The National Catholic Review
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The Obama administration is struggling to find a solution to the current upheaval in Afghanistan and Pakistan. After a successful military strategy in Afghanistan that overthrew the Taliban rule in 2002, the absence of a strong U.S. presence in the interim has allowed the insurgents to regroup in full force. The Obama administration is now pursuing a new strategy unveiled this spring, waging war in the tribal areas within Afghanistan itself and along the Pakistan border. The United States must realize early on that there is no shortcut in dealing with ruthless Taliban and Al Qaeda forces.

If the United States is not prepared to stay in the region for a generation, it must muster all the necessary resources now to pursue its objectives wholeheartedly. For success in this region cannot be achieved without rebuilding Afghanistan from the bottom up and aiding the Pakistan government and military in dealing with the danger its country is facing. Unless the infrastructure of the Taliban and Al Qaeda and their sanctuaries in Pakistan are destroyed, both the war in Afghanistan and the new and escalating chaos in Pakistan will persist.

President Obama’s sending of 17,000 more American troops to Afghanistan is necessary to stem the rising tide of the insurgency, but their focus must be on training and strengthening the Afghan military and police. The current 80,000 troops that compose the Afghan National Army will probably need to be doubled within two or three years. To achieve this, more resources must be allocated for training and equipment while, at least initially, carrying out counterinsurgency efforts alongside the Afghan military. A focused campaign should be undertaken to woo the non-ideologue Afghan foot-soldiers fighting for money beside the Taliban insurgents, by offering them better-paying jobs within the new security apparatus, and co-opting some of the tribal leaders, who might switch sides for the right compensation. Although this idea has been afloat between the Afghan government and U.S. military for some time, no concerted effort has been made. Once potential “converts” are identified, U.S. military leaders should hand this task over to Afghan and American civilians as part of reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Poppies and Afghan Farmers

The United States also must end the farming and cultivation of poppies that subsidize the Taliban and Al Qaeda by offering farmers crop alternatives and subsidies. It is estimated that less than $400 million could achieve this critically important objective. Without significant alternatives, the Taliban will not only continue to finance the insurgency, but maintain mutually beneficial relationships with thousands of destitute Afghan farmers and their families who have no other way to make a living. What is needed is a systematic engagement of Afghan farmers in sustainable farming projects fully subsidized by the United States, while the U.S. uses trained Afghan civilians to supervise such efforts under the protection of the U.S. military. There are no shortcuts. Spraying existing fields without first providing the farmers with alternate sources of living has only alienated farmers in the past. The farmers need a steady income and U.S. protection until the Taliban no longer threatens them.

Even more critical to the future stability of Afghanistan is a major focus on reconstruction, sorely neglected by the Bush administration. A nation torn by bloody conflicts and civil war for more than three decades must be healed from within. Afghans need to feel that their children will be educated, that health care is available and that their government can deliver other basic services and protection. Personal insecurity and a lack of human necessities can make even a Taliban regime preferable to chaos. The United States has no choice but to fund these projects adequately. Now that more than a $1 trillion have been squandered in Iraq over the years, the Obama administration must find the few billions needed each year for this indispensable aspect of the war in Afghanistan.

The United States should guide the Afghans in the building of democratic institutions, especially the formation of national political parties that can produce leaders with national appeal. Economic assistance must also expand sustainable development projects that empower ordinary people, especially women, while fostering collective interest in maintaining the flow of new wealth these projects generate. Existing projects require increased security so that the successful models can grow. The Provincial Reconstruction Teams, instrumental in protecting ground operations, should be expanded and further supported by NATO member states. Incorporating qualified and fully trained Afghans into the P.R.T.’s is essential to ensure their continued success.

Relentlessness should characterize the United States’ efforts to involve its NATO allies directly. Many would resist deep involvement in a counterinsurgency war, but these reluctant NATO members must realize that the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and in Iraq has global implications. In the past few years Al Qaeda and other affiliated terrorist groups have repeatedly attacked Europe, not the United States. The Obama administration should focus on how NATO countries can contribute more. The Turks, for example, have offered military and police training. Other nations could help train and equip the Afghan police and security. The Obama administration must encourage the United Nations to take the lead in securing donor nations to share in the building of Afghanistan. Over the years the United Nations has demonstrated that it is best suited for such tasks, provided that donor countries actually pay what they have pledged (which has not always been the case). The United States can strengthen the U.N.’s position as a clearinghouse and coordinator of all nonmilitary efforts in Afghanistan.

What About Pakistan?

The solution for Pakistan is much more difficult, and it is here that the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda will be won or lost. The focus of the war must now shift to the sanctuaries and terrorist safe havens along Pakistan’s northwest border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban provides perfect shelter to Al Qaeda leaders, fuels the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and destabilizes Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It is from this area that the leaders retool and plot their next attacks, which is why it has become a focal point for the U.S. military strategy.

