The art and science of communications: From strategic to personal

Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Having checked out cyberspace regarding the sacking of General McChrystal over the Rolling Stone Magazine coverage, it apears that there is chatter of conspiracy theories.  Basically, they centre on the possibility that the good General (a man who certainly seemed to get communication within the counter-insurgency context) deliberately created/engineeered/concocted the circumstances which led to the article, in order to (a) get fired so he wouldn’t be responsible for the Afghan debacle or (b) as a test of resolve of the White House in a Pentagon willy-waving statement.

Now CB3 isn’t one for conspiracy theories but on balance can see why, in this case, they are getting some profile – and it’s because of the “what the xxxx were they thinking?” factor.  The sheer absurdity of the events is mesmerising, especially to anyone who has ever worked in public affairs, public relations or media operations.  In fact, I’m sure many journalists are also pretty dumbfounded as to how it all happened.

It appears McChrystal’s team had absolutely no idea of their objectives regarding the interviews.  They hadn’t asked the WIIFM question (what’s in it for me (or rather, the General – or to be precise, the mission)).  Then the team seemed to abandon any notion of this having a strategic effect, wandered off subject, spoke outside their responsibility, forgot about research, treated Michael Hastings as a beer-drinking buddy, gave ill-thought through access, and generally behaved totally unprofessionally.  But these are experienced blokes – surely they know the game?

Well, it just goes to show that even the experienced can become complacent and hence make catastrophic mistakes, especially in a field as slippery, intangible, nebulous, unpredictable and downright tricky as dealing with the media.  No conspiracy, just complacency –  just Generals and media advisors forgetting that once engaged with the media, they no longer dominate the ‘battlespace’ (or for a corporate analogy, the marketplace).

And on complacency … for all those CEO’s and senior business leaders who think “no, we can handle the media … we’d never make mistakes like that”, it’s worthwhile remembering that McChrystal (just like BP’s Tony Hayward) was certainly no fool.


With recent claims from several quarters of the dangers of aid being mixed  with military operations and the UK’s coalition government, currently putting DfID through a thorough review,  dallying (or not) with bringing the two closer together, it is perhaps worthwhile spending a little time looking back at the short, but important, history of  ‘military humanitarianism’.

The words neutrality, impartiality, independence and humanity pepper the pages of the manifestos, mandates and remits of humanitarian organizations and the volumes of academic and government discourse on humanitarianism.  Yet, since the debacle of Rwanda in 1994,  these classical core values have been under threat from a political ideal, that of ‘new humanitarianism’ which focuses upon a rights-based approach, as opposed to a needs-based one, is oriented towards long-term political goals of ‘liberal peace’, places humanitarianism within the ‘grey zone’ of a relief-development continuum, and is increasingly crowded with, supposedly integrated, political actors as it develops into a serious facet of international relations.  The Kosovo crisis exemplified, both good and bad, the practical manifestation of ‘new humanitarianism’, but it remains a feature of contemporary humanitarian relief operations.

However, the post-9/11 environment has encouraged the militarization of ‘new humanitarianism’ towards political and security objectives, further straining the core tenets of humanitarianism.

Three major themes can be identified.  Firstly, the public perception of the threat has changed, which has affected donorship; secondly, there came the ramifications of a new strand of political imperative, namely anti-terrorism and, thirdly, due to the nature of high profile conflicts, the conditions on the ground for humanitarian actors have been transformed, notably through the severe impact upon perceptions of neutrality and the hazards entailed.

Mixed up in more than just peacekeeping?

Generated by a sudden sense of threat, donations to appeals for humanitarian crises were curtailed post 9/11, especially in the US, because of the notion that such funds were in effect aiding populations in which a threat resided.[1] Further, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored the idea that the work of the US administration and humanitarian NGOs together ‘is now perceived to affect the national survival of the US’.[2] Donor security in the minds of the US administration and the public became enmeshed with humanitarianism, encouraging a degree of selectivity as to where or not such aid should be disbursed and consideration of conditionality if seen necessary to bolster that security.  Development aid has suffered a similar conflation.

