AFGHANISTAN

Obama’s war of ne­ces­sity has be­come an al­ba­tross, yet a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment of­fers the only op­por­tu­nity to end this sense­less war.

Southasia - - Front page - By S.G. Ji­la­nee The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer editor of Southa­sia Mag­a­zine.

Be­gin­ning of the End

The war in Afghanistan does not seem

to be coming to an end.

In Au­gust 2009, ad­dress­ing 5,500 mem­bers, fam­i­lies and guests of the Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars at their an­nual con­ven­tion in Phoenix, Ari­zona, Pres­i­dent Obama de­clared that the Afghanistan War was a war of ne­ces­sity. He also said that the war in Afghanistan won’t be won solely with mil­i­tary power. “We also need diplo­macy and de­vel­op­ment and good gov­er­nance.”

But bur­geon­ing cor­rup­tion in Karzai gov­ern­ment de­fied all hopes of good gov­er­nance. Nor could de­vel­op­ment make any men­tion­able head­way due to the on­go­ing war. Mean­while the gen­er­als ap­peared so san­guine of vic­tory in the bat­tle­field that diplo­macy was put on the back­burner.

In an at­tempt to prove to Obama that the war could still be won “solely with mil­i­tary power,” Gen. Pe­traeus asked for an­other 33,000 troops. With his wish granted, he went all out to show re­sults, us­ing all the tricks in his bag. He flooded the south with troops to clear Kan­da­har, Hel­mand and ad­join­ing ar­eas of Tal­iban pres­ence. As a re­sult there were some ap­par­ent gains. As Tal­iban dis­persed, their at­tacks be­came less fre­quent. But they did not cease. Be­sides, pushed from the south, Tal­iban moved to north and east.

Even in Kan­da­har, de­spite heavy pres­ence of U.S. troops, Tal­iban tun­neled into Kan­da­har’s main pri­son and freed more than 470 pris­on­ers on 25 April. And on June 29 they at­tacked the In­tercon­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel in the heart of Kabul. Spo­radic at­tacks are be­sides. The Kabul in­ci­dent was so spec­tac­u­lar that the New York Times head­lined it as “At­tack at Kabul Ho­tel De­flates Se­cu­rity Hopes in Afghanistan.”

Mean­while, to supplement the surge, Pe­traeus tried his sig­na­ture tac­tic of cre­at­ing Awak­en­ing Coun­cils a la Iraq, lav­ishly dis­tribut­ing money. But he again failed for the sim­ple rea­son that in Afghanistan there was noth­ing like the Sunni-Shia

di­vide in Iraq to be ex­ploited.

Pe­traeus also in­creased the fre­quency of night raids by Spe­cial Forces, which now av­er­age 300 a month. Their vic­tims are of­ten in­no­cent peo­ple in­clud­ing women and chil­dren. In ad­di­tion NATO air at­tacks of­ten kill civil­ians. In con­se­quence Amer­ica has lost more hearts and minds than it ever won. There­fore they no longer talk of winning hearts and minds.

So, now it seems that after nine years and eight months, the war be­gan on Oc­to­ber 10, 2001, $3.7 tril­lion in cost as es­ti­mated by Brown Univer­sity’s Wat­son In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, and loss of 1511 troops, wis­dom has at last dawned on the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion that there is no way ex­cept diplo­macy to end the war.

There­fore Pres­i­dent Obama has de­cided to bring 33,000 troops back home from Afghanistan by next sum­mer which he called the “be­gin­ning of the end of the war.”

Also re­treat­ing from his ear­lier pro­nounce­ments on his war aims, Obama has now de­clared that, “Wash­ing­ton would no longer try to build a ‘per­fect’ Afghanistan from a na­tion trau­ma­tized by its blood soaked his­tory.”

With mil­i­tary power hav­ing failed to “win” the war and na­tion build­ing dropped from the agenda, at last Wash­ing­ton turned to diplo­macy, inch­ing ever so gin­gerly to­wards seek­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with Tal­iban which it had con­temp­tu­ously scoffed at ear­lier.

For no earthly rea­son Wash­ing­ton pre­sumed that Tal­iban had been pushed to the wall, so as to de­mand that they lay down (sur­ren­der?) arms, for­swear all con­tacts with al Qaeda and pledge al­le­giance to the Karzai gov­ern­ment be­fore it will agree to di­rect talk.

