Sunday, March 08, 2009

Obama's Wishful Thinking on Afghanistan

President Obama is toying with the idea of reaching out to moderate Taliban factions within the Afghan insurgency, hoping for something akin to the Awakening movement that turned Iraq's Sunni insurgency against al-Qaeda fighters.

In an interview with New York Times reporters, Obama said, "Part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of al-Qaida in Iraq. There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and the Pakistani region."

I think Obama is missing a few points. One is that the Sunni insurgency in Iraq was hardly a bunch of Islamic fundamentalists. They were Iraqi nationalists, Saddam's people.

Another problem is one pointed out by Afghans themselves. From The Guardian

Ashraf Ghani, a former Afghanistan finance minister, who is to stand as presidential candiate in the elections in August, said: "I don't know of a single peace process that has been successfully negotiated from a position of weakness or stalemate."

Ghani is probably right. America's chance to drive a wedge between the Taliban and al Qaeda came and went around 2002-3. Ever since then, Western forces have been driving the two into each others' arms, reinforcing the bond between the Afghan insurgents and their foreign comrades by treating them as one and the same.

Haroun Mir, a political analyst and former adviser to the mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, said that even small-time insurgents would not be persuaded to lay down arms at a time when the Taliban was scenting victory over the Afghan government and its foreign backers. "Reconciliation was a great idea in 2003 or 2004, when the government had the upper hand, but now things are all going the Taliban's way. They are at the edge of Kabul and they have no incentive to join the government's side."

Sorry Barack but you're stuck with the mess created by the astonishing incompetence of the Bush/Cheney regime. At this late stage, America's best option could be to sharply ramp up recruiting, equipping and training of a new Afghan army. Find a location safely removed from the reach of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, establish a major training base for infantry, artillery and armour forces and start churning out trained soldiers four, even five times faster than the experience to date. Begin running classes through officer school and flight schools in the United States.

Somehow the balance of power has to be shifted back to the Afghans. Not the Western forces, the Afghans themselves. If need be, America should even consider subsidizing the Afghan military payroll. Isn't it better to pay a few bucks a month to an Afghan soldier than keep running up the tab in lives and treasure keeping Western forces tied down there?

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