18 More Months in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been America’s curse for the past one decade. What was the last decade misdeeds of America has been paid back. In 80s America trained Afghans with weapons and sophisticated technology to crush Russian forces. The same training is giving nightmares to America for a decade. Unable to get out of the Afghanistan mess the White House establishment has been clueless. Barack Obama the promised savior of America is trying his best to put an end to the American embarrassment in the troubled Asian soil. He might have bought another 18 months to crush the Al Qaeda network but the troubles will continue to complicate his image and leadership. It is better to phase out Allied troops in 18 months the time he had sought and leave it to the managerial skills of decade long trained Afghan nationals. If America cannot deliver the results and make Afghans to take care of their country it is utter shame. Ten years is not less time for this. Times of India writes on 3 December 2009 US president Barack Obama’s outlined plan for a troop surge in Afghanistan, coupled with an exit strategy setting July 2011 as the kickoff point for the withdrawal of US forces, is likely to attract criticism from both sides. Domestic public fatigue with the war may cause some to say he committed too much, while those wanting the US to stay the course will say he didn’t commit enough. But Obama has probably made the best of a bad situation. There are no easy answers in Afghanistan after seven years of mismanagement. Now, to obviate the danger of the Taliban deciding to simply wait out the US presence, a few focus areas are important. The first is ensuring that the Afghan government is in a position to deal with the Taliban once the US withdrawal starts. And for that, the prime necessity is an effective administration in Kabul. Without good governance, Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s government will lack the legitimacy it needs to succeed against the Taliban. How exactly Washington can apply pressure without making Karzai seem a US stooge is problematic, but Obama hinted at it in his speech when he spoke of reaching out to local leaders and elders. It will serve both to build effective local governance systems and exert pressure on Karzai to clean up his act if he does not wish to be left out in the cold. Another important facet of beefing up the Afghan government is bolstering the Afghan police and military’s size and capabilities. At the same time, the complementary task of degrading the Taliban’s strength must be undertaken. For this too, reaching out to local leaders is important. But perhaps the crucial factor is Pakistan. If Islamabad allows militants safe havens, all the American efforts will be wasted. A US withdrawal with the Taliban’s Quetta shura still intact would mean that a decade of war and loss of life was for nothing. As for hardliners in Islamabad, they would do well to remember that July 2011 is simply the starting point for the withdrawal. The actual pace of the drawdown will depend on the situation on the ground. New Delhi must not cavil if large amounts of civilian aid flow into Pakistan, since that would shore up anti-militancy forces. It must, on the contrary, stay closely engaged with Washington and with Kabul, keep reminding Washington and other international capitals of the urgency of the task of turning Afghanistan around, and itself remain ready to help.

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