal group in the world. This confluence creates a space of protection which offers an operational shelter and financially maintains Al-Qaeda, removing the physical limits of the political Afghan-Pakistani frontier, while the cultivation of the vast plantations of hemp, the largest in the world, maintains the functioning of the motor of the regional economy which feeds the social structure from where both the Taliban and the tribal structure derive their support and livelihood.
Afghanistan is the largest producer of heroin in the world. Russia is the largest consumer of Afghan heroin. The production chain of heroin finances the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, lodged in the transfrontier region with Pakistan, in Kandahar, to the southwest of Kabul. The Afghan economy depends totally on this productive chain. If this chain is broken, Afghanistan will plunge into an economic disaster and social convulsion, bringing the Taliban back to power and with it, safeguards for the existence of Al-Qaeda, destabilizing the region while it negatively impacts the global war against terror by the USA.
The flow of Afghan heroin is decimating Russian social patterns along the same moulds that opium destroyed China at the end of the XIX century. Russia needs to break the chain of heroin, destroying the poppy plantations. The USA needs to maintain this chain until its strategy constructs economic development alternatives. The Russians measure their need in months, the USA measures their need in years (the tribal chiefs bet on decades). The counter sense is that the USA needs to defend the poppy plantations at the base of the heroin chain in order to be successful in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, as long as this chain contributes towards the construction of the economic, social and tribal structure of Afghanistan.
In this economic, social and tribal structure, Pashtunwali defines the subordination of individual obligations to the collective expectations of mutual respect, independence, justice, hospitality, pardon and tolerance. The insurgency force resides in this code of conduct, exercising power by circles of influence which progress from the individual to the family, to the clan, the tribe, the confederation and the larger linguistic groups.
The injection of religious force into these circles of influence produces resistance to changes which are not elaborated and validated in their interior, denying the possibility of governance and centralized planning outside them. Afghanistan is defined in these spheres. Neutralizing the link between Pashtunwali and the Taliban may be the center of gravity of the conflict, wherein Al-Qaeda is lodged but also is the center of gravity of Afghanistan. The goal of disjointing, dismantling, and finally destroying Al-Qaeda may eventually destroy Afghanistan. A pyrrhic victory for the USA!
Neutralizing the link between Pashtunwali and the Taliban may be the center of gravity of the conflict, wherein Al-Qaeda is lodged.
To complicate matters, General MacCrystal, commander of the NATO-USA coalition forces in Afghanistan, has autonomy for planning and execution, communication chains and answers to different entities and very often with conflicting interests to those of the American Ambassador, Karl Eikenberry. The first, with focus on security, aligned and responsible for the objectives which justify the presence of military forces in Afghanistan; the second, with responsibilities for the political and economic management of the conflict and its transition to peace, theoretically subordinating security to the development that USAID carries out with literally hundreds of international organizations and construction companies (95% American) in Afghanistan. These companies absorb almost 95% of all the resources injected into the country, exerting tremendous influence on the allocative procedures of priorities and resources for the benefit of their own interests and goals often in dissonance with the strategic interests and often with no fiscal, operational or political control that the American government is obliged to absorb squeezed by the urgency of the actions and its incapacity (legal and operational) to act independently and autonomously.
Several countries are lodging their interests in the voids of decision and opportunities. China, for example, is expanding its participation in the mineral undertakings of the extremely rich deposits of copper and uranium in the central south region. Australia is gradually conquering enormous capacities in the areas of highway infrastructure. The Germans are winning important markets in agro industrial technology (technologically not very sophisticated) in the Northern region, along the province where it exercises supervision and control within the NATO-USA coalition.
The main demand of Afghanistan is that the resources should be always and only injected through the central government, removing the authority of the tribal leaders and mainly that the contracts should be undertaken with the greater (and much greater) participation of local companies, assuring the effective internalization of the resources into the economy of the country. The USA sees the local government as being too unprepared and corrupt for this to be conceded. President Obama was very clumsy on letting this understanding transpire during his recent visit Afghanistan.
If corruption has an important weight in the definition of the policies which guide the strategies, the strategies are conditioned on the lack of security, which impedes the execution of development programs, creating a vicious circle that the American agency especially created to help in American planning (S/CRS) has not yet been able to take care of. The report of NATO of last year (the most recent) affirms that the indices of violence continue concentrated in the same areas changing their profile. The fear is that even after all the efforts of the Coalition, and the American people (who after all are financing with their taxes the campaign in Afghanistan), the conflict does not point towards a short term solution. Instead of getting solved, it is transforming itself! Taliban insurgency is learning from its own mistakes and correcting itself more rapidly than the Americans are managing to generate and apply resources within the present strategy.
Three complex realities exist simultaneously in Afghanistan: one geopolitical, one social and economic and a third, allocative (non-distributive) of resources. The center of gravity is lodged in the intersection of these three realities. The first, which justifies the very interventionist American presence, the second which defines the program priorities and the last, which between the two first, acts as a function of correlation in the strategic equation that defines who receives which resources to do what. The concept of gravity is really useful to evaluate this type of complexity where the emerging solutions are at times counter-intuitive. As long as the USA does not resolve this equation, any solution will be defective.