A tough choice to make
Posted on October 15th, 2009

I A Khanzada

As the much-heralded “AfPak” assessment was bitterly criticized by politically alive civic society as well as congressional Democrats, it is followed by another assessment of Afghanistan’s deteriorating situation by General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan. According to Gen. McChrystal, the present situation of Afghanistan is very grim and without more forces, the counterinsurgency strategy may be defeated. McChrystal’s assessment is one of several options that is being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team. His plan could generate a national debate about committing more troops to an increasingly unpopular war. However, there seems to be indecision on the strategy, US wants to pursue. Three diverse arguments started to echo in the US capital. (1) US military commanders’ assertion for increase of 45,000 additional troops in Afghanistan (including Admiral Mullen, Gen. Petreaus, Gen Jones, Gen. McChrystal). (2) US Administrations’ inclination in talks with the “softer Taliban” faction. (3) Vice President Joe Biden’s contention to de-emphasizes troop strength in favor of unmanned drones attacks on al Qaeda’s high profile targets allegedly hiding in Quetta, Pakistan, like Osama bin Laden, Mulla Umar and et al,.

The basic objective remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future. However, different forces are pushing and seeking different policies to achieve the singular goal. Henry Kissinger, in his article published in the Newsweek titled “deployments & diplomacy”, analyzed the present situation as “cruel dilemmas for President Obama – If he refuses the recommendation and General McChrystal’s argument that his forces are inadequate for the mission, Obama will be blamed for the dramatic consequences. If he accepts the recommendation, his opponents may come to describe it, at least in part, as Obama’s war. If he compromises, he may fall between all stools “”‚ too little to make progress, too much to still controversy”. And President Obama ought to make a choice on Afghan strategy. The main reason for this dilemma is that even after eight years of costly warfare in Afghanistan, America today is not significantly closer to the essential goal of eliminating al Qaeda element responsible for threatening the very fiber of American culture & society. The American policy to destroy this faceless and country-less threat through “military means” only, has not paid the dividends, as advocated by many experts and military strategists. Ever since the launching of “Operation Enduring Freedom” & “Mountain Lion”, the on-going situation of Afghanistan became very precarious as there are large swaths of the country where things are getting worse. The US, NATO and Afghan forces have not been able to control more than 30 percent of Afghanistan with all the resources and gadgets at their disposal. The US media pointed out that July was the deadliest month for US-led forces in Afghanistan since 2001, as 70 foreign troops “”‚ including 42 Americans “”‚ were killed in Afghanistan. As of October 1, 2009, NATO/ISAF troops have lost 1449 troops in a quest to make this planet peaceful and secure. The Soviet war veterans who fought against Afghan Mujahideens during 1979-1989 warned the United States not to pour additional US troops into Afghanistan as it was established that “more soldiers means more targets” for the Taliban. The America’s on-going troubles are proof of their campaign in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is both victim and protagonist of the conflict in Afghanistan, its northern areas shattered by a US-led counter-insurgency campaign with the spillover effects reaching the heartlands. Pakistan is confronted with the phenomenon of Talibanization which is a very alarming development. It is the Afghan’s gift to Pakistan. Pakistan is suffering because of instability and violence in Afghanistan. A sudden reversal of American policy (to reduce troop in Afghanistan and focus on targeting selected terrorist leaders) would have far reaching effect on domestic stability in Pakistan by freeing the al Qaeda militants along the Afghan border for even deeper incursions into Pakistan, threatening domestic chaos. The recently concluded report on the “Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan” says that drone attacks by US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan have damaged the American reputation. “A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy” reflected General McChrystal.

On the other hand, the NATO military commanders may face a wider revolt from Afghanistan’s Pashtun ethnic majority that had grown alienated because of indiscriminate bombings. It forced NATO/ISAF troops to think that there is a need to change the approach in terms of pursuing the Taliban, suggesting that negotiations with the Taliban are the only hope of any kind of peaceful solution. While reviewing US strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are considering the possibility of negotiations with the elements of the insurgents. A significant segment of the public grew disenchanted and started questioning the moral basis of the conflict. Additionally, many countries contributing allied forces are now advocating talks with the Taliban. The US should concentrate on building up the Afghan army so it can defend itself “”…” and trying to achieve a political settlement that might well involve giving some power to the Taliban. The west should reassess their “AfPak strategy” as it is making matters worse. It needs to be replaced with economic and human development of the tribal areas. Terrorism cannot be eradicated by taking pre-emptive military actions alone as it has several dimensions. Since it largely reflects, and is a product of, the prevailing social, political and economic realities, it can only be fought by redressing social inequalities, and not particularly on the military might. Since the Taliban has relegated to eing a local threat and not a global threat, a negotiation with the group will isolate al Qaeda’s hardcore element and eventually lead to its defeat. In return, tribal elders and soft element in Taliban may be included in the governance of Afghanistan. President Obama is taking its time on making any decision on Afghan strategy. Since overall stability of the region hinges on the decision, therefore, a national debate with respect for its repercussions is absolutely necessary. Before the choice is made and implemented, Pakistan must vouch its interest and prepare a case for a negotiated settlement of Afghan issue whilst remaining steadfast on the core objective of dismantling al Qaeda leadership.

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