Which way Afghanistan?
WITH 30,000 American and 7,000 NATO additional troops, it still difficult to judge which way Afghanistan is going. There is no cut and dry situation in the treacherous war that is increasingly asking for more blood and money. Americans are getting jittery because of few thousand casualties suffered since 9/11 on both fronts. No matter how sophisticated and overbearing the position is it is irrational to think of counterterrorist effort without a price tag in blood and money. Military compulsion in Afghanistan and political expediency in Washington appears on a collision course. The fallout of war on US economy and politics in the sensitive midterm election at the yearend remains as unpredictable as the outcome of the surge of additional troops in Afghanistan.
Popular mandate for president Obama focused mainly on repairing the financial meltdown and reverse the failed war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. The dilemma of the president is between his conviction about the unproductive wars and the compulsion surrounding the battlefields. It is much easier for the powerful president to engage in a conflict than disengage from it. Regime change did not justify costly venture in Iraq, especially when none of the emerging political forces except perhaps the Kurds in the northern hilly region are offering a hand of friendship to the Americans.
Meanwhile ominous sings are surfacing that should be of concern to the policy makers. A longtime agent from Jordan has betrayed the very heart of the CIA activities in Khost, southern Afghanistan, on January 1, killing 7 top operators. A psychiatrist major in the US Army murdered twelve soldiers at Fort Hood, Taxes on November 5, immediately before his deployment in Iraq. In the international arena, attempt by a Nigerian to blow himself up to destroy an Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas day remind once again that frustration and anger is still spreading. Latest audio tape claims Bin Laden is still alive and threatening.
Japan Airlines, the largest Asian carrier collapsed recently, the troubled aviation industry will have to spend billions of dollars more on tighter security needs, pushing it further into trouble. Doubt and mistrust along with political compulsion are progressively handicapping US capabilities. Sporadic though, these cases are signals that demand a review of policies and strategies.
The newly elected president's first job is to get ready for his reelection. From high water mark at the beginning of 2009, president Obama's popularity has taken a nosedive within the honeymoon year hovering at breakeven point now. If the midterm election at the yearend does not favour the Democrats, alarm bell will start ringing on the reelection bid of the President, besides the stakes on many battleground states, Congress and the Senate in 2012.
The recession has bottomed up but yet not showing the visible recovery signs. With US unemployment rate dogging around 10 percent the economy refuses to fix average American pockets. With the kind of trillion-dollar deficit and trillions more in debit, many feel that America cannot go back to the free spending days anymore. The load of war and extraordinary effort to revitalize the corporate world is weakening and erasing the confidence on the dollar.
The loss of traditional Kennedy senate seat by the Democrats in Massachusetts may turn out to be costly for the party and the President. The Vietnam war had destroyed President Johnson's second term, Iranian hostage crisis destroyed President Carter and senior Bush lost the second term on underperforming economy immediately after winning the war in Iraq. How president Obama plays his cards under the double clutch of deceiving war and underperforming economy for his second term will be an interesting study.
Withdrawal is the most complex of the military operations; forces make lot of noise and show aggressive posture to deceive the enemy of what actually is going on. For many deployments of additional troops is nothing but a ploy by President Obama to start withdrawing from Afghanistan before the midterm pole. Up to this point, reinforcement in Afghanistan makes sense. However, the time of withdrawal in conventional sense is 'well kept secret' until the last moment. Insurgents may not have the capability to pursue the sophisticated forces, but will offer them a purpose to hide and save their resources for the campaign after foreign troops are gone. The Taliban and al Qaeda are cunning lot, can play hide and seek for another year if Americans are going. It is difficult to dovetail both deployment and withdrawal timelines openly for the desired result.
American forces were not defeated in the battlefields of Vietnam but in Washington. The Capitol Hill is again on the grip of an unpopular war. The republicans are lucky in many ways to pass the recession and unwanted war on the back of the Democrats. While average voters are getting jittery, both the economy and war defy quick fix solution. The crisis point reached through decades of misjudgment asks for more time for corrective measures to work. Abrupt disengagement will certainly unnerve American assets in the volatile Middle East and Central Asia; may be characterised as anything between betrayals to abandonment.
Two decades ago, after the defeat of the erstwhile Soviet Union when the warlords were killing each other I said in one discussion in Pakistan that Afghanistan as a state did not exist, should be allowed a period of cooling. Ever since, it is a case study of failed strategy. Pakistan moved in with a fake hope of creating a surrogate state through Taliban that went out of its control immediately on reaching Kabul. Americans bombed out Mullah Omar's Taliban regime following 9/11without arranging an indigenous political force to takeover. Urgency of 9/11 demanded immediate retaliation, but bringing expatriate Karzai without political roots was another strategic mistake. Indigenous choice from among the savage warlords would have done less damage than a polished Karzai who needs GIs for his personal security and protection. Without a sense of belonging, handpicks of Karzai resort to wanton looting. Americans should have chosen one from the lesser enemies than a loyal friend who continues to be labiality.
It may not be easy to take the anger out immediately, but there must be a serious effort to take some steam off so that it does not easily reach the boiling point. Anti-extremist activities are a war of psychology, not of guns. Given a choice most soldiers would much rather walk through a minefield than fight a counterinsurgency or antiterrorist war. Should Americans decide to stay; the soldiers without uniform will ultimately decide the fate of Afghanistan.
Intelligence assets, unlike the rapid action force, are not ready on the shelf for deployment. It is a painstaking process of development, time bound and resource glut. How soon Americans will be able to draw international boundaries from Pakistan to Palestine and inject responsibility in maintaining the interstate boundaries will ultimately decide the outcome of the dirty war. If anything, they should be ready for another decade to weave fragmented threads in Afghanistan to fit in the definition of a state.
The author is the founder DG of the SSF.