Contemplating Post-Conflict Governance in Marjeh, Pt. 1

by Joshua Foust on 3/1/2010 · 23 comments

I have an article in today’s World Politics Review, discussing one way we can win the peace in Marjeh:

The Taliban tax opium for two reasons: It’s profitable, and it’s plentiful. But there is nothing unique to opium that makes taxing it especially attractive compared to other commodities. In eastern Afghanistan, for example, the insurgents tax timber smuggling, chromite, and even cotton. In other words, the Taliban tax commerce — which means that the locals are used to being taxed.

This presents an incredible opportunity for the newly installed government to establish a sustainable set of governance institutions. Rather than following the established ISAF model of focusing on law-and-order, which has at best a mixed record, Haji Zahir and his ISAF sponsors should focus first and foremost on establishing a stable tax regime, including checks and balances necessary to minimize the predatory behavior that ruined the previous government’s reputation.

Oh yes, I went there. More to come later.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 23 comments }

MILNEWS.ca March 1, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Agree 100%. How confident are you , though, that, even if the taxes are collected by the non-Taliban gov’t, will the $ be spent as it should? Also, do you think the Afghans have the infrastructure to get a rudimentary census done and a tax regime set up in a reasonable amount of time?

Stephen Pampinella March 1, 2010 at 10:11 pm

“Setting up a general census and land registry immediately lends itself to a crucial early step in combating any insurgency: the establishment of property rights.”

This is a great point. Hernando de Soto makes a similar point in the book ‘The Mystery of Capital’. Property rights would allow peasants (or urban dwellers in favelas) to take out loans for further investment. This would further bring them into the formal economy.

As to MILNEWS’s point, is there any indication that NATO or the UN is partnering with Afghan institutions to do this? If NATO militaries partnerswith Afghan security institutions to develop their own institutional capacity, one would think that a similar effort could be developed among economic Afghan institutions.

Any accounts want to go to the Stan?

This is the link to DeSoto’s book.

http://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Capital-Capitalism-Triumphs-Everywhere/dp/0465016154/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1267499464&sr=8-1

Dafydd March 2, 2010 at 6:00 am

But isn’t all this inside the prepackaged “Government in a Box”??

What sort of boxed up government comes with no tax collecting capability?

One advantage the Taliban have in taxation is their brutality. If some Talib foot soldier takes a cut for hinmself, that is death to him and probably all his family.

We are not nearly so severe.

Another is their willingness to tax opium. If wheat is taxed and opium is illegal, a farmer who thinks he can get away with it will grow (untaxed) opium. Prohibition also breeds corruption. Opium farmers will try to bribe taxmen to take a wheat tax off their opium fields, or to turn a blind eye.

M Shannon March 2, 2010 at 6:11 am

Post Conflict? Who says the conflict in Marjah is over? If things go as usual the Taliban will filter back in after most of the ISAF troops are withdrawn, lay IEDs to hit the remaining ISAF & ANSF and start to assassinate the ANP leadership and other government officials. How long will the DG, his tax collectors, and the Chief of Police last?

Government in a box…more like a casket.

anan March 2, 2010 at 11:22 am

Shannon, this can’t happen this time; because in their infinite wisdom, Pres Karzai, MoD minister Wardak, and McChrystal have decided to tie down a large number of quality ANA units in Helmand indefinitely; at the expense of the rest of the country. Obviously this is because Helmand with more than 2.5% of Afghanistan’s population is strategically the most important part of Afghanistan. [said tongue in cheek]

The Taliban won’t come back to Marja, or Helmand as whole; unless they are crack-pot crazy. If they have any brain–and I think they do–they will relocate to other parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan and continue the Jihad from there.

Shannon, why would the Taliban return to Marja and Helmand; when there are other Afghan provinces where the Taliban are more popular; and where the ANA and ANP are weaker? Why not go to Ghazni or Paktika where there are few ANA, even fewer ISAF, incompetent ANP (worse than Helmand), and where the Taliban are more popular than they are in Helmand?

Currently, there are 4,500 ANSF [ANP + ANA] in Marja alone. What can the Taliban do against them?

reader March 2, 2010 at 8:34 am

Speaking from the point of view of the locals, who is doing the taxing? If Karzai and his boys are just viewed as puppets of the West, perhaps locals might view these new taxes as just a Western ploy. They know the Taliban aren’t living it up on their tax revenues.

