Saturday, 8 August 2009

"We are not trying to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland."

The words of General Sir David Richards, who also said that Britain is in Afghanistan for the long haul. With respect, I suggest that Switzerland might be the best model for a future Afghanistan, because of similarities in physical geography and in the mixture of peoples, languages and religion. Monolithic central government has failed, as both the Russians and the Taliban found.

Where I would agree with the general is that the West should not attempt to impose a particular form of governance on the country.


Anonymous said...

Afghanistan: What would Napoleon have done?

In the late 18th century, Switzerland was already a confederation of provinces (cantons) united, despite the diversity of languages and the schism of religion, by centuries of common history and pride in their fighting fame. This resemblance to modern Afghanistan deserves to be mentioned and indeed does not only refer to a mountainous geography, a landlocked country, with a population predominantly rural and conservative, politically organized around large cities.

When, at that time, the revolutionary ideas rocked Europe, disorder settled in Switzerland and violence broke out between those who wanted to keep the old order and those who swore only by social progress.

General Napoleon Bonaparte, who then led a victorious army in Italy, was sought by Swiss citizens to assist in their emancipation. Driven as much by ambition as by good intentions, he promised freedom, equal rights, and soon the French armed forces entered the country.

"Many thought we could not obtain anything without the help of France, but the majority of the people abhor the armed intervention of a foreign power in the affairs of their homeland" (History of the Swiss Nation, Henri Zschokke, 1830). Proud mountain people, jealous of their liberty and ancient heritage, then rose in many valleys.

In 1798, France confirmed its project: "Switzerland will provide a full and indivisible Republic under a central Government. (...) The Government shall appoint, for the enforcement of laws in the various cantons, governors and other authorities." But, unfortunately, announced democracy and social progress only brought forth oligarchic administration, and endless political turmoil accompanied the insurgency.

In 1803, Napoleon, with the foresight that today certainly is lacking in the international community on Afghanistan, did not hesitate to reverse the policy itself and, in order to restore civil concord, imposed a Mediation. He wrote to the delegates of the cantons: "Switzerland resembles no other State, either by the events that have succeeded for many centuries, or by location or by the different languages, different religions, or this extreme difference of manners between its different parts. Nature has made your State federal, willing to defeat it is not from a wise man."

The Act of Mediation enabled Switzerland to restore peace in the midst of a Europe at war. This was followed in 1815 by a Federal Pact, and especially by an "Act of recognition of the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland" signed by all European governments. On these solid foundations, the Federal State was formed over the decades, around a Constitution (1848), an Army of Militia, a Right of Referendum (1874), a Right of Popular Initiative (1891), a Civil Code (1907), a Penal Code (1937), etc. It may be noted in passing that it was not until 1971 that the Swiss, after several refusals, accepted the participation of women in federal politics.

The Swiss political model is regularly cited as one that could inspire a peaceful Afghanistan: Edwin Paynter 2002, Henry Kissinger 2009, Inderfurth and Dobbins 2009, etc.. Yet the international community persists in trying to impose on this complex country a highly centralized political model, secretly hoping the advent of a "good dictator"...

Frank H Little said...

Thank you, anon., for providing the historical basis and the academic backing which was lacking in my original post.

It has to added that Switzerland is self-sufficient as a nation, not only from its pre-eminence as a trusted banker, but also from the ingenuity of its citizens. Two things which come immediately to mind are watch-making and innovations in making bar chocolate.

As the general also says in his statement, Afghanistan needs jobs. There are crops which thrive in the special environment there, and Western (and middle-Eastern) commerce should be following the military in, as the physical infrastructure is built, to give local entrepreneurs a market.

Pre-eminently, there is opium poppy. I understand there is a shortage of medical opium worldwide, yet few if any Afghani farmers are given licences to produce legal opium. The market is clearly rigged in favour of first-world producers, when a more free-trade approach would inject more money into Afghanistand and reduce that country's dependence on Western capital and income from rogue states, whose only aim is to produce terrorists to attack the Judaeo-Christian West.