The Afghan Tribune has arranged an interview with a social scientist, Dr. Samuel James Striker on the situations of Afghanistan and the region and past mistakes committed by the stakeholders. His national and international analyses and interviews are noted for their well thought out approach to the problems afflicting Afghanistan, Iraq, and other war victim countries. Samuel James Striker, Ph.D., is the founder of Hollin-Phoenix Consulting, LLC: a company that specializes in socio-cultural research in unstable areas. He is considered by many to be one of the foremost conflict zone social scientists with extensive experiences in unstable areas such as North Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Dr. Striker’s awards include two Civilian Commendation Medals, NATO Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, 1/101st Airborne Recognition Award, 4/10 Mountain Brigade Award, 4/101st Airborne Recognition Award, and ISAF Joint Command Best Product Award. Dr. Striker has been featured in The Afghan Paradox and honored by Western Michigan University for his work in conflict areas.
What strategies should be employed so that the people of Afghanistan will come to perceive the USA as a true strategic friend in the future?
It’s a good question. The level of corruption is the bone of contention; this isn’t to say that the United States has no corruption, but that the problem there doesn’t rise to the disturbing levels rampant in Afghanistan. The degree of corruption in Afghanistan is truly disruptive of governmental administration, security, development and adversely affects Afghanistan’s relations with its regional neighbors. Afghanistan needs to seriously address the issue of corruption, while the United States and NATO must also improve its criteria of accountability in overseeing developmental projects in Afghanistan. Of course, we’ve had programs for improving the performance of Afghan institutions, but I have to say that our programs didn’t achieve their projected goals for the most part.
We should try to assess the reasons for failure; of course, corruption would be a primary cause, but a secondary one would be a lack of competency or insufficient oversight. To be honest, while the NATO mission was transparent, problems arose from failures in oversight, a failure to understand Afghan culture adequately, and poor communications among US or NATO forces with the indigenous power brokers.
There is also the problem of security. Afghanistan has about three hundred thousand members in its security forces, including the national army, the national police, the air force, the border patrol, and several other entities. Actually, capacity development within the armed forces was still in the infancy stage. They were in their preparation as a viable autonomous military. The problems of logistics remain a burning question, while accounting for supplies is similarly a major issue.
During the time I was at ISAF Joint command in Kabul, I noted that our responses often did not live up to the expectations of a good ally. When the security forces were in need of timely air support, we were not as quickly responsive as we should have been, due to the lags incurred by the demands of properly processing the requests. We also made some inevitable mistakes, as witnessed by the very unfortunate fact that hospitals were inadvertently bombed most recently.
This is not to say that we didn’t provide air support, and let me be clear–we always hate for such kinds of mistakes. When I was in Kabul about three or four years ago with ISAF Joint Command, one of the things they asked me to do was to investigate and analyze the data on the special operations units, and from that data I came to know that only 3% of air strikes led to tragic results in which women, children, and innocent civilians were killed, whereas the Taliban was as high as 30%.
NATO and the Afghan government coalition attempted to get out their messages to shape popular perceptions, to get the populace to understand certain things and to discount others, and people are free to make their conclusions based on these channels of information. Yet, there is also an evident disconnect and a real distance between the power brokers and the common people of Afghanistan, and a disconnect that also exists between the power brokers and the press (I mean the Afghan press of course)—that is, there aren’t good relations between the Afghan press and the military, the police and the government of Afghanistan. The negative consequences of this situation have led to failures in the psychological war meant to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.
As now we are confronted not only with the new threat of ISIS, but increased military casualties from Taliban forces as well as active interference on the part of regional proxies, don’t you think that the USA needs Afghanistan more than ever and that it should assist Afghanistan in every sphere?
Yes, this is important. But making a stronger Afghanistan doesn’t mean only doing so militarily, it also entails making Afghanistan strong economically, politically, and institutionally. And the nations who can make the most important contributions are Turkey, India, and the NATO countries, versus those who would prefer to see a weak Afghanistan include Pakistan, Iran and Russia. Such are the perceptions of the general populace, people who may not have specific facts and figures, but the facts and figures do support a principal conclusion: that Pakistan nurtures the Taliban in order to keep Afghanistan weak and unstable for its own purposes.
