10 Principles for Peace
Critical Points of Understanding for Guiding a Durable Peace in Afghanistan
Colonel (Retired) Robert C. Jones
“The war is over. Now the real fighting begins.” – Afghan proverb
1. The Revolution is over! Long live the Revolution!
- Given the history and culture of Afghanistan; and the extreme role family and tribal patronage play upon the distribution of power and privilege, one thing is certain: The terms ending the current insurgency will set the conditions for the insurgency that immediately follows.
- The agreement will determine winners and losers within both the government and the insurgency. The winners from each will form the new government and divvy the spoils of patronage. The losers will flee, becoming the next crop of expats, or form the new insurgency. If we allow self-determination, the naturally stronger victors can manage the insurgency alone.
2. No Group owns the legitimacy high ground (#1 driver of insurgency these past 18 years)
- Any government created and/or sustained by a foreign power over the express objections of its own population is collaborator & de facto illegitimate. These foreign actions are fundamentally provocative of revolution & resistance regardless who does it, or how good their cause. Equally, culturally inappropriate elections overseen by those same foreign powers cannot cure this lack of popular legitimacy. Legal legitimacy, (external recognition) is largely irrelevant for stability.
- An insurgency standing up to the US-led coalition for 18 years earns inherent popular legitimacy.
3. Strongly encouraging the Afghans to revise their Constitution should be job one
- The constitution is the second greatest driver of the current insurgency. It is tyranny dressed as democracy. It monopolizes centralized power; excludes others by design; enables Ponzi-like corruption, is culturally inappropriate, and denies basic popular legitimacy outside Kabul.
4. AQ and ISIS wage Unconventional Warfare, and Afghanistan is unimportant to their campaigns
- Unconventional Warfare (UW): Any activity to leverage the insurgent energy in a population governed by another in order to advance one’s own interests.
- AQ and ISIS employ the tools of the modern information age and Salafist ideology to tap into the high levels of revolutionary energy within the Sunni Arab populations of the Middle East, and the high levels of resistance energy toward Western states, which essentially occupy by policy and enable the impunity characterizing the governments of the region. This is modern UW.
- AQ leverages the frustratingly effective virtual sanctuary born of their outlaw, non-state status, as well as the support of poorly governed populations. ISIS abandons this strategic sanctuary to rely on the tactical sanctuary born of physical space. ISIS also encumbers itself with a duty to govern and defend. This makes AQ the more dangerous foe, even though ISIS is better tactically and technically. At the end of the day, ISIS is at best a small, weak state upon fulfilling a business model tied to a specific space and population. But AQ can operate from anywhere – and does.
5. The world is watching - Great Power Competition [GPC] implications
- How the Soviets left Afghanistan in the fall of 1986 accelerated their fall from power. How the US leaves Afghanistan could have a similar effect; or, posture the US for GPC success. Shaping global perceptions of this transition must be a top priority. (It will be for our competitors).
6. Short war; long, violent peace; why we should have done neither, but here we are
- This is not the end of America’s longest war, this is the end of employing the military in efforts to compel our longest failed policy. The “war” in Afghanistan ended with the fall of the Taliban.
- How we ended the war in 2002 shaped our troubles during the past 18 years of restive peace. I refer the reader to Maxim’s 2 and 3 in Colin Gray’s Fighting Talk. “…in war one is fighting for peace. Not just any kind of peace, but a peace that makes the war worthwhile.” We failed to produce a “worthwhile peace” 18 years ago. The UW war was easy, and we convinced ourselves the peace would be as well; but we designed an impossible peace. We have a duty to all our allies, to all who have served here, and to Afghanistan most of all, to do better this time.
7. Lord Bobs had it right (Field Marshall Frederick “Bobs” Roberts of Kandahar, 1880)
- "We have nothing to fear from Afghanistan, and the best thing to do is to leave it as much as possible to itself. It may not be very flattering to our 'amour propre', but I feel sure I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us the less they will dislike us. Should Russia in future years attempt to conquer Afghanistan, or invade India through it, we should have a better chance of attaching the Afghans to our interest if we avoid all interference with them in the meantime." (Argument to Parliament shaping a policy allowing Afghan self-determination).
8. Taking council of our fears does not equate to “National Interests”
- Our irrational fear of external attacks by VEOs using Afghanistan as some sort of exquisite safe haven dominated our rationale for overthrowing the Taliban regime, and for spending the next 18 years attempting to legitimize the government we created to replace them. As we approach the Intra-Afghan Negotiations (IAN), we must realize our rational interests here are GPC.
- Per Lord Bobs, the lighter our touch on Afghanistan, the better off we are in our GPC issues.
9. Ungoverned space is a fairy tale governments tell themselves
- While the idea of 9/11 was conceived in Afghanistan, the work to make the attacks happen during the weeks and days leading up to that fateful day took place in plain sight and amongst us in the highly governed spaces of Europe, the Arabian Peninsula and the United States.
- Afghanistan is physical sanctuary. This is tactical sanctuary. Strategically, we should focus on strategic sanctuary. This is virtual sanctuary. It comes from a combination of legal status, trade craft and the support of poorly governed populations. It does not come from a mythical “ungoverned space.” If there are people, there is governance. We are competing for influence.
10. The power of Strategic Influence
- Governance is what effectively radicalizes a population. Ideology is a tool of exploitation.
- Center of Gravity: Legally irreconcilable political grievance. “The energy in the system”
- Critical Requirement: An effective ideology / narrative; a tool to tap into and direct that energy for purpose. Radical by nature to challenge the status quo.
- By taking a more neutral stance as to who governs, or how they govern, the US has an opportunity to posture itself as the partner of choice with whoever emerges. Great power in competition is not about the control we can exert, it is about the influence we can foster.
- (Never forget, it is not in the interest of GIRoA to reconcile or evolve. Delays are intentional.)
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein
The thoughts, concepts and products included in this paper are my own, developed in over 30 years as a Special Forces qualified officer, both in uniform, and during the past 10 years as a Civilian strategist at USSOCOM.
Robert Jones is a retired Army Special Forces Colonel, who has served for the past ten years as senior strategist at USSOCOM, with a focus on understanding the nature of the strategic environment, the impact on the character of conflict, and the implications for our Special Operations Forces. He is a core member of the Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) team, and a regular lecturer at the Joint Special Operations University and the Air War College. A Cold War and Gulf War vet, he stepped away for a bit to gain experiences as both an emergency manager and a deputy district attorney prior to returning to the Special Operations community to serve from Zamboanga to Kandahar, and places in between.
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Short version: 1. The…
1. The terms of Afghan peace, will create the resultant conflict.
2. The Taliban are illegal, but the government is illegitimate.
3. Afghanistan will never find stability under the current Constitution.
4. Denial of Afghanistan will have little impact on Al Qaeda or ISIS.
5. How the Soviets left Afghanistan sped their decline. Take Note.
6. We won a short war; but became mired in an impossible peace.
7. Listen to Lord Robert’s 1880 advice: “Leave the Afghans alone.”
8. We exaggerate our fears and our interests in Afghanistan.
9. Afghanistan has governance, they do not need our government.
10. We try to control too much. All we need is influence.