U.S. Defence Secretary's recent announcement of winding down the war in 2013 instead of 2014 should be welcomed. But, why wait for 2013 when the war can be ended in 2012?
The dialogue recently initiated in Qatar between U.S. and Taliban is very encouraging, a major step towards achieving an end to the war. These are early days and many a hurdle will have to be crossed before peace is achieved. Both sides must show good faith, an immediate ceasefire would be an ideal confidence building measure. Following which, U.S. must not resort to Vietnam style criminal bombing ordered by Henry Kissinger and Taliban must also observe the ceasefire in letter and spirit.
We have argued in this blog for years that U.S. cannot win this war and a dialogue needs to be started with Taliban. It has taken U.S. years to turn their head around and that too after loss of much life and treasure. But the fact that they have started this process, must be applauded - better late than never.
It was a folly on the part of the U.S. to believe, they could win this war or go it alone. They have finally come to realize that Pakistan has a very important stake in Afghanistan and also has a crucial role to play in bringing peace. The Pashtun population on Pakistan's western flank inter-mingles with the Pashtun population of Afghanistan. In fact, the Pashtuns do not distinguish between the two countries. They are a majority in Afghanistan and the Taliban (100% Pashtun), have so far resisted and rejected Karzai Government, controlled by the minority Uzbeks and Tajiks, of Northern Alliance.
The parties that need to be involved in the dialogue are: U.S., Pakistan, Karzai Government, Northern Alliance and Taliban. Each player has an important role to play to end the war and maintain peace in the post war period. While Pashtun are majority, they cannot bulldoze their way to be totally in control. The Uzbeks and Tajiks must have adequate representation in Afghan Government. After a settlement is agreed President Karzai's role should be limited to holding free and fair elections (in which he and his drug lord brother do not take part) and hand over power to a newly elected Government.
Taliban have to provide assurances that they will not revert to their old ways and force their view of religion. They will have to agree to speed up women and children's education and not stop it. Northern Alliance too, will have to commit not to conspire with foreign powers and agree to play an active role in Afghanistan's development.
The Afghans are tired of 33 years of perpetual war. A whole generation has come up knowing nothing except war and it is time, children were in school rather than on battlefield. Afghans are ready for peace and so is hopefully the U.S.
Finally, peace will not be accomplished if any foreign troops stay back, whether under the guise of training or anything else. ALL FOEIGN TRROPS MUST LEAVE ON AN AGREED UPON DATE. Afghans do not need military training from foreign soldiers who have not been able to defeat them in ten years, despite far better weaponry. Afghans are born soldiers, let them train their own army.
Instead of spending another $100 billion on war in 2013 and 2014, U.S. should offer economic aid of $34 billion, $1 billion for each of the 34 Afghan provinces, to be spent over five years i.e. $6.8 billion per year, a considerable cost reduction for U.S. These funds should be administered by the World Bank and should be allocated for building roads, bridges, markets, schools and transport infrastructure. $200 million per province per year will create enormous employment opportunities for the impoverished populace and it will get them busy with economic development of their country. Rather than foreign consultants and builders draining out these funds, the construction work should be undertaken by local contractors only.
So why wait till 2013 or 2014, when this war can be ended in 2012?