'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Monday, 14 March 2011

Afghanistan and Organizations

Fitting Square Blocks in Triangular Holes

‘The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.’
--Marcus Aurelius

‘The deep structure of culture not only consists of how we perceive reality and truth but also how we orient ourselves toward our physical and human environment, which involves unconscious and taken-for-granted concepts of time and space’
-- Edgar Schein

The Bonn Agreement (2001) and its successor, the Afghanistan Compact (2006) have sought to make Afghanistan one of the most centralised (or to use a post-modern term, essentialised) of sovereign nations.  In the Bonn Agreement, ‘the Interim Authority shall be the repository of Afghan sovereignty’ where, ‘upon the official transfer of power, all mujahidin, Afghan armed forces and armed groups in the country shall come under the command and control of the Interim Authority’ and ‘the judicial power of Afghanistan shall be independent and shall be vested in a Supreme Court of Afghanistan.’ The Afghanistan Compact, as a successor document, was better able to identify problems that had arisen over the past five years since attempting to prosecute the 2001 Agreement - the themes were divided into security, governance, reconstruction and development, and counter-narcotics.
Notions of centralised authority, state structure and accountability by oversight are Western political ideals borne from the historically observed relationship between the ruler and the ruled. In today’s world of weak states receiving foreign aid and cheap provision of debt there lies no incentive for elites to negotiate with their publics for tax revenues or feudal subordination. By contrast, in Europe, elites traditionally had to negotiate with their publics to raise money and soldiers for interstate, total war and thus forged strong central state structures (Centeno, 2002).

Marx and Gramsci have viewed the state as a coercive structure, a concentrated and organized violence of society. In Afghanistan, however, Biddle has pointed out that, historically, the central government lacked the strength and resources to exercise local control or provide public goods in many parts of the country – instead, it ruled according to a series of bargains between the state and individual communities, exchanging relative autonomy for fealty and a modicum of order (Biddle, ‘Defining Success in Afghanistan’, Foreign Affairs). But given the willingness of NATO to prop up the Karzai regime (fraudulent elections in 2009, as noted by a colleague who was involved in monitoring) there is no traditional pay-off between the ruler and the ruled. 
Against this backdrop that attenuates the traditional state structure, much has been made of the decentralised system of government that exists in Afghanistan, especially jirgas and tribal codes such as pashtunwali (Originally viewed as fixed, now seen as mutable, open to interpretation). It has become fashionable to talk of Pashtuns and Afghans as separate entities (Robert Johnson, ‘The Pashtun Way of War?’), of the country being ‘kaleidoscopic in nature’, possessing so many varieties of groups that they defy categorisation.  David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency analyst, observes the situation succinctly:

‘There is [sic] about 40,000 villages in Afghanistan. For the last year or two we have been focusing on getting the government from a set of remote central institutions in the capital out into those 40,000-odd villages and actually creating a connectivity between the government and its population. Of course, if you are extending the reach of a government that is unpopular, you are actually making the situation worse.’
(David Kilcullen, interview with Lateline, 28 August 2009)

Imposing sovereign government on a heterogeneous society is difficult enough, but the commander of ISAF forces since McChrystal’s departure, Petraeus, has altered the tactics of his predecessor (and Petraeus is likely to depart before the end of the year, leading to further tactical changes). He has stepped up the use of aerial assault in the region: air attacks at the end of 2010 saw a 100% increase when compared to the same period in the previous year. Further, in the past few months, vacated villages now mined by the neo-Taliban are at risk of being completely destroyed by air assault. United Nations statistics for the conflict present a statistical indictment of an escalation: 2010 saw 2,777 civilians killed (‘75% by the Taliban’), an 83% rise in abductions, 105% increase in ‘targeted killings’, a 588% and 248% rise in civilian killings in Helmand and Kandahar and a 21% rise in the number of child casualties.

There is a fluctuating relationship between the U.S. Administration and Karzai (not going to get better now that NATO have killed his cousin). The former has charged the C.I.A. station chief (nicknamed ‘Spider’) in Kabul with acting as a go-between in times of crisis, as noted in the Wall Street Journal. But the C.I.A’s involvement has exacerbated attempts at transparency. The WSJ article observes that:

The CIA's prominent role in Afghanistan is fraught, the spy agency having clashed at times with the official diplomatic mission. That has complicated the civilian component of the U.S. military surge. In particular, the station chief's role has led to tensions with the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry. Officials said the ambassador objected last fall to the return to Kabul of the station chief, who had held the same post earlier in the war.’

The ‘reality on the ground’ has become disconnected from the political. Civilian (both civilian government and NGOs) and military activities lack harmony: this is a clearly defined problem with no obvious answer. Section 1207 of the NDAA makes up to $100 million a year available for the DoD to pass to the State Department. In 2006 the DoD passed $10 million, in 2007, $99.5 million and in 2008, the full $100 million was allocated to the State Department demonstrating how thinking is switching from military to civilian means in among military analysts. There’s still a massive disparity in resources between DoD and USDoS and  aneven bigger gap between DoD and USAID. But does allocating civilian government actors more money ameliorate the problems? The London Conference, January 28, 2010 exposed serious rifts between international actors on a strategy towards Afghanistan. This interview with Bente Scheller by atlantic-community.org is instructive:

A growing body of academic work has sought to apply Organizational Culture to the problem of this obvious dissonance between civilian and military actors engaged in ‘complex interventions.’ Organizational values identify:

‘Beliefs and ideas about what kinds of goals members of an organization should pursue and ideas about the appropriate kinds or standards of behavior organizational members should use to achieve these goals. From organizational values develop organizational norms, guidelines, or expectations that prescribe appropriate kinds of behavior by employees in particular situations and control the behavior of organizational members towards one another.’

