Friday, March 27, 2009

U. S. Policy is Flawed in Afghanistan

President Obama's new policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan is seriously flawed and sending more American and Nato troops is fraught with danger.

The question is, who is the U.S. fighting in Afghanistan, the Afghan people? How can a foreign force fight the locals and on what basis - they are fundamentalist fanatics? But aren't there fundamentalist fanatics around the world including the U.S.? If the U.S. is fighting Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, didn't the U.S. have ample opportunity to eliminate them in the past. According to some of the members of CIA's advanced team of operatives (well documented on CNN) they had Osama bin Ladin within sights at Tora Bora even before the Afghan invasion started but Donald Rumsfeld refused to order air raids! Perhaps OBL was needed alive to provide a reason for Iraq invasion.

There is no doubt that Taliban are extremist religious fanatics who wish to impose their archaic view of Islam over Afghanistan. There is also no doubt that this extreme view of religion is rejected by a vast majority of 1.3 billion Muslims around the world. But Taliban have never attacked the U.S. forces until they invaded Afghanistan, so why is the U.S. fighting them and to what end? If the purpose is to bring Taliban into mainstream fold so they moderate their views and become a useful member of the society, bombing and killing them is not going to accomplish the objective.

It is important to understand the ethnic mix of Afghans which is comprised of Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Shias and the majority Pashtuns. All of the Taliban come from majority Pashtun tribes. Pashtuns straddle across the Pakistan border in Baluchistan and North West Frontier province. The ties between Pashtun tribes go back thousands of years and artificial borders are meaningless to them. In its invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. was misled by the Northern Alliance (comprising minority non-Pashtun groups) that Taliban is the enemy. Though Hamid Karzai is a Pashtun, but minority non-Pashtuns have held sway over the Afghan Government ever since the U.S. invasion. This has caused a massive backlash amongst Pashtuns who feel they are being deprived of their fair right by the U.S. and its allies. As a result they support and finance the Taliban because they feel they are fighting their battle.

Some brilliant minds in Rumsfeld's Pentagon and the CIA also exacerbated the problem by allowing Afghans to re cultivate poppy, which was completely eradicated by previous Taliban Government. The thinking perhaps was that if Afghans are happy with their cash crop, they will not attack U.S. and Nato forces. But guess what, the cash from poppy crops is flowing into the hands of Taliban with which they are buying weapons to kill U.S. and Nato soldiers.

The solution of Afghanistan does not lie in war, drone attacks or in killing Taliban. Didn't the Soviet Union try this already with a much larger and a more equipped force and failed miserable at it? If the U.S. continues to follow this course, the outcome will be no different. In addition, U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan border areas are radicalizing the Pashtun belt to such an extent that they are becoming a menace to the Pakistan Government to the extent of destabilizing Pakistan. Many in Pakistan believe that sooner or later U.S. will walk away from Afghanistan and leave this enormous problem in their lap, just as it did after the withdrawal of Soviet forces leaving a destabilized Afghanistan in Pakistan's lap.

What Afghanistan needs is peace and security and that will be achieved by dialogue. Pashtuns need a fair share of power and Taliban need to be brought to the negotiating table. A Government of national unity needs to be formed in Afghanistan and foreign troops need to leave soon thereafter. Foreign troops are the main cause of fighting, Pashtuns & Taliban look at them as foreign invaders just as they did the Soviet troops. Only the United Nations troops should be stationed in Afghanistan to ensure stability and peace between various tribes.

Afghanistan has been at war since 1979 and it is time to stop. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan need peace. The drone attacks on Pakistan have accomplished absolutely nothing (regardless of Pentagon's convoluted claims) except for killing poor villagers in the border areas.

What is needed is a massive development effort. A 'Marshall' type plan to pull out Afghanistan and Pakistan's frontier region from the 15th century to the present can bring enormous benefits and change the mindset of the people in that region. Continuation of present policy of more troops and more war will only turn Afghanistan into another Vietnam for President Obama. One hopes he has the foresight not to fall into that trap.