Sep 2, 2010

Obama's failed Afghan strategy

Rizwan Asghar
There is growing perception in the international media that President Obama's Afghan strategy is not working. American public opinion is rapidly turning against the Afghan war and the majority of Americans think that the situation is worsening in Afghanistan. A number of basic goals were set in the Counterinsurgency Strategy (COIN) by President Obama almost a year ago. But none of them is about to be achieved.
The first goal was to stabilise Afghanistan while pursuing a more effective civilian strategy. The main focus was on protecting major Afghan population centres, along with agricultural areas and transportation routes. It was said that operations would be conducted in such a way that they would result in minimum causalities. But the number of civilians killed or injured in Afghanistan has jumped 31 per cent. More than 1,250 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2010, including 176 children.
The second goal was to weed out corruption and improve governance. But the ground realities portray a pathetic scenario. A recent survey by Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) shows a sharp increase in corruption in Afghan society. Every year Afghans pay millions of dollars in bribe. The Afghan people are suffering from the twin handicaps of poverty and militancy for the last three decades. The survey further indicates that the most impoverished portion of Afghan society appears to be the worst victim of corruption. Almost 51 per cent of people think that the Karzai government is not serious about doing away with this evil.
The third goal was to reach out to moderate factions of militants that fight alongside the Taliban and to persuade them to lay down their weapons in exchange for a role in local governance, and offers of monetary incentives. But the reality is that militants in some parts of Afghanistan who had laid down their weapons and renounced violence in response to government offers of aid and amnesty were treated with humiliation. So they are rejoining the insurgents because of the failure of the Karzai government to deliver on its promises.
Nur Gul, an influential Taliban commander who had surrendered with his armed men last year, has rejoined the Taliban's ranks because he was mistreated by the Afghan security forces.
It was said that the Afghan National Army (ANA) will be developed to cope with challenges. But thus far, ANA soldiers remain poorly equipped, lacking aircraft, heavy weapons and night-vision goggles. The ANA's combat efficacy remains low. The level of mistrust between the foreign troops and the Afghan army can be seen from the fact that American soldiers in Kandahar, for their own security, do not tell their ANA colleagues when and where they are going on patrol duties.
Obama's Afghan strategy included a more robust partnership with Pakistan. President Obama had said: "We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target these groups that will threaten our countries." But the military relationship between Pakistan and the US remain very fragile and is characterised by deep-seated mistrust. Drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan remain a major irritant in relations between Pakistan and the US.
In a nutshell, it is crystal clear that Obama's Afghan strategy is failing on every front. President Obama, a dazzling orator and incisive thinker, failed to appreciate the local sensitivities of Afghanistan. The Taliban's resistance is gaining momentum by the day, and gradually the Taliban are establishing unchallenged control over Afghan provinces. The US failure to make progress against the Taliban has led war-weary Afghans to believe that the Taliban will once again rule their country.

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