Saturday, 21 November 2009

Three books worth reading

I've come across several fascinating books recently that should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand events in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
First, The Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen (Hurst and Co, London 2009), a former Australian army officer and now a leading expert on guerrilla warfare and chief counterterrorism strategist for the US State Department. Although it is not solely about Afghanistan, Kilcullen's clear thinking shines out of this book.
There are too many gems of insight in this book to list them all, but here are a few of the more salient points. He argues that the insurgency in Afghanistan is not primarily focussed on overthrowing the Afghan state, but on consolidating the Pashtun areas under their control - on both sides of the border.
He says the strategy is not a classical Maoist protracted warfare insurgency: "A Maoist approach seeks victory through a displacement strategy of building what classical counterinsurgency theorists call 'parallel hierarchies' - a competitive system of control tantamount to a guerrilla counter-state in permanently liberated areas - which then spread across the country and seek to defeat the government in, eventually, a relatively conventional war of manoeuvre. Rather the Taliban appears to be applying an exhaustion strategy of sapping the energy, resources and support of the Afghan government and its international partners, making the country ungovernable and hoping that the international community will eventually withdraw in exhaustion and leave the government to collapse under the weight of its own lack of effectiveness and legitimacy."
How true! He contrasts the Taliban's concentration on providing governance (including courts) in the areas it controls, to the actions of the Karzai government which ignores these issues.
Kilcullen also point to the importance the Taliban attaches to propaganda, again in contrast to both the Afghan government and the Coalition forces: "The insurgents treat propaganda as their main effort, coordinating physical attacks in support of a sophisticated propaganda campaign."
All is not lost, according to Kilcullen, who point to the insurgents' in ability to break out of their Pashtun/international jihadi circle and spread into other ethnicities or language groups.
A second book that also makes fascinating reading is Decoding the New Taliban, edited by Antonio Giustozzi (also published by Hurst & Co). The essays it contains include 'The Taliban and the Opium Trade' by Gretchen Peters, 'The Taliban in Helmand: An Oral History' by Thomas Coghlan, 'The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan' by Claudio Franco. There are ten further essays and many insights in all of them.
Finally, I thoroughly recommend Talibanisation of Pakistan: From 9/11 to 26/11 by Pakistani journalist Amir Mir (Pentagon Security International, New Delhi, 2009). Mir's relentless investigation into the nexus between the TTP and the Pakistan military and intelligence communities is superb, showing as it does how the very forces nurtured by the ISI as an instrument of foreign policy turned on their masters and now threaten the stability of the state itself.

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