Per­haps Afghanistan has proved a new ex­pe­ri­ence for the Amer­i­cans as it does not fit into any past model in their reper­toire. In con­se­quence they have been chang­ing their po­si­tion more fre­quently than a chameleon would its col­ors and try­ing all sorts of gim­micks like spread­ing the ru­mor of Mul­lah Omar’s dis­ap­pear­ance and even death.

First they gave a nod to par­leys be­tween the Afghan gov­ern­ment and Tal­iban, keep­ing a lofty dis­tance. Gen. Pe­traeus ea­gerly fa­cil­i­tated a trip for an “emis­sary” of Mul­lah Omar on a NATO air­plane from Pak­istan to Kabul to meet Pres­i­dent Karzai, only to be hu­mil­i­ated when it turned out that the “emis­sary” was phony - just a shop­keeper from Quetta. Next they talked about bring­ing Pak­istan also into the loop. Later they side­lined both Pak­istan and Afghanistan, swal­lowed their pride and en­tered into di­rect talks with Tal­iban. Mid-rank­ing U.S. State Depart­ment and CIA of­fi­cials have met Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives led by Tayyab Agha, a per­sonal aide of Mul­lah Omar, at least thrice since Jan­uary 2011 – once in Qatar and twice in Ger­many, ac­cord­ing to Reuters. And the then out­go­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert Gates con­firmed that the U.S. has made “pre­lim­i­nary con­tacts with Afghan Tal­iban guer­ril­las.”

Yet, while it has started talk­ing with Tal­iban the U.S. con­tin­ues its ef­forts to cap­ture Mul­lah Omar, a tac­tic that might re­tard the pos­si­bil­ity of any se­ri­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions.

On the other hand Tal­iban have been con­sis­tent in their ap­proach. From day one they have rigidly ad­hered to their one-point agenda that all alien troops must va­cate the coun­try be­fore they would en­gage in any talks.

After the lat­est round in Qatar they again re­futed on July 6, 2011 claims they had en­tered into talks with the West to try and find an end to the war. They said that “ any con­tacts with for­eign coun­tries had only been to ne­go­ti­ate pris­oner ex­changes.”

In a state­ment emailed to me­dia, they also re­peated their long-stand­ing po­si­tion of re­ject­ing any ne­go­ti­a­tions for peace as long as for­eign troops were in Afghanistan.

“The ru­mor about ne­go­ti­a­tion with Amer­ica is not more than the talks aimed at the ex­change of pris­on­ers. Some cir­cles call these con­tacts as com­pre­hen­sive talks about the cur­rent im­broglio of Afghanistan,” the Tal­iban said. “How­ever, this shows their lack of knowl­edge about the re­al­ity. It is clear as the broad day­light that we con­sider ne­go­ti­a­tion in con­di­tion of pres­ence of for­eign forces as a war strat­a­gem of the Amer­i­cans and their fu­tile ef­forts.”

Nev­er­the­less the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion and a ne­go­ti­ated peace is be­yond any ques­tion. But there are so many is­sues that need to be sorted out for an en­dur­ing peace. First, the re­quired num­ber of trained Afghan troops who would re­place alien forces, is not likely to be in po­si­tion even by 2014 the fi­nal date agreed to by the NATO pow­ers at the Lis­bon sum­mit in Novem­ber 2010 for va­cat­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion.

Next there are ques­tions about the con­flict­ing in­ter­ests of par­ties di­rectly con­cerned with the peace process. These in­clude the in­ter­ests of a pre­dom­i­nantly non-Pash­tun Afghan civil­ian and mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment in­stalled un­der U.S. pa­tron­age, U.S. in­ter­ests that have led it to side­line even Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, and fi­nally, Pak­istan’s long term con­sid­er­a­tions for its safety in the bor­der re­gions. And then there is In­dia in the back­ground.

This is a real witches’ brew. Yet, only a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion ac­cept­able to all play­ers will guar­an­tee peace.

Tal­iban have been con­sis­tent in their de­mand to con­sider ne­go­ti­a­tions

only when the for­eign forces leave Afghanistan.

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