The Magazine

How to Export an Awakening

Afghanistan, viewed from Iraq.

Feb 9, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 19 • By DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS and JOSHUA D. GOODMAN
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Militarily, Abu Risha recommends giving Afghan leaders "the flexibility to develop and build military forces" similar to the Awakening and Sons of Iraq militias in Iraq. (The Sons of Iraq program, initiated and paid for by the U.S. military, consisted of the formation of paramilitary organizations in an effort to spread the Awakening beyond Anbar.) In his view, this can help Afghan fighters take the lead against religious militants, while NATO forces scale back their own activities. "Keep U.S. forces' and NATO forces' movement in Afghan cities limited," Abu Risha writes, "to only fight when needed, and control the Taliban insurgency and their expanded activities." He suggests that scaling back U.S. and NATO activity will diminish public hostility to their mission.

Abu Risha sees Pakistan as a second front as long as al Qaeda's senior leadership is ensconced in Pakistan's tribal areas. Islamic militants now routinely launch their attacks on Afghanistan from these tribal areas. Abu Risha encourages the United States to "help and support Pakistan in the fight against terrorism," and argues that an Afghan Awakening will depend in part on "strong and influential figures in Pakistan."

There are not only military but also political dimensions to Abu Risha's strategy. He recognizes Afghanistan's predominantly conservative religious practice and argues that "it is important not to infuriate influential public leaders, particularly the community religious leaders, mosques' preachers, mosques' imams, .  .  . and Islamic leaders in the tribal areas." Abu Risha favors active dialogue with religious leadership and institutions. He believes the influence religious figures and institutions have on Afghan tribal leaders warrants engagement with them.

Indeed, Abu Risha believes that an Afghan Awakening should be as politically inclusive as possible. He argues that, as a general rule, to do battle against Afghan parties "will cost the military more money than to include these political parties in the process." He recognizes, however, that there are limits to inclusion and writes that NATO forces should combat parties that "fight the American project."

To facilitate an Afghan Awakening, Abu Risha makes a concrete offer to U.S. and NATO forces. In his memorandum, he proposes sending a delegation of three to five Iraqi Awakening leaders to Afghanistan "to explain and clarify the essential requirements to implement and succeed in the experiment." He suggests having these Iraqis "participate in organizing different conferences in Afghanistan to share the ideology and the success" of Iraq's Awakening.

It will be interesting to see which of these ideas the United States pursues. While there are no guarantees that an Awakening strategy will work in Afghanistan, there are precious few alternatives.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is director, and Joshua D. Goodman is deputy director, of the Center for Terrorism Research at the
Foundation for Defense of Democracies.