US foreign policy, being at the forefront of the counter-terrorist agenda, dominated the foreign policy concerns of the West in general and therefore, to varying degrees, the humanitarian stance of the leading global donors.  Policy focused upon the threat of terrorism.  Like Kosovo, the promoters of major conflicts in this war, both the US and Atlanticist Europeans, have not shied from employing a humanitarian raison d’etre, mixing a political crisis with a supposed humanitarian one, motivated by political necessity

But the ‘with us or against us’ approach of such policy has taken the politicization of humanitarian aid, and the overt acknowledgement of it, to new heights.  Impartiality has long been under threat as the aid figures from the mid-to-late 1990s have demonstrated, indicating a strategic skew away from what might be termed ‘forgotten crises’, representing something of a dual-track composed of strategically important crises and those less so.  The very basis of the political imperative, centred on direct threats, has maintained such a strategic skew although shifting policy focus to new zones. This has had further profound implications for humanitarianism, not least for the basic tenets of neutrality and independence.

Afghanistan had long been seen as a protracted humanitarian crisis and therefore the humanitarian imperative could be more easily dovetailed into the political and military response to 9/11.  However, Iraq was much more contentious, with neutrality being compromised early on in the lead up to its invasion.  Many major NGOs, especially European ones, stated their opposition to the forthcoming war, their spokespersons not only commenting upon possible humanitarian scenarios but also their stance towards military action.  The historical tendency for US NGOs mostly to align themselves with the incumbent administration reduced such an anti-war tendency but was indicative of their already lower levels of neutrality.[3] The Europeans had shown that they could support military intervention on humanitarian grounds (see page 23) but their stance over Iraq illustrated their resistance to the conforming of humanitarianism to a political agenda.  However, the availability of massive aid funds and contracts after the war’s end resulted in a reverse swing in terms of effective, or perceived, allegiance. While many NGOs, including US ones, initially declared their unwillingness to receive Coalition funds for work in Iraq, many eventually agreed to accept such ‘partisan’ resources. As such, in Afghanistan and Iraq, many NGOs are no longer seen as independent agencies but rather as subcontractors or, as Colin Powell claimed, ‘force multipliers’[4], in the humanitarian field.[5] This perception enhances the notion of the privatization and militarization of humanitarianism.

Mixed up in more than just humanitarian relief?

The counter-terrorism agenda has raised further some significant questions regarding humanitarian policy.  Many decry the merging of humanitarian policy with international security policy, even though it has been largely recognized that development and security are intertwined, with the former suffering due to a lack of the latter.[6] But the new post 9/11 security environment has led to a much wider interpretation, leading to accusations that the humanitarian motives of donor governments and institutions have been hijacked by the underlying needs of their political and security agendas.

The post 9/11 environment has further encouraged the drive, apparent since the late 1990s, towards an integrated approach to crises, exemplified by the UN’s Brahimi Report of 2000 which formalized a coherent approach to crisis management, endorsing the ‘integration agenda’ whereby diplomatic, military, political and humanitarian elements would work to meet the same objectives.  Further, the use of force, or even a benign military involvement in crisis response, has raised the spectre of humanitarian agencies operating, or being perceived to operate, alongside belligerents, with obvious concerns arising over the security of those humanitarian agencies.

Western governments that are involved in the war on terror agenda are also the main financiers of humanitarian funds.  In this they do have leverage over humanitarian agencies and NGOs, which, at bottom, are resource-driven and compelled to search for funds, and to a degree over humanitarian policy.

Whereas Kosovo exhibited ‘new humanitarianism’ employing extensive military means, the last decade’s counter-terror agenda has been claimed as the harbinger of true ‘military humanitarianism’, on the back of political and security concerns.

Of note is the fact that while discourse around the subject of military humanitarianism was energetic during the first few years of this millenium, sparked by Iraq and Afghanistan, that conversation has waned over the last few years.  But a quick examination of ongoing conflicts involving both military and  humanitarian activities reveals that ‘military humanitarianism’ continues, for good and bad.


