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Nine years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, the country continues to be overwhelmed in mayhem with no noticeable reduction in insecurity, bloodshed and casualties. With no apparent signs of development and steadiness, Afghanistan continues to present the biggest challenge to the U.S. and its NATO allies.
The war that was originally waged to seek and destroy Al Qaeda and its Taliban handlers has taken a new shape after ally and nuclear power Pakistan has been victimized by an extremist insurgency in territory along its border with Afghanistan. Before vacating office, former President Bush promised to rebuild Afghanistan, revive its economy, and free the masses but these promises have turned out to be only empty words. Today, close to 90% of Afghanistan’s budget comes from international help.
As the situation in Afghanistan continues to become more volatile, analysts are trying to suggest what should be the realistic policy goals for President Obama to pursue in Afghanistan.
Whatever decision Obama takes, he will first have to consider how other regional hotspots like India, Pakistan, Kashmir and Iran will be affected. As Obama, continues to weigh his options in Afghanistan, he should be careful not to lose public support that doomed previous wars in Vietnam and Iraq. (Khan)
As the years go by, the situation inside Afghanistan continues to become more unstable. Afghanistan has been termed as the country with the most ineffective and corrupt government in the world. The country has also been termed as having the most thriving narcotics trade in the world accounting for 90% of the world’s marijuana.
The U.N. has placed Afghanistan 174th out of 178 countries on its Human Development Index and is also the last country in Transparency International fraud opinion index. Although the U.S. and its NATO allies have dispensed trillions of dollars to help the country rebuild its dilapidated infrastructure and financial system, most of the money has found its way into funding military operations.
This has relegated reconstruction and rebuilding into second place and the little that is ongoing has been marred by claims of corruption and waste on the government’s part, support agencies and contractors thus limiting the urgently required development and reconstruction. (Khan)
Realistic Policy Goals for Obama
As Obama tries to come up with the right policy, one thing that he should put into perspective is how the American support has been aiding Afghanistan. In the last eight years, America has spent close to $ 200 billion in grants to the country. However, very little of this money has been used in helping the country. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), most of this aid has gone into the pockets of greedy contractors.
What Obama should do if he is to bring peace into Afghanistan is to first make sure that the money given out for infrastructure development performs the intended purpose. If this is not done, it will be hard for the U.S. to leave the country to clear a mess that the Americans helped in creating. (Khan)
Despite the US/NATO sending in more than 70,000 forces, the country continues to witness a growing Taliban uprising. This insurgency has continued to buildup and today the Taliban are believed to be occupying 72% of the country. From 2006, the situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating on a day-to-day basis.
Until date, it is estimated that close to 25,000 have died since the expulsion of the Taliban government in 2001. This trend shows that what the U.S and its allies are doing is not sufficient to help the country regain its self-rule.
From the look of things, if the U.S soldiers continue to stay in the country, then the situation will only deteriorate further since the Taliban’s will not let up their struggle anytime soon. This makes it baseless for the U.S to continue sending in more soldiers in Afghanistan. What is sad is that this is what Obama and his advisers have been doing. (Khan)
If Obama is serious about his desire to restore peace in Afghanistan, one thing that he should do is to seek ways of restoring good governance. For a long time now, Afghanistan has been under a frail, unproductive and crooked government. It is a pity that both the Bush and Obama administration have been supporting a candidate who has failed to win the allegiance and support of the Afghan people.
Karzai’s failure to act and inability to reach out to his subjects has enabled the ejected Taliban’s to come back and fill the vacuum created. Analysts have pointed repeatedly that President Karzai lacks the political will to tackle a background of impunity and to end political meddling in the activities and functioning of the police force.
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There has been increasing criticism from both the domestic and international front regarding the Karzai’s policies on human rights and his government’s lack of good governance and fraud. The U.S has continually been criticized for allowing corruption to take root in the Afghan government.
According to analysts, President Karzai is believed to be electing his family members who are connected to the drug trade as high-ranking government officials or police chiefs. It is therefore illogical that the U.S has been supporting such a corrupt man and entrusting him to lead Afghanistan. If Obama wants to bring lasting peace in Afghanistan, he should help the country to come up with a focused presidential candidate in the future. (Khan)
Since coming to power, President Obama has been deploying extra militia and marines to counter the Taliban insurrection. In the early months of 2009, Obama dispatched 30,000 soldiers as part of his plan to tackle the revolting Taliban and the failing security condition in Afghanistan.
However, this has not helped matters and today the U.S is believed to be spending close to $ 100 million in fighting the Taliban rebels in Afghanistan. Although increasing the number of troops especially in Kandahar and Helmand, which are believed to be Taliban strongholds would quell the rebellion; this would only be a temporary solution.
Increasing the number of troops in the country will only mean that America will have to use more money to fund the war and suffer more casualties in the process. The more realistic policy goal for Obama should be to train and increase the strength and ability of the Afghan Security Forces.
