On the furthest edge of the extreme periphery of world events…
Purely by several acts of fate (mostly connected to events in Washington, New York and a field in Pennsylvania), in late 2001, I found myself invited, at short notice, to study the subject of Afghanistan. Like many Western government analysts of that period, I had a generic Eastern Europe/Balkans/Kosovo background. I remember in those early days of 2002, at NATO headquarters, having given one of my first, and very tentative, briefings on Afghanistan, being greeted afterwards by a veteran US Balkans analyst: “So Tim, there is life after Bosnia?”.
I have to declare my hand immediately and say that my level of understanding of Afghanistan, although probably above average, is still challenged by the layers of complexity. Although ten years is a long chunk of anyone’s career (or time on earth, for that matter) to devote to a subject, I still struggle to understand how anyone can really start to get to grips with the complexities of Afghanistan in anything less than 100 years. If I ever get round to writing a paper entitled: “Afghanistan: why so hard to fix?”, I will try to consider the idea that, in late 01/early 02, at the time when having a good understanding of the complex layers of Afghanistan was at a premium as the international community decided strategy and took far-reaching decisions, there were not many Afghan analysts around.* And even fewer who knew what they were talking about. I can claim to have been in the former group but not the latter.
Progress made, but challenges remain**
I have chosen the title of this blog to try and reflect some of the dilemmas and frustrations of studying and analysing Afghanistan. Most of these issues will have application to study of any past, present and future international crisis, conflict, civil war or insurgency. Unhelpful use of hindsight – the perception of the nature of an event after it has happened, according to one definition – seems to crop on more than its fair share of occasions in the context of Afghanistan, amongst governments, the militaries, academics, the wider international community, Afghans and, of course, myself. I will do my best to avoid excessive or inappropriate use here, even though I have always known that we should have been talking to the Taliban right from the first Bonn Conference. The aim with the blog is to try and give some thoughts on what is going on and might go on in the future – some predictive analysis, or, at the very least, to include a “so what?” whenever I write something. The target audience is interested professionals and amateurs. I might, in passing, challenge an assumption or a cliché or two, while perhaps creating a few of my own. Failure is not an option but comments would be extremely welcome.
Tim Foxley, Sweden
23 Jan 2012
*In 2007, I started jotting down a few likely reasons for the problems encountered by the international community. When I got to my 25th bullet point, I gingerly placed it in my “pending” tray for future reference.
** I promise you, I was using this expression in the context of Afghanistan long before Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles was (see his Cables from Kabul book)