[1] http://hwproject.tufts.edu/new/pdf/minear-arden.pfd , p. 4.

[2] Andrew Natsios, USAID administrator, cited in Stoddard, A. Humanitarian NGOs: Challenges and Trends London: Humanitarian Policy Group (Overseas Development Institute), July 2003, p. 5.

[3] Rieff, D. A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis London: Vintage, 2002, pp. 234-5.

[4] And I want you to know that I have made it clear to my staff here and to all our ambassadors around the world that I am serious about making sure we have the best relationship with the NGOs who are such a force multiplier for us, such an important part of our combat team.’ US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, 26 October 2001.

[5] Nickolls, J. Limits to Neutrality in Iraq Humanitarian Exchange No 25, December 2003.  (pp. 7-9)

[6] Duffield, M. Global Governance and the New Wars London: Zed Books, 2001.


On 1 April, 2010, the UK military’s Defence Cultural Specialist Unit (DCSU), consisting of military specialists in Afghan culture and language, came into being, over eight years since military forces arrived in Afghanistan.

As part of ISAF, DCSU personnel will be a major part of General McChrystal’s renewed counter insurgency strategy – which places the people of Afghanistan at the centre of operations.

From an ISAF Press Release:

The DCSU – based at RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire – has been established in consultation with other government departments to ensure that its activities support the wider comprehensive approach and link into other government and Afghan initiatives.

Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations) Air Vice-Marshal Andy Pulford said that a focus on cultural issues is essential to success in the country.

He said: “Cultural awareness is at the heart of General McChrystals Counter Insurgancy Strategy. This unit will help improve the military understanding and appreciation of the region, its people and how to do business there.”

Commander John Garratt RN, the MoD team leader for implementing the unit explained:

“This has come about as a response to the operational demand to better understand the people we operate with so as to make smarter decisions and improve military effectiveness. The DCSU is the spearhead of a broader Defence Cultural Capability and will provide both the home for the specialists and the focus for wider capability development”.

The new unit’s Operational Commander, Colonel Nick Hubberstey, stressed the importance of having a dedicated unit.

“The DCSU represents a real opportunity to further improve our understanding of the current operational environment. By continuing to develop our understanding of the people we are working amongst, how they think, their culture, beliefs, hopes and fears, we can do much more to bring our mission in Afghanistan a speedy and satisfactory conclusion”.

The Brits are getting to 'know' these chaps ...

This is, withoubt doubt a welcome move and commendable.  As part of any Information Operations capability, a deep understanding of the host poulation’s culture is utterly crucial.  In pure PR terms this is critical to what specialists call two-way asymmetrical communication – acquiring knowledge of a target public in order to establish the best appraoches to persuade and influence audiences to behave as an organization desires and then conducting such. Notably it does encourage research to find out how it publics feel about the organization.

However, theoretically (through organizational systems theory approach) the holy grail of modern communications, especially in the contemporary information age with the ubiquitous nature of information, is two-way symmetrical communication, whereby relationships demand the understanding of all publics of each other. This approach uses communication to negotiate with publics, resolve conflict, and promote mutual understanding and respect between the organization and its publics.

... and they 'know' the Brits.

This begs the question – how far can NATO’s effective communication go when the military know a lot about the host population but makes little effort to allow them to fully understand the military and foreign entities in their countries?  What’s more, when it comes to their own culture, ideals, motivations, how coherent are they to those military and foreign entities?

In any communication process there are always at least two cultures to consider and understand – oneself and ‘the other’.  DCSU is a very welcome addition to understanding ‘the other’ – but in the wider communication ‘battle’ it’s only half way there.

And, as welcome as it is, with the public sector, including MoD soon due to be squeezed even hard for cash, will DCSU survive any cuts?  Or will Hard power requirements take priority?


