Monday, February 22, 2010
A Light at the End of the Tunnel......in Afghanistan
We are just beginning to perceive a notable change in the fortunes of the international community, led by the United States, in the war in Afghanistan. President Obama, his civilian national security advisers and his generals and admirals deserve credit for having turned around a major foreign policy defeat in this most difficult environment. The decision to increase troop levels immediately upon taking office and adding another 30,000 troops in the surge was critical in this turn about.
Some might say, "What turn about?", but there is definitely a trend towards success. The surge itself is now allowing for the kinds of major operations in the volatile South, in Helmand right now, that will successfully clear these areas of entrenched Taliban control. And the capture in Karachi of the leading Taliban military commander Mullah Bareder and of two Taliban "shadow governors" are major breakthroughs. Meanwhile, the success of the London Conference on Aghanistan, with a new commitment by the international community and the Afghan government under Hamid Karzai gave some new impetus to the resolve of the coaltion working to save Afghanistan from the brink. In particular, the emphasis given to luring Taliban followers into "reintegration" programs, and a willingness to let the Aghan government seek reconcilliation talks with some Taliban leaders, are very important as they point the way to a real solution to the conflict there.
Much still needs to be done. The commitment of President Karzai to attack corruption remains to be demonstrated in real actions. Also, his commitment to take the Afghan government out to the countryside to deliver essential services needs to take place, but the US "civilian surge" taking place should facilitate that process. Finally, the expansion of the Afghan Army and police is vital to the country ultimately taking responsible for its own security. This will be a difficult and painful process, but it is encouraging to see Aghan troops taking the lead in the ongoing operation in Marjah.
As a political analyst, I would like to think that the success of winning this war lies in political solutions of more and better governance, less corruption and real economic and social development programs. But, all of this will not be able to take hold without what is essentially a numbers game: getting an overwhelming number of Afghan troops recruited, trained, equiped, led and organized to carry out the essential security functions throughout Afghanistan.
In all this, the role of the international community is essential: it provides the resources at this point required to make everything happen; it provides the security umbrella which will turn the tide in the battle and allow Afghan security and government institutions to develop and take control. The international community can also do a lot to help Afghanistan join the world economy and enable it to develop on its own and move away from the opium economy to which it is still addicted.
However, I am very optimistic at this moment and I hope it is not just a fleeting one. I also hope that the American people and their NATO and free world counterparts do not give up the struggle just as we are beginning to get results from our efforts. There will be more sacrifice in lives and treasure, but this sacrifice is worth the price. A Taliban and Al Qaida resurgence and possible takeover of Afghanistan would have been a slippery slope towards a greater unravelling in the Muslim world and an increased threat to the world community. I am optimistic that this administration understands that and will take necessary steps to defend our national interests over and above the often fickle trends in public opinion.