Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Coming Change of Course in Afghanistan

I have a piece up at Japan Focus, The Coming Change of Course in Afghanistan, concerning the broad expert and international consensus concerning the need to engage with Afghanistan’s Taliban politically and negotiate some kind of settlement to end the fighting.

The American public will apparently be the last to know, since the Afghan war is our “Good War” and is inextricably linked in our minds with the hunt for bin Laden. Presumptive president Obama has already loudly proclaimed his determination to man up with two or three more brigades over there to reverse the slide in the military situation.

However, General Petraeus is already rallying his Powerpoint warriors to convince the incoming administration and U.S. public opinion that negotiation with [some of] the Taliban [while the battle to destroy al Qaeda continues] will be necessary.

Indeed, negotiations with the Taliban are already going on.

Not just in clandestine meetings in Saudi Arabia between the Karzai regime and the Taliban.

Also inside Afghanistan, with participation by NATO and international NGOs.

International Peace Day, September 21, was marked in Afghanistan by a truce between Taliban, international, and Afghan government forces to permit the delivery of polio vaccinations to Afghan children:

Medics with polio vaccinations pushed into some of Afghanistan's most volatile provinces on the United Nations' Peace Day Sunday with a Taliban pledge they should not be harmed during the three-day drive.

The Taliban had also agreed to not carry out any attacks on Peace Day following a call from President Hamid Karzai that resulted in the Afghan and international military forces agreeing to refrain from offensive operations. . . .

The Taliban said Saturday it had ordered its followers to allow the vaccinators safe access to their areas. They had copies of a letter from the group's leadership asking for them to be unharmed, [WHO representative Peter] Graaff said.

In a further sign that the international community sees Taliban political and military strength as signs of a significant domestic insurgency that can and must be negotiated with, and no longer through the lens of the American Global War on Terror (GWOT) as a target for utter annihilation, the UN’s envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide also gave a cringing shout-out on the UN website to the Taliban to help the UN deliver humanitarian aid in significant swaths of the country in which the Karzai writ apparently runs not:

“I will take this opportunity to appeal to the Taliban and to appeal to its leaders to ensure access for food distribution and to expand the humanitarian agenda that we should share,” he said. “There are disagreements on so many things – but let us demonstrate that we can share this humanitarian agenda.”

The piece also includes a discussion of the continuing deterioration of Pakistan’s strategic position in South Asia, including the remarkable inroads that India--with the support of the United States and the Karzai regime—have been able to make in 99% Muslim Afghanistan.

Geo-wonks will find much of interest in my discussion (with maps!) of determined attempts by India and Iran to wean Afghanistan from its reliance on the overland route to Kabul through the Khyber Pass controlled by Pakistan.

Afghanistan now has an alternate route to the sea, via the recently completed Delaram-Zaranj highway to the Iranian border, built and paid for by the Indian government (and protected against relentless Taliban attacks by Indian troops!), linking the major Afghan cities to the Iranian port of Chabahar.

The ability of Pakistan’s fractured civilian government to make a positive contribution to the U.S./NATO effort in Afghanistan is doubtful.

When one looks at the marked unwillingness of the so-called “Friends of Pakistan” assistance group to provide meaningful aid to Islamabad during its current financial crisis, one has to wonder if the U.S. strategy isn’t to let the civilian government fall to pieces and cultivate a new military strongman to assume direction of the country and the effort against the Pakistan and Afghanistan Taliban.


Dick Durata said...

Great article, CH.

Sun Tzu said...

Does the West really have any strategic options in Afghanistan? Should the next president just bail out of this debacle? One strategist thinks there are strategic options: Strategic Options: The West and Afghanistan What would Sun Tzu advise the next U.S. President?