Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Deal With the Insurgents

This guy who served in the Indian Army fighting rebels in Kashmir makes a good point with respect to the US in Iraq:

"I joined the insurgents only because of you," the young Kashmiri man told me, sobbing, "because of the way you humiliated me, they way you tormented me. To regain my honor, I picked up the gun." It was one of my more shocking encounters during my two and a half years of counterinsurgency duties as an Indian Army officer in Kashmir. Shocking, because it was the antithesis of everything I had worked toward. The self-awareness that inevitably dawns on all soldiers in a combat zone came upon me: I was not a part of the solution; I was the problem, or at least part of the problem.
That sounds familiar. But then:
Almost four years have passed since I left the Kashmir Valley. Although the conflict gets less public attention, civilians, soldiers and militants still die every day. Despite the seemingly endless daily toll, a few months ago the commander of India's Northern Army at the time, Lt. Gen. Hari Prasad, had the confidence to declare that "normalcy is round the corner."

That also sounds familiar. Dangerously so. And then:
True, the level of violence in Kashmir has decreased and this augurs well for peace in the valley. But the Indian Army has not, and can never, quash the insurgency. On the contrary, one of the first lessons taught to all soldiers deploying in Kashmir is that an insurgency can never be militarily defeated. It can only be managed until a political solution is found — a lesson that the Bush administration would do well to remember.

The problem here is that the Iraqi insurgency is not just about fighting the occupiers. In Iraq, the insurgents are also fighting against their own government, in an effort to precipitate civil war, or at the very least, perpetual chaos that prevents the formation of a meaningful civil structure in which Sunnis are officially the weak minority. That extra twist keeps our Indian friend's advice from being fully applicable. Holding down the insurgency until a "political solution" is found won't be enough, because even if and when such a solution is realized, the moment the US steps back, the chaos will start again, probably in earnest. It's a no-win situation, with the only fully applicable lesson from prior world events being: once you step in dogcrap, it takes a lot of time and effort to get it off your shoe. Even then, the smell lingers.


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