Cables from Kabul also delivers a stinging criticism of the way the late US AfPak envoy – Richard Holbrook – threw his weight around to push things through – issues that mattered to him –regardless of what other thought of him or his plans. In the book, Holbrook comes across as a man who, would often come late to the meetings, had grand plans but little time, or attention to implement them.
“The full meeting lasted three and a half hours. Holbrooke was present for less than a third of the time. He announced that he had an important alternative engagement, although he later confided to me that the real reason of his absence was the opening of an exhibition of paintings by his sons-to which he kindly invited me,” writes the former ambassador of one of the multi-lateral meetings (P.239)
“And throughout I pursued Holbrooke –by telephone, text and email, and when could find him, in person. In Paris, on private business, he invited me from London to join him for dinner. Rushing from a delayed Eurostar, I missed an appointment with our Ambassador and headed straight to the restaurant, worried that I would have kept Holbrooke waiting. But he was even later.”
A major conclusion that Cowper-Coles draws from his experiences in Afghanistan is the fact that the American way of handling this “Pashtun insurgency” will probably not work.
Cowper-Coles also quotes from a 2008 Rand Corporation study of counter-insurgency in Afghanistan to underline that (P 278) the analysis of 90 insurgencies since 1945 indicate[d] that three variables [were] correlated with the success (or failure) of counterinsurgency efforts: a) capability of indigenous security forces, especially police local , b) governance, and c) external support for insurgents, including sanctuary.
In Afghanistan, none of those three variables is likely to swing definitively and enduringly in favour of the coalition for many years yet.
Let the Afghans sort it out among themselves, and trust them, is the advice from the former special representative. We will need to accept, as we already have to do, that often it may be better to let the Afghan themselves to do a job badly than for us to do it for them. Even if the Afghan may be less effective, and more corrupt and inefficient, the western way, it may be wiser to let the Afghan make their own mistakes, and learn from them. However imperfect the result of such a process, they may last longer than attempts by outsider to buck the Afghan market.( P 291)
The ambassador is also skeptical of whether the American Military-focused approach that had been led by Gen.David Petraeus will leave behind sustainable political structures?
“The unremitting pressure of US domestic politics will still limit the American Republic’s ability to do the right thing abroad, in this case pressing hard and from the highest level for the political settlement in and around Afghanistan, and between Israel and all its neighbors,” wonders Cowper-Coles.
“….the chances of acceptable governance falling, in any lasting way the spacing being created by those tactics are not good. Such a military-focused approach risks making Afghanistan safe not for better governance, but for the warlords and narco-mafias that the Taliban originally targeted when they took power in the mid-1990s,” according to one of the lessons the former British envoy learnt during his three years stint in Kabul. He indeed has offered a very measured reality- check for all those who had believed that they could set Afghanistan right by cleansing it off the Taliban insurgency, realizing little that the insurgents were not outsiders, nor were they short on time – unlike the short and pressing deadlines that domestic politics in the US and other NATO countries impose on combat missions overseas.