Commentary

Important Notice, In Afghan Peace

Photo/White House

With the election of Barack Obama and his slogan “Yes, we can,” Afghans too, like many Americans, were hopeful for a new chapter in the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. Afghans believed that, perhaps, the new administration would lend an open ear to them and listen to their concerns, instead of producing strategy after strategy, continuing the blame game, and supporting a chronically corrupt government in Kabul. Afghans are seriously concerned with Karzai’s diminished capability to lead Afghanistan in its critical and historical juncture, and with Pakistan’s unwavering support of the Taliban, which has turned the unpopular movement in Afghanistan unreconstructed.

Since the beginning of 2010, there have been a few international gatherings on Afghanistan. First the London Conference on Afghanistan in January, and recently, the Kabul conference, portrayed as 2010’s finale of a process to reiterate the legitimacy of the Kabul government with both the international community and the Afghan people. Yet with Mr. Karzai’s infinitesimal leadership little progress has been made since the January London Conference.

For whatever it’s worth (and this isn’t highly original), one doesn’t think Karzai’s general unpopularity among Afghans quashes the course of progress in Afghanistan. In a recent publication, Anthony Cordesman of Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote: “No US strategy can succeed if the US cannot obtain sufficient support from the Afghan and Pakistani governments. The US cannot change the Karzai government, and more broadly, cannot change the underlying power structure in Afghanistan that will be dictated as much by power brokers, tribal factors, ethnic/sectarian, and regional differences as it will be by the formal structure of government.”

Since the United States has always professed its fidelity to the cause in Afghanistan, the policymakers in Washington, DC should take notice and improve three major areas of the US strategy:

First, the United States should explore options of “Quid Pro Quo” to improve relation between Kabul and Islamabad. An area of the foreign policy that the Bush administration had limited success and it is an area where the Obama administration needs to enhance its focus. The potential is there. The US, of course, with the support of Afghans must present a type of grand bargain that will encompass several particularly important issues such as, the Durand Line, India’s influence in Kabul, and in return, the US should entail Pakistan to honestly and truthfully restrain its regional ambition and its refuge of Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders plus a promise that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used as a training and staging ground for Al- Qaeda and Taliban. Pakistan must revoke all Shinakhti-Pass “Green-Cards” issued to Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. In addition, Pakistan’s ISI must stop providing financial, logistical, and ideological motivation to Taliban and their affiliates.

Second, Afghans must do their part and the United States should search options on how to sustain that. As I have mentioned before, for America, Mr. Karzai’s perplexing behavior poses a crucial challenge that represents a critical impasse for an undeviating peaceful settlement of the conflict. Nine years of Karzai’s on the job training has clarified one notion that Mr. Karzai is management material and therefore, the United States should reach out to experts who specialize in managing individuals such as Karzai, even if the Obama administration has to cross the party line to do that. The opportunity cost of winning the war outweighs its political ramification. Consequently, in American calculus, Mr.Karzai accurately fits the eluding variable of its differential equation.

As Ahmed Rashid an expert in Afghanistan/Pakistan affairs correctly argued: “Mr. Karzai has made talking to the Taliban a family enterprise – using his brothers and cousins, rather than putting together a multi-ethnic team of Afghans to do the talking. To many Afghans, it looks like the Karzai family is trying to strike a personal deal rather than a national deal with the Taliban. Thus many Pashtuns – the major ethnic group which includes both Mr. Karzai and the Taliban – are opposed to talks because it excludes their tribes, and Mr. Karzai has done little to woo them confidence.”

Like Karzai’s 2004 Tahkim-e-Solh “Strengthening Peace” initiative which turned out to be a completely unsuccessful program, offered those insurgents willing to renounce violence, pledge support to the Afghan Constitution, and the opportunity to rejoin their tribal communities, the reconciliation plan with the Taliban highly risks the same fate, as Ashely Tellis an expert in Afghan affairs at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded: “The cold truth of the matter, therefore, is that there is less Afghan governmental interest in reconciling with the Taliban leadership than is usually believed—a sentiment fully reciprocated by the Quetta shura as well. Reconciliation with the Quetta shura has become a Kabuki play—an elaborate ritual driven by transient considerations that in the end signify little.” This awareness, in turn, deepens the fear that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won and leads corrosively to the widespread discussions about exit from Afghanistan, which leads me to my last point.

Third, the dreadful July 2011 deadline of the US gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan has clearly raised serious concern among all parties. While President Obama, perhaps, signaled this date as a wake up call to Mr. Karzai to put his act together, unfortunately, it has proven to be quite ineffective on Mr. Karzai. Instead it has produced some side-effects, and it has made Mr. Karzai paranoid. Since Mr. Karzai does not have a strong political base, for him to overcome the fear of survival beyond July 2011 has pushed him to continue to make decisions that are perhaps not in the best interest of Afghanistan nor will it concur with the United States long term strategic posture.

Even with optimistic assumptions, we cannot hope to grow our way out of Afghan dilemma by July 2011, and given political realities and a midterm elections in America, President Obama cannot afford to say that he was wrong to set a deadline, however, President Obama has a great opportunity to refurbish and spin the Afghan war deadline, by inserting a strong security commitment to Afghanistan’s future out of the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership that is currently under review. This will exhibit an ironclad American determination to stay involved in ensuing Afghanistan’s security. Furthermore, there is an enormous possibility in this Partnership to shape the mechanism of the US policy and to make adjustments to it. Of course, this will give President Obama some room to exercise his political capital accordingly and will provide Afghans with a sense that their best friend will not abandon them at a critical juncture of their young democracy, nor the slogan “Yes, we can” will lose its meaningful aspiration.

Wahid Monawar is former Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, Former Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations in Vienna, and the founder of the Neo-Conservative Party of Afghanistan. He is currently an associate of Zurich Partners.

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