. . . But all is not yet lost in Afghanistan

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal’s re­port told us what we were afraid to hear. We are go­ing to lose the war in Afghanistan! Pres­i­dent Obama’s Afghanistan-Pak­istan pol­icy, launched just in March, whose main goal was to dis­rupt, dis­man­tle and de­feat al Qaeda, doesn’t seem to be go­ing well. Grow­ing in­sur­gency and a to­tally in­ef­fec­tive and dis­cred­ited gov­ern­ment in Afghanistan pose lethal threats that can re­sult in Amer­ica’s to­tal de­feat un­less some­thing is done im­me­di­ately.

I agree with Gen. McChrys­tal that more troops may be needed presently. How­ever, be­fore ad­di­tional troops are sent to Afghanistan, there must be a clear op­er­a­tional strat­egy as well as a po­lit­i­cal surge. Mil­i­tary victory is not pos­si­ble, and the path of ex­tended mil­i­tary en­gage­ment is a recipe for dis­as­ter.

But sim­ply aban­don­ing the re­gion is also not an op­tion. This would be the same mis­take the United States made in 1989 af­ter help­ing to ex­pel the Soviet army from Afghanistan.

The sooner Afghanistan is sta­bi­lized po­lit­i­cally, the ear­lier the United States can dis­en­gage mil­i­tar­ily. How does Amer­ica do that?

Ini­ti­ate a po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue with the var­i­ous Pash­tun leaders in Afghanistan and the Tal­iban but also en­list the help of their tribal cousins in Pak­istan. Pak­istan would wel­come such a move and def­i­nitely would as­sist, as it is en­tirely in Pak­istan’s in­ter­est to have peace in Afghanistan.

The po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and eth­nic im­bal­ance brought about in Afghanistan af­ter Sept. 11, 2001, when the U.S. es­sen­tially out­sourced the coun­try to the North­ern Al­liance — com­prised of the mi­nor­ity groups of Ta­jiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras — marginal­ized the Pash­tuns and pushed them into the Tal­iban fold even though the Pash­tuns were not ide­o­log­i­cal sup­port­ers of Tal­iban. Hamid Karzai, al­though a Pash­tun, was never ac­cepted by the Pash­tuns as their le­git­i­mate rep­re­sen­ta­tive, as he was an out­sider and did noth­ing to stop the dis­en­fran­chise­ment of the Pash­tuns. When his de­fense min­is­ter and later his run­ning mate in the re­cent elec­tions, Mo­ham­mad Qasim Fahim, a Ta­jik war­lord, raised 80,000 troops for the Afghan Na­tional Army, it had hardly any Pash­tun rep­re­sen­ta­tion. This cre­ated re­sent­ment and forced the Pash­tuns to seek jobs with the Tal­iban and other lo­cal war­lords.

All Tal­iban may be Pash­tuns, but all Pash­tuns are not Tal­iban. While the ma­jor­ity of Pash­tuns are fight­ing along­side the Tal­iban against the U.S. and coali­tion forces, they are not ide­o­log­i­cally aligned with, nor do they sup­port the Tal­iban. For them, it is a mat­ter of custom and tra­di­tion to fight against any out­sider.

For starters, as part of the new po­lit­i­cal strat­egy, a U.N. peace­keep­ing mis­sion com­pris­ing troops from Mus­lim coun­tries such as Turkey, Bangladesh and In­done­sia could be de­ployed in Afghanistan. This would cre­ate a sense of con­fi­dence among the Afghans and also pre­clude the need for more and more U.S. troops in the fu­ture. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the Afghan army must be strength­ened and eth­ni­cally bal­anced by re­cruit­ing at least 50,000 Pash­tuns from var­i­ous tribes. Not only would this cre­ate jobs for th­ese peo­ple, but it would go a long way in winning the hearts and minds of the Pash­tuns as well.

A po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion is the only op­tion. Talks with the Tal­iban can be fa­cil­i­tated in­di­rectly through al­lies and friendly coun­tries of the re­gion and the Mid­dle East. As Mr. Obama once said, “It is not about sav­ing face.”

Afghanistan is at a crit­i­cal junc­ture. What­ever de­ci­sion is made by Mr. Obama, it will have far-reach­ing ef­fects and long-term con­se­quences, not only for Afghanistan and neigh­bor­ing coun­tries of the re­gion, but for the en­tire world. While vi­tal U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity ob­jec­tives must be achieved by elim­i­nat­ing all threats to Amer­ica from Afghanistan and the re­gion, the Afghan peo­ple must be al­lowed to es­tab­lish their own po­lit­i­cal gov­ern­ment with rep­re­sen­ta­tion from all eth­nic groups in a fair and rep­re­sen­ta­tive man­ner. That would be the first step to re­mov­ing the po­lit­i­cal vacuum of gov­er­nance and lead­er­ship in Afghanistan that cre­ates more space for the in­sur­gents and al Qaeda.

Na­tion-build­ing is best done by the peo­ple of that coun­try. Friends can only as­sist and pro­vide sup­port.

Dr. Nasim Ashraf is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Pak­istan Stud­ies, Mid­dle East In­sti­tute, and for­mer min­is­ter in the Mushar­raf ad­min­is­tra­tion in Pak­istan.

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