Nov 22, 2009

Obsolete policies on Afghanistan

By Saleem Safi

Disagreement on security issues is normal between any country’s political leadership and establishment. This is also the case with the United States. However, besides the establishment, the US media and think-tanks are so strong that the American leadership can’t deviate from the “line of action” dictated by all these powerful players. Powerful lobbies also add to the woes of the US political leadership.

The “self-made” president of the US, Barrack Obama, otherwise known for his massive achievements, is also confused over the future course of action in Afghanistan due to these multiple pressures and the same forces have also kept otherwise seasoned Hillary Clinton in shackles despite the fact that the Republicans are criticising the Obama administration for failing in devising a “new strategy” on Afghanistan.

If focused, two major causes for the failure of US forces in Afghanistan come to the fore — the domination of the US establishment over the political leadership vis-à-vis policymaking; and the role of the neighbouring states of Afghanistan — which are terrified due to the US designs of long stay in the region. These states are making the region a centre of a proxy war.

The manuscript emerging from the recent publications on the situation in Afghanistan reflects major differences between the State Department and the Pentagon in the recent past on policy matters. These also depict how people like Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had overshadowed the decisions taken by Collin Powel in policymaking as Powel was calling for more focus on reconstruction and institution-building in Afghanistan. He also kept calling for taking on board all the countries neighbouring Afghanistan on the state of affairs in that country, while the Pentagon and the CIA, which had a mission to attain their strategic interests, invaded Iraq without achieving stability in Afghanistan.

Resultantly, the US people are facing the consequences of this “misadventure” carried out by the US establishment. After Obama’s election, there was hope that sanity would prevail and diplomatic channels would be preferred over reliance on army might to resolve the issues and the focus would be on diplomatic and political means. However, this hope is fast fading as the Obama administration is succumbing to the pressures of the establishment and the US administration is being pushed for sending additional troops to Afghanistan.

On the other hand, this war hysteria is likely to gear up as there is no hope for success in Afghanistan and more foreign troops would mean more dead bodies to be flown back to the US. The military and political leaderships of the US draws vivid divisions over sending troops to Afghanistan — a land fast turning into another Vietnam for the US.

The recent demand of more troops for Afghanistan has been made by Gen Stanley McChrystal and his stance has been backed by Mike Mullen, Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke. Vice President Joe Biden, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones are opposed to this demand for more troops and they are pushing Obama to look for other solutions to the predicament faced in Afghanistan.

The situation is so serious that eminent US journalist Seymour Hersh says that Obama is in a “warlike situation” with Pentagon over the issue. Those advocating sending of more troops overlook the reality that the US has been constantly beefing up the US troops’ presence in Afghanistan and even during the past year the force has been increased three times or more. Besides the announced strength of US troops in Afghanistan, there are reports of dispatching thousands of troops for Afghanistan covertly.

Recently, Ewen MacAskill, the Washington-based correspondent of The Guardian, reported that the Obama administration has sent 13,000 enablers to Afghanistan, which also included intelligence officials. Fareed Zakaria, an eminent journalist, has also written in Newsweek about the third increase in troops in Afghanistan saying, “Do we need a third surge?”

Besides the troops’ increase, the US has also multiplied the latest weapons’ supplies to Afghanistan, but to no avail. More US troops were killed in recent months in Afghanistan despite the troops and weapons’ increase and even the number of casualties surged to 55 in October, the highest one.

Another reason for the failure of US troops in Afghanistan has been their ignorance about the social, religious and cultural values of Afghan people. During my recent visit to Afghanistan, I was informed that US soldiers failed to obtain the sympathies of the locals as their acts were rather widening the already deepened gulf. In one such an incident, some of US soldiers invited the anger of the Afghan villagers when a US soldier was lying naked taking a sunbath after having showers in a pond in Kunnar province. He was soon spotted by Afghan village kids who got infuriated and threw stones at him. This resulted in firing at the kids by US troops and the situation turned into a bloody brawl.

The time is ripe for President Obama to exploit diplomatic and political channels for the resolution of the Afghanistan issue, rejecting the pressure put by the establishment for sending more troops to Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai should also lessen the burden of Obama, playing an important role in a fresh and meaningful dialogue with the Taliban leadership. A dialogue with the Taliban would be incomplete without taking Al Qaeda on board. Similarly, the Obama administration will also have to take all the neighbouring states of Afghanistan on board on dialogue process and their concerns will have to be addressed. This is the only solution to Afghanistan quandary — otherwise, the US will be trapped in the terrains of Afghanistan, the region will keep burning and Obama will face the same end as was the fate of George W Bush.

The same is the case for Pakistan as the country’s establishment has implemented its policies vis-à-vis Afghanistan and India for years. Now it is time for Pakistan to review its rotten strategy adopted and pushed by the establishment. There is dire need for the Pakistani establishment to take political leadership point of view in decision making as reliance on force is no solution to the predicament faced by the country.

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