I M Mohsin
U.S. Marines from the 2nd MEB, 1st Battalion 5th Marines walk carrying their weapons, ammunition, food, and water for a second day as they make their way through the Nawa district in Afghanistan’s Helmand province Friday, July 3, 2009. (AP)
Giving him (Obama) the benefit of doubt, one may not agree, generally, with Tom Englehardt that Obama "...is also president of the United States which means that he is head honcho for the globe’s single great garrison state which now, to a significant extent, lives off war."
A Canadian think-tank, CIFP, has produced a thorough report on Afghanistan under Fragile States. It is a worthy effort to define the prevailing pandemonium posted by the neo-cons in the wake of 9/11. After delving deep into doomsday details about the AfPak area based on Millennium Goals etc, the treatise indulges in imagining the worst/best case-scenarios. It underlines the fact that: "Indeed, 98 percent of Afghan civilians are directly affected by the present conflict and Afghanistan has the tenth highest average of the people killed per million per year." The paper also tends to consider the current upsurge by the extremists as "somewhat artificial and temporary." Praising the donors for the "extent to which they have invested in Afghanistan", the brief wishes that President Obama’s "promises" about "combating terrorism" will be honoured operationally through induction of more troops into the tumult. The prognosis for the worst-case-scenario tends to trust the media-hype to indicate that General McChrystalIraq mantra would prolong the status quo.
Despite being an excellent exercise expressly backed by brawny research, it draws conclusions which are purely hypothetical. A high-powered scrutiny like this should have been able to reveal more definitely why the ‘insurgency’ goes on and is becoming more threatening. What role did the Afghans play in 9/11 as per the US version of the tragedy? What is US’ strategy now that she is stuck in this quagmire which has resulted in the killing of a large number of Afghans? How does ‘history’ of the area, generally, amply advise against such adventures? Should history be taken seriously to bring peace as the whole world appears to be held hostage by the prevailing mess? Why OBL survives as a ghost who can be cited but not traced by the best monitoring/scanning equipment? Unfortunately any thesis which avoids deliberating on such issues would be only a theoretical kick.
Simnon Jenkins writing in the Guardian on Afghanistan calls it ‘Obama’ Viet Nam. Recounting recent history, he affirms that Viet Nam trounced Johnson and Nixon besides undermining a generation of Americans. His advice: Afghanistan...obscenely dubbed the ‘good war’ - could do the same. If history of the two areas is any guide, the former could turn out to be much worse for the US unless, of course, an exit strategy supported by Pakistan is adopted to cut the losses and avoid a repeat of Saigon-experience. While the last administration kept up jingoistic pressures, more to fool the naïve public at home, it failed to find a way out. Obama’s policy remains more complex. He has restored the dignity of his office by the use of correct/diplomatic lingo while dilating on all issues but he appears to be conscious of the Herculean challenges posed by the innate vested interests. As the media is, generally, controlled by lobbies whose pretensions historically have prevailed in defining US policy, a president has to seek compromises. He can do it as brashly as did Bush or intelligently as did Clinton. Only time will tell how Obama can make US interests triumph over peculiar complexes of smug Cabals which wield power through a mawkish lust, money, media etc. Giving him the benefit of doubt, one may not agree, generally, with Tom Englehardt that Obama "...is also president of the United States which means that he is head honcho for the globe’s single great garrison state which now, to a significant extent, lives off war."
It now dawns that the US had two major disasters in 2001 i.e. George W and 9/11. Despite the 9/11 commission, no cogent case has been aired against Afghanistan. For this part of the world, it remains an enigma which costs the US credibility/goodwill heavily. The ground realities in AfPak are becoming tougher for foreign forces since 2006 due to many reasons. First, initially when the Taliban collapsed, a sigh of relief was heaved by the Afghans, generally, as they disapproved of the regime’s fundamentalism. Secondly, a hope was built up by the Bonn Conference 2002 that a new order would benefit the Afghans as touted by the US. Third, US’ surrogate conceded too many favours to the Northern warlords etc which boosted corruption and dismayed the Pashtun majority of the country. Fourth, mismanagement, lack of financial commitment from donors etc ushered in a famine-like situation in South-East which dashed all hopes of the Pashtuns. Fifth, the Taliban seeing the openings revived their ‘resistance to the occupation’. As Kabul had no control, most people started looking to the Taliban for security. Taking a leaf out of the North they even cultivated vast field of opium for survival as the drug-market has been soaring in the West etc. It also became a breakthrough for the Taliban who ensured safe operations by the Pashtuns right up to the export of such stuff. Sixth, patronising attitude of the US forces, caused more by ignorance than by petulance, offended the local people. The indiscriminate killing of civilians described as "collateral damage" has earned the US an interminable enmity as per the culture. No wonder the aggrieved joined Taliban to avenge the deaths of their kith and kin which becomes their duty. Being a fiercely independent people, their animosity is like the ‘cow-dung fire’ which keeps burning for a long time and can’t be easily put out.
The induction of a new ISAF commander whose claim to fame is, reportedly, his brutal slaughter of Iraqi dissidents recently makes a big conundrum. His predecessor had called the situation a ‘stalemate’ and he was working keenly for a rapprochement with Afghans. Howard Zinn’s famous remark two years back on a TV show hosted by Amy Goodman: "If we were teaching the history of Vietnam as it should be taught, then the American people, from the start, would have opposed the war, instead of waiting for three or four years..." reflects American’ apathy, generally, to whatever is done in their name.
History highlights that the Afghan/Pashtun hates ‘occupation’. It is about 8 years since foreign forces entered. Having, generally, achieved precious little by way of giving security, freedom, development etc to Afghans, thanks to a corrupt set-up, like Diem in Saigon of yore, the wheel appears to have come full circle. Obama’s overtures obviate confusion. His best defence is that he is haunted by too many Albatrosses swirling around US. Gitmo and its detainees including the most-scandalous case of ex-Ambassador Mullah Zaeef, despite ‘withdrawal’ Iraq’s over a million dead and its destruction, Abu Gharaib, CIA’s EU prisons for torture, Bagram’s atrocities etc. The spillover of the virus into Pakistan and the controversial bombings by the US drones have already caused devastation rendering three million IDP to face existential threat.
Considering US’ quandary, Obama appears to be their best bet braved by Lady Luck due to his unusual understanding, generally, of the region. He should learn form history and make an exit plan which would win a consensus of all. The US is fast losing goodwill in AfPak/Muslim world due to death and destruction writ large all over. If the IDP suffer short shrift, that may make the last straw on the camel’s back. All must follow Benjamin Franklin: "There never was a good war or a bad peace."
The writer is a former secretary interior