Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama Should Reconsider Militaristic Approach in Afghanistan

Obama Should Reconsider Militaristic Approach in Afghanistan. By Amitabh Pal
The Progressive, February 19, 2009

President Obama seems to have opted for a military strategy to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. He needs to reconsider.

With his announcement this week that he is sending 17,000 more U.S. troops to that country, he seems for the moment to have committed himself to a force-based approach, notwithstanding his disclaimer that he’s “absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means.” The Obama Administration has apparently given up on bringing about development and democracy in Afghanistan, as evidenced by two recent pronouncements. Defense Secretary Bob Gates told Congress, “If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose,” while Obama himself opined that, “We are not going to be able to rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy.”

But the United States hasn’t even truly tried. As the New Internationalist points out, Afghanistan has received just a fraction of the aid per capita that countries like Bosnia and East Timor obtained in the aftermath of their destruction, and military spending in the country is many times the amount disbursed as developmental assistance.

By opting for a military-first approach, Obama has troubled many of his allies and indeed some within his own party. Among them is a person who previously held Obama’s job, and another who narrowly missed in his bid to be Obama’s predecessor.

“I would disagree with Obama as far as a surge that would lead to a more intense bombing of Afghan villages and centers and a heavy dependence on military,” Jimmy Carter told Amy Goodman. “I would like to see us reach out more, to be accommodating, and negotiate with all of the factions in Afghanistan.”

“Our military commitment must be matched with realistic goals, beginning with a comprehensive new bottom-up strategy acknowledging Afghanistan's history of decentralized governance and recognizing the capabilities of our NATO and Afghan allies,” writes John Kerry in the Washington Post.

A number of progressive organizations are also disagreeing with Obama, and not just in the United States. When Professor Lisa Schirch of Eastern Mennonite University contacted Afghan civil society leaders, they told her that “a troop surge alone will result in more civilian casualties, more village raids, further alienation of the local population and growing local resistance to foreign troops,” and that “the Taliban could use a troop surge as an opportunity to recruit local people to their cause.”

The dangers of an approach dependent so heavily on the military are very readily apparent. A U.N. report released earlier this week provides solid evidence. Last year set a record for civilian deaths in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. While the Taliban were responsible for more than half of the casualties, pro-government forces (U.S., NATO and Afghan troops) were responsible for two-fifths. The most infamous incident was last August, when an American air attack killed perhaps 90 civilians, leading to a harsh denunciation by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a supposed American ally.

“Civilian deaths have become a political flash point in Afghanistan, eroding public support for the war and inflaming tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bitterly condemned the American-led coalition for the rising toll,” a New York Times piece reports. “President Obama’s decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan raises the prospect of even more casualties.”

The funny thing is that a man as smart as Obama should know that the Taliban resurgence is in good part due to two reasons that no amount of additional troops can solve: the malfeasance of the Karzai government, and the shelter given to the Taliban leadership by the Pakistani security apparatus.

U.S. officials have apparently linked Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali, to the drug trade. And U.S. exasperation at the corruption in the Afghan government is so intense that Senator Joe Biden last February walked out of a dinner with Karzai when the latter kept professing innocence.

Besides, much of the Taliban leadership is out of reach of U.S. forces, safely holed up as it is in Quetta, the capital of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. You see, many in the Pakistani intelligence network still regard the Taliban as a bulwark against Indian influence, since Karzai is friendly with India. Among the Taliban menagerie ensconced in the provincial capital is reportedly the organization’s dreaded leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

“Taliban leader Mullah Omar is living in Pakistan under the protection of its ISI intelligence agency, a captured Taliban spokesman has said,” the BBC reported in January of 2007.

A much better strategy for Afghanistan, it seems, would be for Obama to heavily lean on his buddies in Kabul and Islamabad, plus to apply a heavy dollop of nation-building to the country. But for now, alas, Obama seems to be going in a different direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment