Afghanistan: a hopeless cause, or maybe not?
Can an intervention power that has ‘imposed’ peace on a fragile state also play a role in the transition to a stable form of government? Allard Wagemaker, MA, a naval lieutenant colonel, investigated this question with reference to Afghanistan, where he spent a lot of time, not only for his research, but also in a professional capacity. He takes a gloomy view of things, but Afghanistan is not lost yet. PhD defence 25 October 2012.
‘Tactical military victories cannot immediately be converted into politically strategic results,’ Wagemaker holds. In the case of Afghanistan, the tactical military goal of the American invasion (2001) was to take out Osama Bin Laden, thereby dealing Al Qaida a heavy blow. This was in response to the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York on 11 September 2001. Laying the foundations for a functional, stable state, however, calls for an entirely different focus. ‘That makes military operations complex,’ according to Wagemaker.
When a military invasion has imposed ceasefire (‘negative peace’), the priorities must lie in the construction of a new state with a stratified, democratic government as soon as possible, according to Wagemaker. Here it is important that all groups within society feel themselves to be actively involved in this process. Only extremists can be excluded. The input of the invasion power’s auxiliary troops can strengthen and support this process. Citizens, administrators (construction of state and nation), the military (protection of the process) and diplomats (to establish regional stability) must work together to enable stability and the reconstruction of state and society. Thus the invasion power acts as principal mediator.
In 2009, American president Obama tried to restructure the role of the invasion power according to this model. But it is not easy. Bin Laden may have been killed in 2011, but that has not brought stability to Afghanistan. And due to practical considerations, too much power initially went to despotically ruling warlords. The construction of a functioning government on every level was already a much lower priority. The fact that outside involvement in the reconstruction of a state and its organization is soon branded ‘neocolonialism’ also played a role in this. In 2014 the majority of the foreign troops will withdraw according to plan. But whether there will be a functional state then is by no means certain.
But Wagemaker remains hopeful for Afghanistan. He loves the country and the people – one person in particular, in fact: he is married to an Afghan expatriate. ‘I gained access to all the people I wanted to speak to, including the warlords. With them, it was all about trust and respect.’ He won this in part by participating in buzkhasi. This is a typical Afghan game where dozens to hundreds of horsemen (chapandas) ride around an arena with a headless sheep and try to throw it in a circle. There are barely any rules: the chapandas form coalitions on the spot in order to grab the sheep and get it into the circle. Besides the honour – very important! – it is rewarded with a sizeable sum of money. And fame. ‘Two years after I participated I was still being recognized in the street!’ says Wagemaker.
Wagemaker’s PhD conferral is exceptional: a marine with extensive operational experience in all kinds of areas of conflict who obtained degrees in military science (American Military University, 1996), history (University of Amsterdam, 2004) and political science (Leiden, 2006), and who then went on to work on a PhD. At the time he was working as a senior lecturer and researcher at the Netherlands Defence Academy in Den Helder and Breda. At the moment Wagemaker is senior policy adviser at the Ministry of Defence.
Afghanistan 2001-2011: Gewapende interventie en staatsvorming in een fragiele staat
Allard Wagemaker MA
Thursday 25 October 2012
Academy Building, Rapenburg 73, Leiden
Faculty: Campus The Hague (Public Administration)
Supervisor: Professor Joris Voorhoeve
(29 October 2012)