Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and is a contributing Worldfocus blogger.
After an unusually lengthy and public deliberative process, President Obama has decided to induct a further 30,000 troops in war torn Afghanistan. He further stated that the U.S. would start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. But he left open the timeline for total withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Domestic politics dictate that U.S. presidents cannot appear to be weak. His Republican opponents had started accusing him of dithering on Afghanistan. This consideration was probably an important factor in tilting Obama toward the military surge.
In reinforcing the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, Obama is aware that its repercussions are likely to define his presidency. His political future could depend on the outcome of this gamble.
Could Afghanistan become Obama’s Vietnam? Despite his statements suggesting what happened in Vietnam is not analogous to how the U.S. is pursuing its objectives in Afghanistan, observers keep drawing parallels between the two situations. The ensuing months will provide an answer.
Just like the corrupt and inefficient South Vietnamese government that could not withstand the North Vietnamese military onslaught, Hamid Karzai’s government has proved equally inept in countering the Taliban. Even after 8 years of huge military and financial support by the West, Karzai’s writ does not extend much beyond Kabul.
His situation seems further compromised by the recent presidential election which was seen by Afghans — as well as outsiders — as deeply flawed. Karzai today wields neither much legitimacy nor authority in the eyes of an increasing number of his disillusioned countrymen. The stock of the Taliban has naturally risen as that of the Afghan government has dwindled.
To expect Karzai and his government to change enough in the next 18 months to defeat a rejuvenated Taliban is virtually asking for the impossible. Most of Karzai’s army consists of the majority ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Afghanistan’s tribal dynamic suggests that it is unrealistic to expect a Pashtun to fight a fellow Pashtun at the behest of an Afghan government which is considered illegitimate, corrupt and inefficient by many Afghans.
Ordinary Afghans are angry at the riches accumulated by Karzai’s cronies through the burgeoning drug trade, bribery and endemic corruption. A large number of Afghans have suffered under this Western-supported dispensation.
Since a military victory by the Afghan army supported by the U.S. and NATO troops seems improbable, it may be useful for the U.S. to encourage Karzai to initiate a political process with the Taliban. The additional U.S. troops will remind the “moderate” Taliban that a Taliban victory is not around the corner. They could be weaned away from the hardcore Taliban.
Political reconciliation will allow the U.S. and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan with some semblance of honor. The government of national reconciliation that hopefully emerges in Afghanistan will have to guarantee that al-Qaeda will not be permitted to operate from Afghan soil. We should realize that al-Qaeda is a much diminished force in Afghanistan. The al-Qaeda leaders are not Afghans. They are Arabs.
The Afghan government, of which the Taliban will be a constituent, may thus not see any advantage in allowing this foreign group the latitude to operate in Afghanistan, which they did 8 years ago. This development will be in consonance with American national security interests.
Only a political process can end Afghanistan’s unending misery. It is well known that it is not possible for nation building to occur while a war is going on — in any country. Reconstruction and development occur when the guns become silent.
- S. Azmat Hassan
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