The Obama administration must undertake several critical measures not taken by the previous administration and that led to a crisis of confidence between Pakistan and the United States. The U.S. must make a supreme effort to improve its image there. The Bush legacy left most Pakistanis with a bitter distaste for American policy and outreach. This may be attributed to President Bush’s unconditional support for the unpopular Musharraf, the rising toll of civilian casualties caused by drone attacks and a general distrust toward Americans, who might abandon Pakistan as they have twice before abandoned Afghanistan.

The United States should make it clear that the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda is as much a Pakistani war as it is an American or Afghan war. When Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari agreed to allow the Taliban to institute Shariah law in the Swat region and the Taliban stormed into Bonier, Pakistanis were awakened to the increasing danger of the Taliban forces among them. President Obama must emphasize that unlike U.S. aid used against the Soviets in the cold war, or against the Taliban in 2002, this time the United States has the stamina to persevere for as long as it takes to create stability in the region. The powerful Pakistani army must take the lead with a determination to root out the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters; currently the Pakistani army wields far more power and influence than the government. President Obama must clarify that in exchange for training, equipment and long-term U.S. support, the Pakistani army and the Inter-Services Intelligence must make the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda their top priority.

Four Prerequisites

The goal cannot be achieved, however, without putting in place four prerequisites. First, the Pakistani military must shift its focus from the Indo-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir to the Afghan-Pakistan border, as it has started to do. During the past seven years billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance to Pakistan was spent on weapons procurement and training against India. The United States should bolster efforts to reduce the tension between India and Pakistan, and disabuse Pakistan of the presumed imminent Indian threat. The United States should mediate between the two sides to find a peaceful solution to the Kashmir conflict. At a minimum, India and Pakistan can commit themselves to a nonbelligerent approach to the issue. The Pakistani public must support this shift, which would give the government latitude to focus on the internal and more ominous threat. The Obama administration should assure the Pakistani military intelligence elite that there is no U.S.-Indian-Afghan “conspiracy” designed to dismember the Pakistani state. Here, better cooperation between the C.I.A. and the I.S.I. would help to assuage such concerns while dealing with the Taliban more effectively.

Second, the Obama administration must provide the Pakistani army with the necessary tools and equipment to wage a war against insurgency—a war the military is reluctant to fight and does not yet know how to execute. Scores of combat helicopters, night-vision devices and training are needed to battle an invisible foe. These should be part of the United States’ increased military assistance. Training will take time, as will changing the mindset of the military forces. Meanwhile, the United States should insist quietly on an end to all collaboration between the Pakistani intelligence and terrorist groups. The Pakistani military and civilian authorities must realize that this war will not be won by half-hearted efforts, and that the fate of their own state is intertwined with peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Third, Pakistan and Afghanistan must fully collaborate in their fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which requires improved relations between the two countries. The Obama administration’s recent effort in Washington to improve the relationship between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan is extremely important and should be pursued. Settling the border dispute between the two countries will help resolve their historic differences and will allow the Pakistani army to deal more effectively with border crossings by the Taliban fighters and with the smuggling of narcotics and weapons.

Fourth, U.S. concern over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile is genuine and justified. Although the Pakistani military offers assurances about its safety, the United States cannot take safety for granted. The danger of nuclear weapons or material falling into the hands of a terrorist group cannot readily be ruled out. Pakistan is extraordinarily sensitive about its nuclear weapons and suspects that the United States might have some design in mind to seize them. The Obama administration must work out an arrangement whereby the Pakistanis would feel safe and in control of their weapons, while the United States is satisfied that under no circumstances could such weapons or material fall into the wrong hands.

With the best of intentions and with all the efforts and resources needed to secure a peaceful ending to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is still no assurance of success. President Obama’s campaign has just begun, and this war may be his longest. The United States can leave the region successfully only when Afghanistan and Pakistan realize that they must fight the war against terror as their own. America must stand ready and willing to help them win it, with staying power this time around.

Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, as well as the Middle East project director at the World Policy Institute.

Comments

John | 8/17/2009 - 5:13pm

The remarkable thing about this is the absence of any theological dimension to the problem. Al Qaeda ought to have been challenged on the field of THEOLOGY first and foremost and then constantly challenged to show beyond all doubt that they had a just cause.

How does one justify the murder of completely innocent civilians who had nothing to do with supposed atrocities committed by another country? In the field of ethics, the US invasion of Afghanistan makes much more sense than Al Qaeda's attack on 9-11-01 to 'make up' for supposedly US atrocities against Palestinians or the Iraqi people.

But further than tit for tat, one needs to realize that the Jihadi menace is premised on the proposition that bloodshed can be a substitute for serious theological debate. Whose word view is true? That of the Catholic West, of which the USA is only one nation, or that of the Muslim Near East (of which Al Qaeda is but one group)? If God did indeed appear to Mohammed, where's the proof - other than his followers word for it? Do they believe ultimately because they're afraid of the Mullahs killing them? Or because the Koran just strikes them as more true than not?