The Inaugural Media Operations and Public Affairs Symposium
9-10 June 2010
Venue: Defence Academy of United Kingdom
“Winning the communications war: new thinking and new practice ”

The battle for ideas, hearts and minds is back in centre stage in twenty first century military operations. Experience in engaging the local populace in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that well-executed public communications are critical to shaping operational and strategic outcomes. As a result, ad-hoc approaches to military PR are giving way to deliberate strategies developed using innovative planning approaches and supported by analysis and effects monitoring techniques. New cross-disciplinary thinking is emerging from both academia and government, focused on coordinating and maximising the power of messaging in counter- insurgency, anti-terrorism and global security. A revolution in military communications is underway, transforming the way governments and militaries communicate. Against this backdrop the Defence Academy is presenting the inaugural Media Operations and Public Affairs Symposium. A networking forum for stakeholders from across the communications spectrum, this new symposium is designed to showcase cutting edge thinking alongside innovative tools and techniques.

"Go on then, persuade me!"

"After I've watched 'Mother-in-law was also once the Daughter-in-law' and then voted for 'Afghan Star', you've possibly got a minute or two of my attention so, go on then, persuade me!"

Over two days, the tactical, operational and strategic aspects of communication will be explored: Identifying best practice in recent Media Operations; developing supporting theory for the emerging discipline of Strategic Communications; examining new approaches to both Media Operations and Strategic Communications and application to current conflicts. The current operational context in Afghanistan is of special interest and raises a number of questions which the symposium will explore, for example: How can strategic communication objectives be pursued whilst working in a media environment with shortened time horizons and intense tactical engagement? How can two way models of communication be adopted and accommodated within the new information environment? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of competing media and information strategies in Afghanistan? What is the role of local media in Afghanistan?

For further details Contact Caroline Dawson on:
T: +44(0) 1793 785268
E: caroline@symposiaatshrivenham.com

or visit the website http://www.symposiaatshrivenham.com


Within academic and especially scientific research there has been, for centuries, a reductionist drive – the desire to break down complex structures, entities, organisms or theories into their simplest form – to form all-encompassing explanations or unifying theories.  This, in political or social sciences, and equally in management or organisational studies, is hindered by what seems to be an inherent human capability to produce complex structures to manage, lead, empower, enact and organise, amidst what can be seen as equally complex environments.  Top-down hierarchies have remained at the heart of attempt to maintain a reductionist approach to multi-faceted, multi-layered and often multilateral entities. Whilst these environments are often indeed complex, technology has allowed, even encouraged, the management, using complex systems and practices, of more intricate and intertwined top-down structures.  But the networked society and networked organisation is inherently complex, with a multitude of actors, each with a multitude of opinions and means to communicate and enact them.  Whilst, on the one hand, technology has enabled, to a degree, some control over these actors, this technology has also made for an increasingly difficult environment within which to exercise control.  This is especially apparent in the case of warfare, in which command and control has been a mainstay of its organisational capacity.  Modern warfare, far from its industrial hay day, now encapsulates complex environmental factors, not least the communication and information factors, which challenge increasingly complex organisational structures and alliances, such as NATO.

Nick Davies has a Flat Earth obsession too (and opinions on strategic communication)

The information age has provided a clarion call for many who claim that top-down, reductionist approaches to communication, and thereby its, and wider, management, is incapable of dealing with the complexities of the 21st century.  Within political science and international studies, there are many adherents to this call – from a geostrategic viewpoint, expounded by Thomas Friedman in ‘The World is Flat[1]; from a public diplomacy perspective, raised by Nicholas Cull in calling for ‘the reorientation of public diplomacy away from the top-down communication patterns of the Cold War era’[2] and by Daryl Copeland with his ideas of the networked, grass-roots guerrilla diplomacy[3].

Albeit outside strict political science but possibly through a more focussed lens, there are those who claim to have seen the light and, much more importantly, translated its teachings into reality, from a communication technology position, in which Eric Raymond has broached the now widely accepted notion, having translated into wider communication wisdom, of the Cathedral and the Bazaar[4]; to advocates of 21st century economics based around mass innovation, not mass production, or wikinomics – those such as Charles Leadbetter[5], Don Tapscott, Anthony D Williams[6], Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom[7].

