Tuesday, May 11

Obama can save the day in Afghanistan if he faces realities in Pakistan

Two U.S. think tank denizens, the Middle East Institute's Marvin Weinbaum and Rand Corporation's James Dobbins, weigh in on the scenarios if the U.S. backs Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's aims to negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban.

Usually I am wary of opinions put out by American policy experts about Afghanistan and Pakistan but in this case the two are just summarizing prevailing winds in Washington. And both agree on the obvious point that the Taliban don't have to hurry to the bargaining table. They can simply wait out the Obama administration, then when ISAF troops leave they can dictate terms to Karzai if they don't assassinate him.

Mr Weinbaum summarizes the conditions for civil war that would be unleashed if the Taliban were brought into Afghani mainstream politics and points out:
Afghanistan's Pashtun south and east will not only be open to al-Qaeda but, more important, to those groups able to operate more freely like Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Taiba and Josh-e-Mohammad, and the Pakistan-based Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, all closely linked to the newly internationally-minded Pakistani Taliban.
Mr Dobbins, who served as the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan between 2001 and 2002, provides a handy primer on the differences between reintegration and reconciliation, as those terms are applied to the U.S. view of negotiating with the Taliban. He also lists why U.S. attempts to copy the playbook in Iraq have ignored the very great differences the U.S. found in the two countries.

Both men make clear that the U.S. backing a negotiated peace settlement with the Taliban is an awful idea. But with President Obama trying to make a speedy exit from Afghanistan, an awful idea is the only one on the table.

However, their analysis and recommendations don't mention that the idea is especially awful idea because it threatens to return to power in Afghanistan a military with a history of carrying out democide in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The military is Pakistan's.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai knows all about the history of the Pakistan military's mass slaughter of civilians in his country, which was technically democide and not genocide because it was simply a tactic for keeping the masses in line.

The Pak military's modus operandi in Afghanistan, and earlier in East Pakistan, was to murder or imprison every member of the educated class they could find -- teachers, students, intellectuals, civil servants, even novelists and artists.

That's why Afghanistan has only about 50 Afghanis raised in country who are literate and educated enough to serve in key government positions. After the Soviets pulled out, Pakistan's military controlled the Afghans by insuring there wasn't an educated class in Afghanistan to support an independent, modern government there.

Then Washington, which backed Pakistan's democides, had the gall to complain that Karzai was installing warlords in the government. What else was he supposed to install? Monkeys?

That's also why Karzai was outspoken in his criticism of Pakistan once he took office, until this so greatly annoyed the British government and Obama's advisors that he found himself described in the international press as Satan's henchman.

The final straw for Karzai was hearing Obama announce in December 2009 that July 2011 was the exit date for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. All attempts by Obama's flunkies to explain that he didn't actually mean what he said were understandably viewed with mistrust by Karzai. Karzai then wheeled on a dime and offered to be BFF with Pakistan's government, as if he had a choice.

In short the messy question of whether or not to negotiate with the Taliban would be obviated if Obama hadn't been intent on his reelection campaign as early as December 2009. Yet if he could rip his attention away from his poll numbers for a few moments he might notice that today is not yesterday.

The Bush administration's determination to treat Pakistan as an ally, which the Obama administration continued, has meant that the majority of the American public did not know how things are in Pakistan.

The blinders started to fall away during the past week, as more came out in the media about the Times Square bomber and his terrorist connections in Pakistan. Americans are still near the bottom of a learning curve about Pakistan. But since the May 1 bombing attempt many Americans are finally getting a glimpse of Pakistani society, and feeling their way toward an understanding that with allies such as Pakistan the USA doesn't need enemies.

So there's a silver lining to the cloud of the bombing attempt; it gives Obama a way to rescue the U.S. situation in Afghanistan without delivering a mortal blow to his reelection campaign. He can stand in front of the American people and announce, 'My administration now sees the scope of the threat to Afghanistan from the troubles in Pakistan. Therefore, I'm no longer putting a date to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan or reducing troop levels there.'

That's all he has to say. That will take the pressure off Karzai, so he doesn't believe he has to agree to allow the Taliban to overrun his government.

And I think even the anti-war factions in the USA have realized in the past week that it would suicidal for the U.S. to decamp Afghanistan before Pakistan has been dealt with in very decisive fashion. I also think everyone realizes by now that 15 minutes after the U.S. decamps, al Qaeda will return in force to Afghanistan. All that would put the winds at Obama's back.

As to how other NATO countries would respond to a genuine open-ended commitment to keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- I don't know how Canadians feel at this point. They've lost a disproportionate number of troops in Afghanistan.

Regarding NATO members in Western Europe that want out of the coalition: why should they continue to commit to a war that the United States has clearly had no interest in winning?

Since day one Washington has been more intent on keeping Pakistan as a client state than in achieving victory in Afghanistan; a lot of ISAF soldiers' blood has been shed unnecessarily because of this. Any questions on that score, reference Operation Airlift of Evil -- and ignore the excuse that nobody on the U.S. side could imagine at the time how many al Qaeda, Taliban, and Pakistani soldiers fighting U.S. and British troops in 2001 Vice President Cheney would agree to evacuate to safety.

Yet it's still possible to start a new chapter. If Obama gives evidence that the U.S. has committed to winning the war, that would be news to other members of NATO, which they'd have to digest before deciding whether to review their options.

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