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Letters from Tokyo
USA Is Looking at Plan Colombia in Order to Tackle Afghanistan
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff

The United States is clearly worried by the crisis in Afghanistan and now a new policy is being viewed in order to tackle the growing insurgency. Therefore, the Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated that Plan Colombia may be a new approach to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. However, would Plan Colombia change the current situation in Afghanistan and how successful is Plan Colombia anyway?

Before focusing on this new approach which is being touted in important circles in Washington, it is vital to state the major differences between Colombia and Afghanistan. After all, do both nations share the same common problems and history?

I would clearly argue that both situations are very different and Plan Colombia may merely lead to yet another failed policy. For how do you equate The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with the radical Sunni Islamic insurgency in Afghanistan? Surely it must be obvious that both movements use different tactics with regards to military objectives and political desires.

FARC is merely interested in installing a Marxist-Leninist government and this movement is a lot older than the Sunni Islamic Taliban and Al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan. Also, insurgents in Afghanistan want to turn this naiton into an Islamic state which will be governed via Islamic Sharia Law.

Then if we focus on military tactics it becomes clear that FARC and radical Sunni Islamists in Afghanistan are very different. After all, suicide bombings and countless splinter groups within the Islamic insurgency in Afghanistan is very chaotic, however, FARC is much more military based and centralized and the leadership is clear. Yet many insurgency fighters in Afghanistan are in charge of themselves or based in very small groups and you clearly do not have any major centralized fighting machine. Instead, you have sporadic and chaotic attacks which causes major carnage but often this is done by a very small number of people and then they either melt away or if a suicide bomber, then clearly they die on the battlefield.

However, Admiral Mullen and other senior members have touted the need to look at Plan Colombia and possibly use aspects of this policy in order to tackle the growing insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Admiral Mullen stated " ... that I think many of us from all over the world can learn from what has happened with respect to the very successful developments of Plan Colombia. As in all plans, there are parts of it that would be very applicable in other parts of the world and specifically to Afghanistan and there would be other parts that would not apply at all."

Admiral Mullen further continued by linking both insurgencies because he stated " ... the counter-insurgency approach, the providing security for the people, the need for governance upon which the people can depend, not just national governance, but local governance, the ability to create jobs and opportunities for people who feel secure in those jobs are fundamentals that apply here and apply in Afghanistan. I'm actually encouraged based on the briefings that I’ve received here, since I've been here, about the plans for the future."

So it is apparent that senior military and political leaders are looking at Plan Colombia with regards to implementing aspects of this policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Therefore, Admiral Mullen continued by stating " .. there is great learning which has occurred for all of us—applying that learning to a place like Pakistan and Afghanistan is certainly part of the approach that I take in this review for that strategy."

Admiral Mullen does state that many differences apply between both situations, for example geography, however, it is noticeable that many aspects of Plan Colombia do appear to appeal to him and other senior members of the military and Obama administration. However, some people question the effectiveness of Plan Colombia because of important human rights violations and the ongoing narcotic menace which is reaching the streets of so many nations.

Therefore, Garry Leech, a senior writer for http://www.colombiajournal.org and a writer of many books, for example Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia and The Failure of Global Capitalism: From Cape Breton to Colombia and Beyond, states a very different point of view about Plan Colombia. For according to Garry Leech, a much acclaimed journalist and writer and a free thinker, we must not ignore the negative aspects of Plan Colombia.

Gary Leech states “Not surprisingly, Mullen and others who advocate transferring the Plan Colombia model to Afghanistan point to improved security in Colombia's major population centers and a dramatic reduction in murders and kidnappings in recent years. While a significant percentage of the Colombian population has indeed benefited from these successes, Mullen and others conveniently ignore the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from this establishment of "security" and Plan Colombia's complete failure as a counter-narcotics initiative."

Gary Leech continues by stating other valid points for he states that “ In recent decades, Colombia has endured one of the most under-reported humanitarian crises in the world ... With almost four million internal refugees, Colombia ranks second in the world after the Sudan. And while supporters of Plan Colombia repeatedly point to improved "security" in urban areas, critics note that the internal refugee crisis has worsened in recent years, in part because of the Colombian military’s aggressive counter-insurgency tactics in rural regions."

Therefore, it is abundantly clear that many aspects of Plan Colombia have failed and many people in Colombia have been uprooted, killed, or kidnapped. For example you had more than one thousand disappearances in 2008 in Colombia and clearly the motives are political and undemocratic. Also, many extrajudicial executions have taken place throughout this nation and the counter-narcotics initiative appears to have failed because cocaine production is still on the increase.

Overall, I believe that you can not overlook the huge differences between Colombia and the crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This applies to political ideology and religious ideology, and different military tactics which are used by FARC and radical Sunni Islamists. Other factors, for example terrain, motivation, suicide attacks, centralized structures via decentralized structures, and other important factors must not be ignored.

More important, like Gary Leech points out, you have many failings within Plan Colombia and you also have many human rights violations. Therefore, if the Obama administration and senior military leaders want to focus on Plan Colombia, they must also look at the terrible consequences of this operation. More importantly, Obama hinted at “a new history” for mankind but surely to focus on Plan Colombia then this is not “a new history” but merely a continuing policy of mass intervention and the violation of rights.



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Correspondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, He earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies in Nottingham Trent University. He also studied business at London Institute.

 

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