Also, as Daffyd pointed out, the minute taxation becomes popularly associated with graft you just lost that province. Not that I mean to imply that the ANA, ANP, and Karzai’s provincial governors and allies are anything but professional and forward-thinking.

anan March 2, 2010 at 11:25 am

Joshua, increasing the tax revenues of the GIRoA is one of Afghanistan’s greatest priorities. Let’s keep in mind the size of the challenge you are referring to:
– GIRoA annual revenue = $600 million/year
– GIRoA annual projected steady state expenditure = more than $10,000 million/year

Joshua, how far do you think your measures would go to reduce the enormous budget deficit?

Joshua Foust March 2, 2010 at 11:29 am

Outside of Marjeh, zero. Inside Marjeh, there is a slight chance that tax revenues could at least cover the salaries of local officials and maybe a small PSD. It’s a start. We’re a good decade-plus away from either the ANA or ANP being sustainable in the budget, assuming everything breaks our way (which it won’t).

anan March 2, 2010 at 11:53 am

Joshua, I have messed with budget projections many ways. Don’t see how the GIRoA can balance its budget even excluding the ANSF over the next decade. Even Afghanistan’s education budget is substantially greater than GIRoA annual revenues. And I think the education budget needs to be increased further; to facilitate long term economic growth.

My view is that the international community should agree to entirely fund the ANSF + Education budget of Afghanistan for 20 years; but force the Afghans to assume responsibility for all other spending within a decade.

The ANSF could serve in global peace keeping missions over the long term; as partial reimbursement for the international community completely financing it.

M Shannon March 2, 2010 at 11:48 am

Anan: Sorry but there aren’t any high quality ANA units and the crew they sent to Marjah did nothing but keep out of the way.

The north of Helmand (Sangin-Kajaki-Musa Qala) is full of Taliban. The “model” district of Nawa is slowly going south. Successful Taliban attacks occur in Lashkar Gah District every couple of days. Naw Zad was cleared…I guess except for the IED team that blew 11 civilians up the other day and the guys who run the illegal checkpoints down the road from the FOB. I haven’t heard much about Nad Ali, except for Brit casualties. I suspect it’s going slower than Marjah.

I don’t think the Taliban will leave. They’ll hide. They’ll mingle. They may join the police. They’ll farm. They’ll reorg and even pick off a few ISAF and ANSF and when the Marines pull out they’ll come out in the open again…the same as after every other offensive. The only difference this year will be that ISAF will have five or six more big bases across the country to build, protect and supply which will make this years “big push” strategically more senseless than the preceding five years.

anan March 2, 2010 at 12:43 pm

“there aren’t any high quality ANA units” Not true.

“and the crew they sent to Marjah did nothing but keep out of the way. ” Again not true. Shannon, differentiate by ANA unit.

“The north of Helmand (Sangin-Kajaki-Musa Qala) is full of Taliban.” Based on the sheer flow of ANA, ANP and Marines into Helmand; the Taliban will be persuaded to redeploy elsewhere soon. The bigger question is why focus on Musa Qala versus other parts of Afghanistan.

“The “model” district of Nawa is slowly going south.” Evidence?

“Successful Taliban attacks occur in Lashkar Gah District every couple of days.” This is to be expected; many locations near Lashkar Gah District are still not in the “hold” phase. As long as there are Taliban pockets; they can still launch attacks in the general area.

“Naw Zad was cleared…I guess except for the IED team that blew 11 civilians up the other day and the guys who run the illegal checkpoints down the road from the FOB.” Would like to hear more about Naw Zad. Which ISAF and ANA are responsible for Naw Zad?

“The only difference this year will be that ISAF will have five or six more big bases across the country to build, protect and supply which will make this years “big push” strategically more senseless than the preceding five years.” Are you talking about the 215th ANA Corps HQs, 3 Regional Supply Units, 4 CS bns (one Corps level, 3 bde level), 3 CSS bns, and special headquarters service support brigade unit; as well as the logistics build for the ANP in Helmand. How can the ANSF function without them? And why is the ANA logistics build in Helmand a bad thing (except for because the ANA should focus elsewhere in Afghanistan)?

Shannon, even though Helmand had 835,000 or 2.5% out of Afghanistan’s 33 million people; Helmand accounted for 45% of total Afghan violence in 2008. In other words, Helmand was 32 times as violent as the rest of Afghanistan in 2008. Helmand is making progress from that very negative base.