This would help the country stabilize at a faster rate than a situation where the US/NATO Forces were in control. This is especially the case since the Taliban insurgency continues to gain momentum despite the high number of foreign soldiers in the country. (Gutman 14)
The American President seems to have chosen this path since he has promised to ensure that the Afghan national force is expanded. Currently, the force stands at 80,000 and Obama has promised to increase this to 134,000 well-trained soldiers.
This force working in coordination with the NATO forces should help in quelling the Taliban rebellion. Although well intended, this expansion program has been marred by corruption perpetuated by the Karzai government.
The U.S has also been found to be lacking soldiers who can carry out this mentoring program. This has caused the Afghan National Police to have the highest number of casualties since 2007. This is something that Obama should seriously consider if he wants to end the Taliban rebellion any time soon. (Gutman 20)
By looking at the war, one is quick to notice that the Afghan people are not the only ones affected. The Afghanistan neighbors who include Pakistan, Iran, India and Kashmir all stand to benefit if the region has peace. This can be seen from the fact that the Obama administration has decided to engage these regional states in the peace process.
This clearly shows that no attempt at peace or steadiness can thrive in Afghanistan without support from Afghanistan’s neighbors, as they all stand to benefit from a calm and steady Afghanistan, as does the country itself. May be this is a reason why President Obama has announced the formation of a contact group for Afghanistan and Pakistan, that includes all the countries with an interest in the region.
Unlike Bush who approached the matter in a unilateral way, Obama has decided to approach the matter multilaterally. This will help in smoothing out the brunt of regional power rivalries and tensions on Afghanistan. If approached in the right way, this might help in reducing the tensions that has existed between India-Pakistan and between Afghanistan-Pakistan.
This will also help in steadying the sour relations between India and Pakistan that have emanated from the border problem over Kashmir. What is interesting to learn is that despite Iran being snubbed by the Bush administration it has key interest in Afghanistan. For a long time, Iran has been trying to control the narcotics trade, which comes from India and Afghanistan.
On top of this, failure to contain the Taliban insurgency would see millions of refugees to flow into the country. Therefore, Iran has a great stake in the war since a lasting peace would solve the refugee problem and clamp down the drug trade. This means that involving Pakistan, India and Iran in the peace brokering deal would not only help Afghanistan but the concerned countries as well. (Gutman 24)
Future Effect and Possible Solution
After everything has been said and done, it is clear that the U.S needs to do something urgently or run the risk of losing public support that doomed previous wars in Vietnam and Iraq. As long as the citizens continue to see faces of dead American soldiers, the threat of losing public support remains a formidable threat.
What the U.S should therefore do is to look for a quick solution to the problem. Considering that nine long years have gone by while trying to find peace, a time has now come to seek other channels to find a solution to the problem. Despite the apparent misgivings about the Taliban, they are a significant factor in finding a lasting peace. (Coll 205)
Currently, the Taliban controls almost two-thirds of the country. What makes them a bigger threat is that they are Afghanistan people, they are native and they have established enduring power. The reason why the Taliban’s have been able to succeed for so long has nothing to do with military dexterity or external military help. On the contrary, the success has been because of the readiness of many Afghans to exchange never-ending fighting and disorder for a measure of serenity and protection.
This means that it will be impossible to attain lasting peace without initiating genuine and legitimate political ceasefire efforts with the Taliban. If anything, the main reason behind ousting the Taliban’s was to break the “perceived” link that they had with Al Qaeda, a link that was never found.
Although the Taliban has apparently distorted the values of Islam, the U.S should have negotiated with them to hand over Osama bin Laden instead of hastily initiating operation freedom after the proceedings of September 11, 2001. Just like the other factions, the Taliban’s should be allowed to have a share in the government if lasting peace is to be found in Afghanistan. President Obama should consider this option if he does not want to risk losing public support. (Coll 210)
Nine years after the U.S led invasion into Afghanistan; the crisis is yet to be resolved. This is because of the policy goals that Bush and now Obama are using in trying to solve the problem. Although Obama is seen to be taking important steps in solving the dispute, this is not working since his main goal is to protect American interests.
The biggest mistake that Obama is committing is that he is treating Afghanistan and Pakistan as one stage of the same clash. What he has failed to understand is that Afghanistan problems lie inside Afghanistan and the answers can only be gotten from the country.
If anything, the problems that Pakistan is experiencing are the effect of the continued fighting in Afghanistan. If a lasting solution is to be found in the region, the Taliban’s must be included in the country’s political process. If this is not done, America will be standing the chance of losing public support as it happened in Vietnam and Iraq.
Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin, 2004. 205-210. Print.
Gutman, Roy. How we missed the story: Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and the hijacking of Afghanistan. US Institute of Peace Press, 2008. 1-26. Print.
Khan, Amina. Obama and Afghanistan, 2008. Web.