One thing that can bring the Afghan nation together is opposition to unwanted conflict from external actors, and in this regard let me single out ISIS. I think the successes of ISIS cannot be duplicated in Afghanistan but I do believe the problems they inflict can impose cumulative gradual damage to the country. As of now ISIS is perceived as an unwanted outside threat. As long as this perception holds ISIS is ultimately doomed in Afghanistan. Their only recourse will be to join and eventually supplant accepted Taliban groups.
Do you think it is because ISIS represents the worst manifestation of Salafism or Wahhabism that it won’t find success in Afghanistan?
No, I don’t think the vast majority of these people are genuinely religious. I think on the other hand that the existing tribal structure of Afghans has enabled them to successfully resist the world greatest powers, of which Taliban and Russian occupations are the most recent example. It must be acknowledged, however, that a severe economic recession in Russia contributed to the failure of its Afghan occupation. Yet while tribal structures may be a factor of strength on the one hand, they can also be divisive; after all, Afghan tribal forces fought fiercely amongst themselves after taking Kabul. Some warlords were under the influence of regional players, such as Pakistan,. On our part, we were mistaken about bringing tribal elders into our orbit inasmuch as we didn’t adequately understand the tribal fabric of Afghan society. Understanding and working with the existing tribal structures is the key
What are your thoughts about Russia—should it be treated as an ally in the war against terrorism, especially in Afghanistan’s north?
Afghanistan doesn’t need Russia. We appreciate that Russia has a well-trained Army, but the bulk of it is outdated, and there is no need for Russia to be allied with us, except to keep diplomatic channels open. The relationships with NATO countries, Turkey and India are much more aligned with the welfare of AF. The history of Russia at war or in its rule is very different from ours, and they have employed very different strategies for exerting influence, specifically in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan. However, Russia does have an interest in the north of Afghanistan, particularly in view of the questions of ongoing cross-border corruption, the weapons trade, and drug smuggling.
Do you think that Russia aims to engage in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, in order to put down military roots, while pretending to be concerned about the risk of insurrectionists from Afghanistan?
It’s an old method of exerting control, and unfortunately, this method has been used by many countries to push their agendas on other nations, which includes under the guise of offering help to Afghanistan. I haven’t formulated exact ideas about this, but yes, they are will be involved in the north of Afghanistan.
I was in the eastern part of Afghanistan and I have seen that Pakistan-based militants were engaged in burning trucks and other logistics materials so as to extort financial benefits from the US and NATO, and I believe that some these actions were planned by the ISI. Afghans would tell me of the practice where the ISI would burn transport trucks on the route from Karachi to Wesh. Then they would petition Coalition Forces to pay for an increase security.
So the western media was right when they said that the USA provided some USD 230 million per annum to the insurgents in southern Afghanistan as payment for being able to import their equipment for Afghanistan through the port of Karachi? Do you think this involved direct bargaining between the USA and Pakistan’s ISI?
I am not aware of such overt bargaining but I am aware of infiltration of certain fundamentalist groups into contractor companies.
The White House frequently accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for the Haqqani network, and yet Pakistan continues to believe that the fundamentalists are net assets for Pakistan.
Understanding the insurgency is important. It is not very well coordinated and there are many groups. The Haqqani are certainly assets of Pakistan’s ISI, making the situation with them very critical; the same can be said of Hekmatyar, but they are very different people. Haqqani has enemies in his own tribe, the Zadrans, and they do hamper the Haqqani. The most significant problem is with the Haqqani network and the ISI, and I would like to say that Pakistan is an ally in name only, and not in reality. HQN members did not get a search at PK checkpoints. At one point, One of HQ sons was arrested by the PK military and then mysteriously let go.
One of the great diplomatic missteps was telling the world that PK was an ally. They sheltered the insurgency and allowed them to grow into what they are today.
If what you say is the case, then why has more than USD 8 billion been provided to Pakistan on the basis of its being an ally?
Well, the relationship between the civilian elements of the Pakistani government and its other wings is a very unusual one. The government of Pakistan seems to have kept a blind eye on the doings of the ISI. Of course, Pakistan is primarily concerned about India, and India. Make no mistake, both are using AF to their own ends. Most of the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, or FATA, are insecure and not under proper Pakistani control, where the government has simply been ineffective. So is it by design or simply the lack of government control of the tribal areas? Smarter people than I can answer this question.
The Afghan Tribune | Dr. Samuel James Striker | Published: March 06, 2016, 10:41 PM