In communication terms, loose networks, as practiced by activists from Greenpeace to the Obama presidential campaign, at one end of the spectrum, and utilized to great physical effect by terrorist groups from Al Qaida to Hezbollah, regularly outperform top-down, mechanistic organisations, be they corporate conglomerates or inter-governmental organisations.  That the former tend to place communication at the centre of strategy explains, to a degree, their considerable capabilities.  But it is also their willingness, and ability, to embrace openness, accept risk, encourage member collaboration, eschew hierarchy and allow innovation within an environment in which a ‘bazaar’ mentality is pervasive, which allows them to synergistically punch above their weight.  Their organizational structures, culture, ethos and management are optimized, by design or otherwise, to operate in the information age – an age which Clay Shirky calls a “new information ecosystem” creating “new social strategies” in a world that privileges networks over hierarchies.

Working within the communication sections of large multilateral organisations, like NATO, many would agree that top-down, mechanistic management practices often stymie communication efforts.  Arguably, many would at least prefer a greater degree of autonomy, and a flatter, networked system.  Indeed, knowledge management or ‘network-centric’ practices have, in the last decade, been developed rapidly, seen as a major factor of information management in modern military doctrines as well as in the corporate world.  However, the management practices allowing that information to be utilized continue to present problems – operators may indeed know a lot more but still can’t use that knowledge effectively.  Networks only really become effective when those within them are allowed to use the value-added that being within a network affords them.

In areas driven by information and innovation, this is where the likes of Linux, Goldcorp, World of Warcraft, the Human Genome Project, Lego and increasingly the likes of Nokia, Proctor & Gamble and IBM, and many more, are going – empowering networks, with some remarkable success.  However, the transformation to an organisational, managerial and cultural space previously anathema to capitalist corporate ideals has required considerable leaps of faith.

But people even in the foreign policy world are taking tentative, if small, steps in this direction. One example is Diplopedia – “grass-roots technology in a top-down organization,” according to Eric M. Johnson of the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy.  Diplopedia, being a wiki, is open to the contributions of all who work in the State Department.[8] This has involved a culture shift from a “need to know culture” to a “need to share culture” evoking Pierre Levy’s idea of “we think, therefore we are”[9] suffused with Leadbeater’s “you are what you share”[10].

It’s a small step but it is indicative of a potential, seismic shift in thought about how we manage and then use information, in the same sense that communications professionals manage and use information.

Admittedly, this approach is not for all.  Strict security, defence, strategic policy, political machinations, negotiations and alliance concensus-building and decision-making may not be suitable for this collaborative, participative, self-organising, collectivist, horizontal networking style of management.  But, it has been remarkably successful in areas which thrive on information, ideas and innovation.  The question is: could it be useful in the management of communication within complex organisations operating in complex environments?

The technology is there but do we have the cerebral capacity, cultural flexibility and management ethos to use it effectively?  This sort of question has been raised before.  In the military context, the development of tank warfare strategy was slow to take shape despite the technology rapidly improving and a similar case can be made for air power.   Both required a culture shift to allow effective use of technology.

It can be argued that the widespread approach to strategic communication and public diplomacy, despite acknowledging the need for a change, is driven through adaptation of existing practices, denying the idea of a paradigm shift.  We are using new information technologies to merely create efficiencies and legitimize traditional tasks.  But, as Bruce Gregory points out “in today’s global information environment, we must do more than adapt – we must transform”[11].

Playing this ...

A senior NATO communications officer put it succinctly by claiming that even the widespread use of social media within NATO is being seen as a new club from the hierarchical golf bag.  However, the point is that the game has changed, and the world is no longer playing golf.  This, he claims, is like playing football with a golf club. Still operating as a hierarchy but in a networked world, he countenances throwing the rule book out and starting again – transforming not merely adapting.

At a higher level, governments and NATO, can be seen struggling with the Comprehensive Approach.  At its core the Comprehensive Approach tends toward the notion of collaboration, the very essence of the fully utilised networked environment, but can be seen to be faltering through the maintenance of hierarchical, top-down organisational culture inherent within its system.

