OK, so this is well trodden ground and I realize I am a broken record on this, but I really think that the strategic costs of civilian casualties are the central challenge of the peacebuilding effort in Afghanistan. This story, for example, perfectly captures the challenge facing NATO. The circle between fighting neo-Taliban, accidentally killing civilians, and the resulting increased Afghan support for the neo-Taliban and anger against the coalition/Karsai, is intractably vicious.
So what do we do about it? I wish I knew. It is not without a lack of thought though. I have been working recently on the concept of 3D peacebuilding. I will share papers/articles once published asap, but one of the things that the principle necessitates is fundamental collaboration and mission planning between the three D. While this is incredibly difficult, and advocates of the concept are themselves unsure about what exactly this would look like, I think that this is where we have to be going.
3D collaboration goes far beyond simply better communication. Instead it means shared decision making. For example, if an air strike is desired for military objectives, and the development workers believe the risk of civilian casualties outweighs this strategic imperative, then a tactical compromise must be reached. Idealistic, perhaps unrealistic, and undoubtedly messy, trust me, I know. But I think that dealing with this is the only way out of the vicious circle we remain trapped in. I don’t think we can win unless we recalibrate the constituents (defense, development and diplomacy) in this decision making process.
Using this calculus, for example, there probably isn’t a good case for heavy artilery, tanks, and air strikes (in all but the most remote regions) in Afghanistan. The costs to the long term objective, Afghan Peacebuilding, are simply too devasting. As this weeks 60 deaths and widespread protests illuminate.