28 August 2009
David Livingstone

David Livingstone MBE DSC

Associate Fellow, International Security


Afghanistan is in a fully developed condition of insurgency, with Taleban influence reaching many parts of the country and seeping into all levels of society. This being the case why is the focus consistently on the military campaign? This tendency calls into question whether there is sufficient comprehension, both by Government and by the media, about how Afghanistan will become a free, independent and united country which is politically and economically stable and viable.

The United Kingdom is not a newcomer to fighting counter-insurgency. From Malaya in the late 1940s, through Cyprus, Kenya and Northern Ireland and now to the present day in Afghanistan, counter-insurgency doctrine has been developed, tested and refined. The former British military officer and counter-insurgency expert, Sir Robert Thompson, laid out a number of principles for defeating counter-insurgency, all of which survive and remain central to any counter-insurgency strategy.

Thompson stated that the national government (in our case Afghanistan) must:

  • Have a clear political aim
  • Function according to law
  • Must have an overall plan
  • Give priority to defeating political subversion
  • Secure its base area first

When the UK's Defence Secretary stated that 'Afghanistan is winnable', by logical extension he is suggesting that the campaign is also loseable.

Military force alone cannot deliver a peaceful Afghanistan. To focus too much on battles and skirmishes misses out entirely the most important part of the campaign - civil action.

The elections are an important aspect of that civil strategy. The result of the ballot is less important than the signal that an election process sends to the Afghan people, in that there is a programme of social justice and infrastructure development in progress. To be even more effective, the Afghan people must also be persuaded that the votes they cast are valid; that the voting system is a means to an end (of self-determination) in which their individual interests are represented, without fear or favour, at local, regional and national level.

Military operations have been valid in creating the best conditions possible for this election, but in the end only support a grander plan in which civil action, being led by civil agencies, is the main effort.