Of course, it can be argued that a military alliance can never really adapt to such levels of self-organising and flat management culture.  The provision of organised violence through war demands a top-down command and control structure.  Indeed so.  But there are three aspects to this argument to be considered.  Firstly, modern warfare is increasingly fought in the information domain, a domain unlike any previous incarnation, rapidly evolving, less reliant upon outright violence and with innumerable actors. Secondly, modern warfare has adapted already to deal with the restrictions placed upon it through strict command and control protocols by encouraging the philosophy of mission command.  And thirdly, the ideals of flat, networked, collaborative structures and practice do not encourage pure self-organising without leadership.  In fact, all the success stories mentioned above have required a core, a guidance function – to all intents, a degree of leadership.

Furthermore, with regard to communications within military organisations, the thrust of this academic exercise, the function has always ‘enjoyed’ unique management practices because of its specialised nature – nowhere is the ‘thousand mile screwdriver’ as well utilised yet, equally, hardly any other functions have immediate management access to the hierarchy.  On most military HQ organigrams, just look for the dotted line between Public Affairs or Media Ops to the Command.  The notions of flat, collaborative, networked management primarily work for information driven activities and nowhere in a headquarters is information more of a direct force multiplier than when used by the communication function, be it information operations or public affairs.  The point here is that, while this new philosophy may have some limited utility within general management practice of military alliances, communications management within such is ripe for such transformation.

Yet, has this been examined seriously?  One could fill two thirds of the Royal Albert Hall with books on corporate management, including public relations or communications management.  The other third could accommodate the vast number of papers on military and foreign policy communications practices, especially propaganda, information operations and psyops.

However, of the latter, the vast majority of academic research, debate, discussion and dialogue connected with this area deal with externalities – i.e. concerned with how to strategically communicate, influence, coerce, persuade others – target audiences, be they citizens or consumers, foreign or domestic, friendly or hostile, population or insurgent – using various practices from TV spots to focus groups to social media and theories from social psychology to behavioural economics.  However, the approach encouraged focuses 180 degrees away, looking at the internalities – i.e how organisations manage communication, organise communicative practice, create a communicative culture in order to facilitate effective strategic communication via the externalities.  Specifically it suggests that the internalities – management, culture, structure, dynamics, ethos – of a highly political multilateral organization within an environment of multi-layered complexity play a massive role in achieving its goals.

As such, this area is indeed multi-disciplinary, existing at the nexus of international relations, security studies, organizational theory and communication management.

... when everyone else is playing this?

This approach is not necessarily focussed on how to persuade Afghan tribesmen to deny succour to Taliban raiders, nor does it examine how to convince the US population that the Afghan strategy is working and worth continuing.  These sorts of questions are wrestled with by many on a daily basis, from the newsrooms of the media to the military staff colleges of NATO nations.  There is no need to add to that cacophony.

However, it does appear that NATO and other militaries and governments, are reticent to seriously examine their own internal issues with regard to these communication needs.  Despite the common rhetoric, the discipline of corporate public relations is remarkably inward-looking, determined to fully understand the cultural web of an organization, in order to enable it to present itself to the world.  Only then can effective transformation, if needed, be enacted. The practice of strategic communication, and the endeavours within its rubric – public diplomacy, information operations and public affairs – have yet to achieve that maturity of discipline and management, and especially culture.  But, despite utilizing networking technologies, there is evidence that such immaturity, remaining shackled to a reductionist, hierarchical command and control framework, continuing to merely adapt existing practices, is negatively affecting the ability to use information and communicate it effectively.

The importance of culture to military communications practitioners applies to the culture of a target audience, with scant, if any, regard to the fact that there is a culture within, the understanding of which is just as important to a dialogical engagement as the protocols, routines, ritual, histories, narratives, codes and mores of  those being engaged.  Unfortunately culture is apparently something we need to know about others, as endless information operations workshops will attest.