A strong culture exists where agents respond to stimulus because of their alignment to organizational values. Conversely, there is weak culture where there is little alignment with organizational values and control must be exercised through extensive procedures and bureaucracy. The latter is evident in Afghanistan.  There are 2000 Afghan and 360 International NGOs working in the country (disproportionately, 34% operate in Kabul, of which one factor for this must be lack of human security across the country). The numerous NGOs working in the field are not components of the Peace Operation, which in Afghanistan refers to the 3 main international missions - the Coalition Forces, ISAF, and UNAMA. 

NGOs routinely coordinate their activities with other international and national actors in the field in order to share information about programmes, to avoid duplication and waste, and to pool security information to best protect the safety of aid workers and beneficiaries. However, NGOs are independent and operate in accordance with guidelines set by their own organizations, and the extent of cooperation with other organizations can vary. Some insist on their political neutrality and operational independence and actively resist 'being coordinated' by either their home governments or international organizations. Consider this job vacancy for NRC:

How can Organizational Culture make civilian/military relations more efficient? Andrea Baumann in her influential 2008 RUSI article, Clash of Organisational Cultures? argues for the establishment of a coherent narrative in reshaping the institutional landscape, rather than pushing for greater integration and harmonisation of historically unaligned actors.  Civilian agencies template their work, ‘based on the expectation of a reasonably benign environment’ and are thus forced to change this to suit, ‘the realities of a counter-insurgency campaign.’ Baumann cites ‘security’ as an obvious example of differing views of the same word. The military perceive security in kinetic terms; diplomats frame security in terms of law enforcement and public order; development experts as a matter of human security.  Echoing this idea, Kilcullen in 2009 observed that:

The next two years is really about security. It very is difficult to do much, other than the reforms we talked about. If you don't have a certain amount of security on the ground for aid workers, development professionals, NGOs and Afghan investors and so on, to get out and do a lot of reconstruction work that needs to be done, there has to be a minimum level of security.

Kilcullen frames security within a ‘kinetic’ frame. For Baumann, dissonance in language between civilians sectors and the military becomes a problem of culture preventing shared narrative. A lead department of assimilated hierarchy that positions civilian and military within a Babelian tower is for Baumann not the answer.  In complex interventions (or Phase IV operations), forging a monolithic bloc of military-civilian might is far-fetched.

Civilian government agencies and non-governmental organizations coexist, the latter required to engage in areas of concern identified in the Afghanistan Compact, particularly those of economic and social development. But external actors to government often take the best minds from the domestic population, removing them from local government initiatives and ultimately hindering the very apparatus that they intend to stimulate (for example see Ferguson, ‘Global Shadows’). If a government vehicle is deemed too weak to function properly, necessitating the introduction of an NGO (also known as a Civil Society Organisation, CSO), this NGO can pull away skilled domestic talent from local, regional or national government vehicles, rendering the NGO the only viable system through which the action can be implemented. With striking clarity the problem is witnessed in a report for the Aga Khan Development Network: it was stressed that

‘the empowerment of CSOs is one of the important indicators of a democratic society and the active existence of CSOs in the society should be counted as important for democratic expansion. The increase seen over the past six years in the establishment of CSOs in Afghanistan is a sign of its determination to create a civil society.’

This raises the spectre of a civil society lacking government. How many parallel economies are at work in Afghanistan? I count two. Ostensibly there is the Karzai government in Kabul, sovereign and operating with the monopoly on violence required for a remit to govern. Obviously the Kabul-based regime does not however, operate nationally with the monopoly on violence necessary for centralised authority. As such there exist two parallel economies:

1. Essentialising a tribal society requires the tribal leaders to cooperate. Since their frame of reference, indeed limits of their vision are the tribe and its geography, these leaders have no incentive to receive Kabul diktats. Cooperation requires incentives: usually this is money, supplied covertly. The C.I.A for example has employed a 30 000 strong Afghan militia that it pays and uses to hunt down militants (Woodward, ‘Obama’s Wars’).  The Obama Administration bemoans corruption in the Karzai administration as it simultaneously funds shadow networks in the country.

2. ‘Counter-narcotics’ was identified as a security concern in the Afghanistan Compact (for an interesting ‘solution’ to this problem see here).  Where there is a drugs trade, there is an entire shadow economy. Half the wealth generated in Helmand is from the narco-economy. Afghanistan has geostrategic value and illicit economies operate from Afghanistan into Iran; Afghanistan into Central Asia; Afghanistan into Pakistan.  Globalization as a phenomenon has two distinct and contraposed narratives: the first see globalization as a developed country phenomenon that improves security prospects among developed countries, with little effect for weak states, which are more isolated. In the second narrative, globalization facilitates flows of illicit goods, such as drugs, and transnational networks such as terrorist networks, that can threaten developed countries: weak states facilitate the flow of illicit goods and serve as bases for these networks (Chowdhury, ‘Failed States’, Security Dialogue).

This isn’t something that either civilian or military input can ameliorate. In the run up to the 2014-15 ‘handover’, a paradigm shift in international civilian-military engagement in the country is required.


Prof Theo Farrell's authoritative account (innaugural lecture, podcast) on the war for Helmand, 2006-11, with Organizations perspective.
Takayuki Nishi analyses Iraq and Afghanistan through the lens of Political Science applying 
Posen’s Balance of Power theory and Kier’s Organizational Cultures.

ICOS report, interviewing 522 Afghan men across the nation to determine attitudes to reconstruction.

Joshua Foust on Aid in Afghanistan

France24: Aid Agencies as Pawns 

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