Sunday, January 13, 2013

Continuing Illusions About Afghanistan

The recent White House meetings with Afghan Prime Minister Karzai generated photo ops and a joint statement, but the road from here through the end of 2014 should be filled with lots of twists and turns.

Some of President Obama's key points:

  • By year-end 2014, Afghans will have full responsibility for their own security;
  • The war will come to a "responsible end;"
  • al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan as a launch pad for attacks against the U.S.
  • Our troops will continue "to fight along side Afghan troops, as needed;
  • More than 2,000 U.S. soldiers have lost their lives in the war;
  • Our remaining troop presence after 2014 will be involved in training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces.
We really don't appear to have any clear and credible vision of how our interests are going to be served by the laundry list of soft commitments we have made to the lame duck Karzai government.  For future economic commitments, the U.S. has promised to align 80 percent of the funds to Afghan priorities and to channel at least 50 percent of the funds through Afghan budgets. Since the system of taxation and government revenue collection in the country is already massively corrupt, it doesn't bode well for a future in which more funds are available for redirection into the hands of corrupt officials at all levels.

Although both Presidents agreed with the concept of a Taliban representative office in Qatar, the Taliban has not yet agreed to the concept of dealing directly with the government of Afghanistan. 

India and Pakistan's recent news bulletins about the killing of soldiers and agents at Kashmiri check points is the beginning of positioning the two nations for exerting their influence at the multinational talks on the future of Afghanistan.  The U.S. position on what it expects from both India and Pakistan in relation to the future of Afghanistan is murkier than ever.

The workhorse diplomatic effort have been carried out during the past four years primarily by Secretary of State Clinton, but her role is already diminishing because of health issues.  Secretary of Defense Panetta has occasionally spoken up to defend the U.S. against President Karzai's outrageous accusations, but given the diminished future role of the military, it's not clear how strong his voice will be. The Obama foreign policy apparatus, apart from Secretary Clinton's personal efforts, has not been effective.  

It is really in nobody's interest for there to be an Afghan civil war as the U.S. draw down nears. Ann Marlowe has a non-consensus perspective,
"What will happen after we leave Afghanistan? A lot less than we think. More like entropy, or a regression to the mean, than like a civil war. A slow drift to regionalism, with the increasing irrelevance of the Karzai kleptocracy we have empowered. On the plus side, IED attacks and other terrorist violence will decrease dramatically. So will corruption; without US backing, corrupt officials will be removed by local consensus or the time-tested remedy of assassination. Afghans are natural capitalists and they will continue to create businesses and try to improve the lot of their families."
Let's hope she is right.

As we are committed to direct future economic aid to Afghan priorities, it is well to remember that education of young women is still not a widely accepted goal, except through the network of village elders.  The Taliban's position is not something consonant with our values.  The good news is that work is being done through well-regarded, private groups like the Central Asia Institute.

Greg Mortenson and star students at the Sitara School.

The continuation of private social and humanitarian aid, under the umbrella of a strong, economically rational and principled foreign policy, will be the best medicine for the citizens of Afghanistan

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