Culture shift is always a controversial issue, fraught with philosophical difficulties and guarded against by powerful institutional inertia.  But culture shift is happening out there and some are successfully transforming themselves to deal with it.  This new culture of collaboration, flat management, open-source and interconnectivity will not provide the likes of NATO with the answers to all its communication issues but there are undoubtedly lessons to be learnt…

… Lesson 1: leave your golf clubs at home and start playing football.

And just to put our money where our mouth is (to coin an old English phrase) this is going to developed further via a wiki.  So feel free to have your say/comment/rant at http://natostratcom.wikia.com/


[1] ‘The World is Flat’ (2005)

[2] ‘Engagement: Public Diplomacy in a Globalised World’ (2008), p.25

[3] ‘Guerilla Diplomacy’ (2009)

[4] ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’ (1999)

[5] ‘We-Think’ (2008)

[6] ‘Wikinomics’ (2007)

[7] ‘The Starfish and the Spider’ (2006)

[8] New York Times 4 August 2008 ‘An Internal Wiki that’s not Classified’ http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/04/business/media/04link.html?_r=1

[9] ‘Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace’ (1999)

[10] ‘We-Think’ (2008)

[11] http://www.gwu.edu/~ipdgc/assets/docs/mapping_smartpower_gregory.pdf


See below some wise words from Major Mehar Omar Khan (Pakistan Army) from his article “Afghanistan: Seven Fundamental Questions” found at Small Wars Journal (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/319-khan.pdf)

Who should the coalition try to impress: Afghans or rest of the world?

While the pressure to present tangible results in terms that sound familiar to domestic and global audience is understandable, lives of young men should not be ‘wasted’ in pursuit of hollow ideals and empty slogans that mean woefully little to the people of Afghanistan. While there is essentially nothing bad about transparent ballot boxes, soap opera television, Afghan movies and a few dozen bold and beautiful women in the legislative assembly, the Afghan people look wearily at all these things. They are not impressed with these ‘achievements’, not just because they have an outdated mindset, but because it means so little to them in terms of alleviating some of their most basic concerns like hunger, malnutrition, disease, violence and fear. Coalition soldiers should not have to die for anything less noble than helping the people of Afghanistan forge a new future and a new destiny for themselves – a destiny that they will themselves determine in ways that they feel comfortable with.

Here are some ideas.

One, please understand the hearts and minds that you are trying to win. Most of these minds are illiterate, unschooled and locked in the last century. Most of these hearts are raw, romantic, sentimental and pure as a pearl. Help them start where they actually are and not where you want them to be. At their present level of socio-economic development, Afghans do not truly need a majestic parliament building, a palatial house for the president, five star hotels and nicely suited dummies as rulers in Kabul and Kandahar. They need small schools, clean drinking water, some pills for that headache which refuses to go away, some money to buy food for their kids and some assistance to kick-start their farming or that little shop in a mud-hut. People want their liberators to know that they need ‘electricity before they are asked to destroy their kerosene lantern’ and that they need to at least be able to read names before they are asked to choose one out of a long list of people vying to be their President.

Playing to this crowd ...

Playing to this crowd ...

Two, coalition must refuse to lock itself in a fight that tramples the people. This will involve some sacrifice in the short term but huge dividends in the long term.

Three, people need soldiers that respect their values and their traditions because, however outdated they may be, these are their values and their traditions. This land belongs to a ‘people’; it’s not the property of ‘a state’. In this context, is it not fair to ask how much of an effort, in terms of resources, has gone to ‘Afghanistan the state’ and how much to ‘Afghanistan the people’? How much of the money and resources and security has stayed and stagnated in Kabul guarding criminals and drug-lords; and how much of it has actually reached a far flung Helmand village caught in the center of the storm? How much of attention has gone to people most bitter about being ousted from power (Pashtuns) and how much of it has been lavished on communities that have generally always enjoyed a relative peace? Asking the right questions is the true test of honesty. Giving the right answers is a test of leadership. Questions carry their own correct answers as well as consequences for wrong answers.

global-crowd

... or this one?


Poignant video, winner of Afghanistan Matters video contest – appears a little military to start but moves on to the human aspect.