The correct question to ask is if the progress in commensurate with the massively disproportionate resources being poured into Helmand. I think you could argue the answer is no. Look at what Helmand has gotten:
– 9,000 of the UK’s 10,500 troops
– 300 Estonians
– One Georgian combat bn with about 750
– One Danish combat bn with about 800
– 10,000 Marines so far, with another 5,000 in route (15,000 out of 20 K Marines seem headed for Helmand)
– 215th ANA Corps in route, with at least 3 brigade HQs, 12 combat bns (with 4 combat companies each)
– A surge of ANP from all around Afghanistan, including Pashtuns from Kunduz and Baghlan who are needed back home.
-Most of Britain’s, Denmark’s, Estonia’s and Georgia’s civilian surge and reconstruction effort + a disproportionate massive slice of the US civilian surge and reconstruction effort
-Disproportionate slice of the GIRoA’s limited civilian governance capacity

Shannon, where do you get your notions of the ANA from? The ANA hasn’t ever deployed a good battalion to Nangarhar, but that does not mean that good ANA bns aren’t fighting elsewhere. How would you rate the 1-209 ANA in Mazar e Sharif? How would you rate 1-203 in Khost/Paktia? How would you rate the ANA Commandos in Helmand? I heard a Marine praise them highly. At the same time, the ANA also sent 16 rifle companies straight out of boot camp to Helmand (maybe 18.) Marines were less than flattering about them. What would you expect with fresh units?

3-215 commanding Brigadier General Ghori and his deputy Col. Sharin as well as at least one of their battalion commanders in Helmand are good officers.

Where does your pessimism about the ANA come from?

M Shannon March 2, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Anan: I base my comments about the ANA on casualties. If the ANA was out front fighting the Taliban it would take heavy casualties. It doesn’t. Since it has poor training, bad vehicles, scant first line medical care and second rate protective equipment the only way to explain the lack of casualties is a lack of effort or a level of incompetence so high that they are kept out of harms way by NATO commanders.

I don’t care what positive things US gov and NATO employees have to day about ANSF. This has gone on too long to take self serving praise seriously.

anan March 3, 2010 at 3:02 am

“If the ANA was out front fighting the Taliban it would take heavy casualties. It doesn’t.” The ANA doesn’t take heavy casualties? You are joking, right?

M Shannon March 2, 2010 at 10:18 pm

And this from Tomdisptch.com:

Afghan National Army (ANA) troops are regularly described as unable to read maps, incapable of “planning a complicated patrol” or resupplying themselves, poor at small unit maneuvering, poorly trained, refusing to stand night guard duty and sometimes even to fight, high on drugs, riddled with corruption, unable to aim their weapons, “years away from functioning effectively on their own,” and as C.J. Chivers of the New York Times recently summed matters up, totally inadequate when it comes to “transporting troops, directing them in battle and coordinating fire support [or] arranging modern communications, logistics, aviation and medical support.” And keep in mind that the soldiers sent into Marja are reportedly the best the ANA has available. All this, despite multi-billions of dollars and years of effort invested in Afghan army training. (And the Afghan police, for multi-billions more, make the Afghan army look good.)

anan March 3, 2010 at 3:01 am

Shannon, do you think that the ANA commando battalion in Marja is: “unable to read maps, incapable of “planning a complicated patrol” or resupplying themselves, poor at small unit maneuvering, poorly trained, refusing to stand night guard duty and sometimes even to fight, high on drugs, riddled with corruption, unable to aim their weapons, “years away from functioning effectively on their own,””?
If so; the please prove it.

For that matter, how would you describe 3-215 Commanding BG Ghori and his deputy Col Shirin Shah?

The ANA has in recent weeks sent between 16 and 18 ANA combat companies straight out of 8 weeks boot camp. How good do you think any Army unit from any country would be straight out of 8 weeks boot camp without a sufficient compliment of officers and NCOs?

Shannon, can the Taliban outfight the ANA? How would you rate the Pakistani Army?

Most armies around the world are low quality, including most Arab armies. But their countries still function. The ANA is already better quality than most global militaries. Why can’ the ANA win?

M Shannon March 3, 2010 at 1:15 am

But the police are even worse. From antiwar.com

Lt. Gen. Caldwell says 67 percent of police recruits drop out before the finish their basic training. Previous comments have indicated that a significant portion also resign after wards, disillusioned by the high risk, low pay and corrupt environment.

