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Vision as well as Troops Needed to Heal Afghanistan

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Before taking office, President-Elect Barack Obama is keeping one promise – sending more troops to Afghanistan while working to reduce American deployment in Iraq. The Pentagon says some 20,000 additional American troops will be deployed to Afghanistan by spring 2009.

News of Obama’s decision was greeted with support. A December 3 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll showed that 55 percent of Americans backed Obama’s plan to withdraw troops from Iraq while 52 percent “favored” the war in Afghanistan.

In the absence of a broader vision, this is not the real change promised.

Though predictable, the public support for continuing the Afghanistan war is troubling. Perhaps Americans believe we dropped the ball in the “good war” we started to break Al Qaeda and capture Osama bin Laden. Instead, we initiated the “bad war” in Iraq, letting Al Qaeda and bin Laden remain at large. The result is a resurgent Taliban, (Some estimate a permanent presence in 72% of the country),
a growing insurgency among Afghanistan tribes, and an uncontrolled border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 was understandable, though perhaps short-sighted. The response of the incoming Obama administration may be just as short-sighted. Obama’s response thus far is rather limited to holding out the stick. The result is a new threat from the Taliban issued December 8: An increase of U.S. troops in Afghanistan provides incentive to kill more Americans. Click here.

On December 7 we learned that the additional American troops will be deployed around Kabul. New York Times reporter Kirk Semple said this deployment is “a decision that reflects rising concern among military officers, diplomats and government officials about the increasing vulnerability of the capital and the surrounding area.”

Are American troops sitting ducks?  Do we have an explicit statement of our goals in Afghanistan?

A glance at a map of Afghanistan points to a volatile area. Iran, Russia, and China, not to mention Pakistan and India, all come together in south-central Asia. If Iran, Russia, and China all fear being surrounded by what they perceive as hostile troops (historically each does), Pakistan is doubly so if you add India to the mix.
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Other ingredients making South Asia volatile include heightened tensions between Pakistan and India over the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, continued killing of Pakistani civilians during U.S. military operations, a Pakistani government unable to come to terms with its own military and intelligence services let alone control its own border, and an increasingly corrupt Afghan government unable to deliver basic goods to its citizens.
Clearly, a broader vision is required to reduce the tensions in South Asia. Relying only on additional U.S. troops is not prudent.

There are two basic goals in Afghanistan. First, prevent the use of Afghanistan for training terrorists and mounting terrorist attacks anywhere in the world. This is certainly an immediate and mid-term goal and should be pursued.  Second, provide stability in South Asia, especially considering that Pakistan and India are both nuclear-power states. This too is an immediate but also a long-term goal and certainly should be pursued.

So what should be done?

The first goal is partially military. The U.S., with NATO, can provide Afghanistan enough security while its army and police are trained.

The first goal is also partially political. The Taliban has reportedly severed relations with Al Qaeda.
Talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban, brokered by Saudi Arabia, have gone nowhere yet, but the parties are talking. Under the right circumstances, the Taliban might be persuaded to honor the Afghanistan constitution that does away with most of the strict Islamic restrictions used during its rule in the 1990s. This presents an opportunity for the U.S. (with Saudi Arabia acting as go-between) to explore what it would take to cease the Taliban-sponsored insurgency.
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The second goal involves easing the fears of seven countries with interests in South Asia. Currently, there is no political framework in which such fears can be mutually understood and alleviated.

Such a framework could be established through an on-going United Nations’ sponsored Seven-Party Talks similar to the Six-Party Talks that have eased tension in the Korean Peninsula. The seven parties are the United States, Russia, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Iran.

For each country, fear abounds.

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Paul Schroeder is a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University and a former journalist. He is also co-founder of Families of the Fallen for Change, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the Iraq War as quickly and (more...)
 

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