Friday, February 26, 2010

Afghanistan: Hearts & Minds vs Security

Today's bombing in Kabul illustrates both India's investment in the Afghanistan Enterprise(tm) and the tradeoffs of waging a proxy war. I have previously commented on the neighbors' involvement in Afghanistan, so I will focus on this low-intensity side war for this article.

As I said before, Afghanistan is a war on multiple levels. Like Shakespeare, warfare theorists of all stripes can draw a favored conclusion from the Afghan war. China and India are waging a low-intensity war of influence in Afghanistan, and today we see the limitations of that approach.

All of the neighboring states have a strategic interest in a stable Afghanistan. India in particular needs a moderate and prosperous government in Kabul to both contain Pakistan and contest Central Asian states [against China]. However, due to its "Third World, Non-Interventionist" ideology, India is afraid of a direct intervention in Afghanistan. (A phobia China shares.) Therefore, India wages a war of proxy means, with money, tribes, and merchants. To date, India appears to have a moderate success in buying allies, though it has no better luck (than NATO) at fostering governance in Kabul. Therefore, we can charitably grade the Indian Campaign a C- at meeting their strategic goals. [The Americans, on the other hand, get a D+ for its Afghan governance goals, and a C for its counter-terrorism goals.]

In waging this proxy war, India accepts certain vulnerabilities. India cannot guarantee security of its embassy staff, let alone that of its citizens in-country. Without its own military boots on the ground, India has to rely on its allies and mercenary proxies to provide mediocre security. [India's own ridiculous gun laws also mean that Indian mercenary/security firms have difficulty training in India, instead must go to, say, Afghanistan, to get firearm training.] [ITBP's deployment is too small to meet all security needs.]

Therefore, India is literally paying the price for the American failure to stabilize Afghanistan, in terms of both the security "tax" its development projects and business pay, and its casualties thus far.

This isn't to say that India will stop losing people only if it deploys the Regulars. Or that allies and mercenaries cannot provide effective security. [See Xe] To meet its strategic goals, India must get close to the Afghan people. Which means that Indians must get off secure zones and into villages and bazaars to do business. Which means that they face risks of ambushes and kidnapping. India's security problem is its secured zones, or what Americans would call Forward Operating Bases.

A secured zone is where your people live and sleep, such as the hotel attacked today. The biggest reason India lost people today is because their security posture is too open. India's desire to be a "non-intervention, self-determination" soft power in Afghanistan dictates a low-profile, open, passive security posture. India's effort at pioneering "Third Way" diplomacy and differentiating themselves from the hardened American FOBs made them vulnerable to an attack like this.

[Of course, in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, the competence of Indian security services is an open question.]

The point of my analysis is that an open, passive security posture is foolish and does not contribute toward your "Hearts and Minds" political goals at all. It just helps your enemies to kill you faster. Letting your guards slouch at their post and waving people through the checkpoint does not win you any points. An alert guards who pats people down with respect and a smile, however, does.

"Hearts & Minds" politicians and consultants often fail to realize that it is not the macro-level initiatives, such as blast barriers, check points, gun-toting security, etc, that turn the natives against you. It is the micro-level, man-to-man details that gets you, like yelling at people, manhandling through a pat down, etc. Soft power is all well and good, but security is the enabler for your soft power capabilities. Being aggressive in your security posture allows you to complete your projects and help people.

As Bryan McGrath has pointed out, "Hearts & Minds" are nice, but it easily degenerates into slogans and feel-good seminars. You are not going to make people like you, if they hate you to begin with. However, you can build trust and respect, even with enemies. Pussyfooting around security will not change anybody's minds.