This is the battlefield we need to be on -and the kinetic battlefield ultimately will be won only when this battlefield is secured. Once the other side loses the will to fight because it doubts the justice of their cause, the war will end.

THOMAS FARRELLY | 8/14/2009 - 2:38pm

"For success in this region cannot be achieved without rebuilding Afghanistan from the bottom up and aiding the Pakistan government and military in dealing with the danger its country is facing."

This statement is followed by a daunting list of "musts" and "shoulds", primarily for the US but also for the government and armed forces of Pakistan. The "musts" for the US include vast expenditures that will supposedly transform Afghanistan into a far better place than the vile and corrupt one that it is.

This is foolish. Our experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan is that the wisest course is to go in with the necessary force, accomplish as much change as feasible in a short time, and get out.

Joseph C Boylan | 8/12/2009 - 5:32pm

Altruistic as the motives of America may seem when they are acting within the borders of Afghanistan, it is difficult to offer a blessing on their work if you have read a book entitled: 'Confessions of an Economic Hit Man' by John Perkins.  For those who may not yet have read this book (and you must be in the minority by now) Perkins crucifies the Corporatocracy for their unscrupulous exploitation of minor and third world (or Developing) countries, by constantly and deliberately seeking their 'pound of flesh' in oil and other 'resources' for assisting with their sometimes well over-magnified problems.

America may over-deliver on its power donation in the form of guns and personnel, but it does not do so on its provision of social and community strengthening, nor the restoration of the environment to which it says it is committed at the start of its many overseas campaigns.  According to Perkins neither does it balk at 'helping out' with a change of government when it (America) sees it fit using the now infamous CIA and Cons Ops together with any other convenient agency it needs to bring in to do the dirty work (The Jackals as they are called).  Reference the death of President Jaime Roldos of Ecuador and that of Omar Torrijos of Panama two months later in 1981.  Both of which bore the hallmarks of a CIA orchestrated assassination!  (Should any government deal in such devastatingly immoral actions? Do you need and answer to this question?)

John Perkins should be acclaimed for his ultimate choice to 'get out' of this very dirty business.  He now spends his time in true Humanitarian Aid work to try and restore the wrongs in which he was involved by his own admission.

He does say in mitigation that he does not see this (very Un-) American activity as a conspiracy but as a direct metamorphosis of Capitalism's relentless quest for World Domination known by the euphemism of Globalization.

I'm not sure I agree with him when you look at the record of history in regard to the Politics of War which often masks the Economics of War as explained at the very well researched website of Dr Rath at: - http://www4.dr-rath-foundation.org     Here your eyes may well be opened if you still think these occupying activities can be justified at all. I have my doubts.

Peter Hanrahan | 8/11/2009 - 9:21pm

"President Obama must emphasize that unlike U.S. aid used against the Soviets in the cold war, or against the Taliban in 2002, this time the United States has the stamina to persevere for as long as it takes to create stability in the region."

The sentence above is illustrative of the naivity of the author. Who is the "United States"? Well, it is the same young people who have been fighting wars from Korea to the present time. We have hardly persevered in any of them. We fight wars with one hand tied behind our backs, we nit-pick our leaders, we endlessly study the legality of everything, and after a while we get tired and start backing out on the pretext that we will train the oppressed to fight their own battles...and we will protect them. I get the feeling that the American people are no longer willing to send their young people to fight wars all over the world. Lets admit that the wars we have been involved in are primarily the result of failed political leadership, failed diplomacy. We have had a congress and a president during all these last 60 years that didn't know the countries, the cultures, the language, or their locations, and it is no different now. They have no clue as to the history of these areas or the thinking of these peoples. That will never change as long as we continue to elect lawyers and glib speakers to represent the Unites States rather than learned men and women. Finally, and this may be closer than we think, the United States may not be able to afford these endless attempts to force our way on peoples that don't really want us there...maybe Bush and Obama have spent us into oblivion.

Peter Hanrahan

john vercellone | 8/11/2009 - 8:34pm
afghanistan lies on a potenital gas and oil export pipelines from turkmentstan and kazahkastan,which i first communicated with the white house about 9monts before it was anounced that a gas pipeline will be built thru afghanistan to pakistan,it could have gone further into india but india declined the invitation.however there is enourmous gas reserves north of afghanistan that would demand more gas and pipeline capacity thru afghanistan to pakistan and india and arabian sea.alos ther must be enourmous mineral resources in afghan mountains that would be profitable if it could be trained to pakistan(i.e. the need for new rial freight lines)let the afghans and thier neighbors have the option of legal exporting for profit.while violence conitnues this plan should not be dismissed.if iraque had a rebuilt infrastructure and oil industry americas demilitarization would have a large side benefit of another legal trading partner