General Stan McChrystal’s Speech on Afghanistan
II. What is the Right Approach to Use in Afghanistan?
2. The Complexities of Afghanistan
a. The delicate balance of power
I arrived in Afghanistan in May 2002 and I have spent a part of every year since then involved in the effort. I have learned a tremendous amount about it and, every day, I realise how little about Afghanistan I actually understand. I discount immediately anyone who simplifies the problem or offers a solution, because they have absolutely no idea of the complexity of what we are dealing with.
In Afghanistan, things are rarely as they seem, and the outcomes of actions we take, however well‑intended, are often different from what we expect. If you pull the lever, the outcome is not what you have been programmed to think. For example, digging a well sounds quite simple. How could you do anything wrong by digging a well to give people clean water? Where you build that well, who controls that water, and what water it taps into all have tremendous implications and create great passion.
If you build a well in the wrong place in a village, you may have shifted the basis of power in that village. If you tap into underground water, you give power to the owner of that well that they did not have before, because the traditional irrigation system was community-owned. If you dig a well and contract it to one person or group over another, you make a decision that, perhaps in your ignorance, tips the balance of power, or perception thereof, in that village.
Therefore, with a completely altruistic aim of building a well, you can create divisiveness or give the impression that you, from the outside, do not understand what is going on or that you have sided with one element or another, yet all you tried to do is provide water.
b. COIN mathematics
There is another complexity that people do not understand and which the military have to learn: I call it ‘COIN mathematics’. Intelligence will normally tell us how many insurgents are operating in an area. Let us say that there are 10 in a certain area. Following a military operation, two are killed. How many insurgents are left? Traditional mathematics would say that eight would be left, but there may only be two, because six of the living eight may have said, ‘This business of insurgency is becoming dangerous so I am going to do something else.’
There are more likely to be as many as 20, because each one you killed has a brother, father, son and friends, who do not necessarily think that they were killed because they were doing something wrong. It does not matter – you killed them. Suddenly, then, there may be 20, making the calculus of military operations very different. Yet we are asking young corporals, sergeants and lieutenants to make those kinds of calculations and requiring them to understand the situation. They have to – there is no simple workaround.
It is that complex: where you build the well, what military operations to run, who you talk to. Everything that you do is part of a complex system with expected and unexpected, desired and undesired outcomes, and outcomes that you never find out about. In my experience, I have found that the best answers and approaches may be counterintuitive; i.e. the opposite of what it seems like you ought to do is what ought to be done. When I am asked what approach we should take in Afghanistan, I say ‘humility’. – Real Clear Politics: General McChrystal’s Speech on Afghanistan; MSNBC: Chris Matthews: General McChrystal v Pres Obama on Afghanistan Policy.
» Military Gospel: Reports: General McChrystal’s Speech on Afghanistan.
Balochistan Karez Irrigation Tunnel
Karez is a human-made underground channel that passively taps the groundwater, conveys it by gravity through that channel to villages at the valley floor, where it becomes their lifeblood. These structures are found all over West Asia, Central Asia, North Africa, Spain and even as far as Peru, Mexico and Japan.
Karezes are not just irrigation structures, as I found out; they are in fact the bond that holds the social, economic and cultural life of the communities. Balochistan is one place in South Asia perhaps, where if you ask somebody how much land they have, they would generally have no idea. Land is infinite in Balochistan. It is water that matters in that arid realm. People’s social station is not determined by their landholdings in Balochistan but by the size of their share of water in a karez.
Karez water is perpetually flowing and that water is divided into 24 hour cycles called Shabanas. Akarez, depending upon its size may have anywhere from 18 to 32 shabanas divided up between thekarez shareholders, with individual rights ranging from a few minutes of water right to a week of water.
But, even if one has a few minutes of water right in a karez, a shareholder (shareeq, plural shuraqa) gets to have the standing of a country gentleman in the community and gets to sit in a jirga and weigh in on collective decisions.
Karez is an incredibly equitable system between upstream and downstream users. A water user who has the first parcel of land along a karez water course, also has the last parcel of land on that channel. The one with the second parcel of land also has the second to last parcel of land and so forth. This ensures that everybody in the community has an equal stake in maintaining the entire water course, unlike in Punjab where the upstream water users invariably make out like bandits at the expense of the downstream water users.
– Dawn: Water, culture and identity in Balochistan [archive.is/I1i6i]; Cloudmind: Balochistan and some amazing photos of Balochistan [archive.is/GiLs6]
» IG: Re: Balochistan: 16-09-04_tiergartenstrasse-stanmcchrystalgardeners; 16-09-16_mcveigh-finaljihad.