We wonder why after 10 years, we don’t have more results in Afghanistan…the Critical Path is a big part.
There are 20+ countries with 20+ agendas in Afghanistan. Everything we do is communicated through translators (who can’t agree on how to translate anything)….which is at best an 80% solution…done at 1/2 speed. Mix in some of the most rugged terrain in the world…and two totally different cultures…and it’s a multi-decade proposition.
Let’s talk for a minute about Army culture. Army folks are proud…they have a can do attitude. They take the unthinkable and break it down into achieveable goals; then get to work. Army guys say…”How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Success is a given. This culture makes the Army a fantastic effort machine that accomplishes the impossible.
Afghans on the other hand are a people with defined social roles that do not change. Women make the home. Men work their fields. Their past has denied them a future, so they live day to day. Islam requires submission to God’s will….which means, Afghans doesn’t try to change the future.
Afghanistan’s culture creates an incredibly tough problem for the Army. Success isn’t hinged upon hard work. The point is…it’s not the “path of least resistance;” it’s the critical path that matters. The Army isn’t wired to take this path…One more thing…by the time a unit recognizes the critical path…it’s nearly time to go home.
To take the critical path one has to know what to do given this….
Villagers are terrified that the Taliban are going to kill them if they accept our help…we can’t simply start helping and disregard this threat. The Taliban are nearly invisible to us. Yet, villagers interact daily with Taliban. Afghans make decisions as a group. They DO NOT make decisions without consulting their elders and the Taliban. Trust is not easily given or earned. They have no sense of planning like we do…when we say….
“We will build a school, but we have a number of proceedures that must be actioned before the commanders will approve any CERP funded projects. Of course since we are here to serve you, your MOE must approve the project as well…These things are done for your benefit to reduce corruption and to promote a healthy reliance on your government.”
Afghans think…Great, the Americans are going to build a school. Just like the last unit said…and the one before that. It doesn’t really matter because the Taliban killed the last teacher and burned down the school. I’ll keep my kids safe in the mosque where the Taliban agree to let them study the Koran.
The answer is, this isn’t a 10-year problem. We’ve got to remember post civil war US reconstruction took decades (yes I know not officially)…maybe 100 years. Germany, Eastern Europe all places with huge advantages over Afghanistan took more than 10 years. We’ve got a people who culturally aren’t meant to improve their lot….how do we change that? Do we change that?
Pakistan purposefully sends in operatives…NATIONAL operatives to undermine the effort to give the Afghan people a free country. There are boundary disputes, a nation of illiterate people, few jobs…it’s a mess…
We can’t leave, we can’t stay….we can’t decide. There has been significant progress…but this stuff isn’t easy. It’s important, but not easy.
Somewhere out there is the critical path…and it’s not 10 years long.