Nov 3, 2009

Voices of sanity

Raoof Hasan

As Pakistan continues to be drenched in blood, there are sane and conscientious voices emanating from within the US highlighting the absolute futility of its continued presence in Afghanistan and the dire need for formulating an immediate exit strategy. The latest to surface is Matthew How, the first US official known to have resigned over the Afghan war, who expressed his deep-set fears in his resignation letter: "I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is not based on how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end." He went on to write: "Many Afghans are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there – a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt US-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a maligned presence and Pakistan-based Al Qaeda needs to be confronted, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war."

In a candid conversation with Karen Young of The Washington Post, How said he decided to speak out publicly against the war because "I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona to call their congressmen and say 'Listen, I don't think this is right'."

In an incisive account of the localised nature of the insurgency against the US presence in Afghanistan, How didn't realise that hundreds, may be thousands of groups across Afghanistan had few ideological ties to the Taliban, but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases: "The war has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that supports the Pashtun insurgency." With multiple, seemingly infinite local groups, the insurgency "is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by external and internal enemies. The US and NATO presence in Pashtun valleys, as well as the Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified."

How ends his letter by stating: "American families must be reassured that their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams un-kept. I have lost confidence such assurances can be made any more."

Coming from within the US hierarchy that, so far, has been engaged in perpetuating its illegal occupation of Afghanistan, it is indeed a telling blow to the entire edifice of irrationality of a presence that has few surviving buyers around the globe. Having long outlived its morality aspect, the US is currently engaged in a losing battle of finding ways to maintain a direct or proxy presence in Afghanistan. While there is a serious dialogue raging in the power echelons of Washington with regard to the advisability of sending more troops to Afghanistan, there is a concurrent move to start devising a credible exit strategy if the going gets tougher. It is to the strengthening of the latter prospect that How's resignation letter would add its due weight.

While the US exit from the area would be a welcome sight for most of the local and regional powers, it is its effort to suck Pakistan deeper into the Afghan quagmire that is laden with grave dangers. In spite of the fact that combating militancy would remain a top priority for any government trying to establish its writ, it is the manner and dynamics of the engagement that would determine its ultimate legitimacy and outcome. In its desperate bid to hang on to the area and a cause that is already lost, the US needs a proxy to carry on the unpopular war in Afghanistan after its potential exit. Should Pakistan espouse the dangerous role as it is being incessantly pressured to do? How would such a role serve its own strategic and allied interests domestically, regionally and internationally? Are all the national players on board with regard to adopting this option as a policy document? How would we address an eventuality that would expose our people to the prospect of a continuing bloodbath on its own soil? Already, there are innumerable inherent aberrations within the ruling hierarchy topped by the unconstitutional National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that it is presently trying to correct with little to no chance of success. Faced with this grave prospect, would the majority party opt to espouse another lost cause that may endanger strategic national interests simply by way of ensuring continued US crutches for a shaky coalition that is low on both legitimacy and competence?

On the face of it, none of the above would make any sense. Given that, should one surmise that sanity would prevail with regard to strategising and formulating a credible, pragmatic and durable Afghan policy that would serve the national interest now and in the foreseeable future? Having been exposed to an 18-month track record of the ruling concoction that has been patently self-serving, a correction may be hoping for a miracle. I would, therefore, be reluctant to put faith in the avowed ability of the incumbent coalition to fully comprehend either the enormity of the challenge that is laid out before it, or its competence to chalk out an effective strategy to deal with it in consonance with national interest. As Pakistan gets pushed deeper into the Afghan cauldron, and in the absence of credible ideas coming from within, it may be worthwhile for the ruling coalition to listen to saner voices irrespective of where they emanate from. How's may be one such voice.

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