The enormous pre-graduation attrition rate is made doubly shocking, however, when one considers how little training Afghan police are actually expected to complete. Though class lengths vary, many recruits in recent months are graduated after only about three weeks of training, thrust into the war zone with virtually no idea what to do next.

anan March 3, 2010 at 2:53 am

Shannon, you trust the guys at antiwar.com? Oh my God.

In this case, yes they are right that 67% of ANP recruits don’t pass basic training. ANP have problems.

M Shannon March 3, 2010 at 5:38 am

Well if the ‘commando” battalion was like the “commandos” in the recent 60 Minutes piece I’d be happy if they just didn’t shoot each other. The chances of the “commandos” being “good” infantry is close to zero.

The only evidence I have is quotes from people on the ground (the Caldwell quote was in several sources), ANSF issued documents, what I’ve seen myself and logic. Anecdotal stories about the professionalism of ANSF aren’t exactly common and this is with a robust NATO PR campaign.

The ANSF as organizations are very poor. Sadly they are unlikely to get much better because of lowered entrance requirements and training due to the need to get numbers up, the Peter Principal in effect to staff leadership slots in the new units, the shift from technical units to infantry, and the drain from western organizations of leaders and particularly of soldiers needed to guard all the new FOBs and convoys for the “surge”.

It’s been eight years and tens of billions of dollars in equipment and training and the ANA still can’t be left alone to get after the Taliban- an enemy with 1950s vintage and in some cases manufactured light weapons, poor training, no major state supporter and no aircraft. An enemy everyone agrees is detested by most Afghans. This should be a slam dunk.

The ANSF is too poorly motivated to take on the Taliban without NATO and likely never will be. It’s no surprise really and fits the pattern of Algeria, Indo China, Viet Nam and Iraq to a tee. It’s time to negotiate and end to this.

Billy March 3, 2010 at 9:01 am

Taxing Marjeh might sound like a great idea but it is just another great idea in many that can only postpone the inevitable. Whether it’s establishing rule of law, a tax system, alternative crops, building roads, etc etc… the only way out of this is to compromise on what’s not essential (governing Afghanistan) and what is essential (separating the Taliban from al Qaeda).

Gjon March 3, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Rather than following the established ISAF model of focusing on law-and-order, which has at best a mixed record, Haji Zahir and his ISAF sponsors should focus first and foremost on establishing a stable tax regime

I do not understand the dichotomy between these two foci. When working in Kosovo, and sitting in the joint UNMIK/IMF/OSCE/NATO meeting with the Minister of Finance and Economics, we made very clear that a “stable tax regime” is a significant part of “law-and-order.”
To tax goods, there has to be an enforceable law defining the type of goods taxed and the rights of ownership of that good.
To tax property, there has to be an enforceable law defining the type of property and the owner of that property.
To tax business transactions (mortgages, trusts, etc.), there must be an enforceable law defining the type of business and the the companies who have a right to engage in that transaction.
To make sure all these happen, you need an enforcement regime that requires clearly defined laws to establish order and a force to maintain that order based on authority derived from laws.

This was in contradiction to the status quo where organized crime gangs levying ad hoc “taxes” that were in reality, extortion money.

This is the same type of behavior engaged by the Taliban. Regardless of one’s view of “spreading democractic ideals”, let’s be honest. The Taliban “tax” is not a tax. It is extortion. The “tax” was not voted on by a centralized representative body, or a group that ruled by the consent of the governed. It was not derived to support certain goods or services. Sure it was protection money, but the implication was the “protection” the Taliban provided is against harrassment from the same group that the money was collected by. That’s extortion. Furthermore, the Taliban extortion was never reached by cooperation. The Taliban set an arbitrary “share” of the profits, and the Taliban arbitrarily enforced the tax.
Whatever your feelings about the tax rate and government spending, most Western nations enforce law and order via their tax code. To say they are separate, as this paragraph implies, overlooks the cornerstone of any law (enforcement paid by taxation) and order (established by tax codes and rights) society.

reader March 3, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Spoken like an interested party.

SPAM ALERT March 12, 2010 at 6:51 am

Please delete the previous comment advertising shoes.

Andrew March 12, 2010 at 6:59 am

Getting back to Josh’s excellent article in World Politics Review, it now seems to be gated, whereas it wasn’t at first. How mean is that!

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