Can Obama Change the Scenario in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

view: The best ally against extremism —Paula R Newberg
Daily Times, March 24, 2009

This is one way the Obama administration’s policies can stem the tide of failure in the region: by ensuring that its own policies are supported in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not just by officers, presidents and technical experts, but by the electorates themselves

Last week, Pakistan turned its political clock back to the year 2007. Its lawyers’ movement forced President Asif Ali Zardari to reinstate judges dismissed by his predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf. After many broken promises and nasty personal politics, Pakistanis now confront the same governance problems that dogged them in the waning days of Musharraf’s rule.

This may not seem like progress. But the fact that the courts can now hold government to account is an enormous step for a state engulfed by terror and fear. Just as the United States is ready to unveil a new strategy for the region, Pakistan may finally begin to marshal a democratic response toward the Taliban and Al Qaeda that neither Islamabad nor Kabul could muster until now.

Why should a domestic dispute matter to the US-led war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda? Politics and a deep need for justice. The Supreme Court can certainly make life uncomfortable for Zardari, whose tenure is coloured by allegations of his corruption and the shadow of Musharraf’s policies. Before the dismissals, the Supreme Court was prepared to take up contentious cases concerning the security and intelligence services, the disappearance of hundreds of Pakistanis swept up in anti-terrorism campaigns and US rendition practices, Musharraf’s abuse of presidential powers to support US policies and state corruption.

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Also See:
Can Obama Win In Afghanistan?
Michael E. O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow, Brookings: March 20, 2009

By 2010, the Afghanistan conflict will have become the longest war in American history. Is it a quagmire that we should extricate ourselves from while there is still time? Should the buildup in U.S. forces now under way even be tried?

The answer to the last question is yes. Leave aside the domestic politics. The strategic stakes are high, given that this part of the world has become Al Qaeda central (and that nuclear-armed Pakistan is directly involved). In addition, the prospects for success — or at least partial success, permitting a reasonably stable country, free of major terrorist sanctuaries — are pretty good.

But Afghanistan could become a quagmire. It is unlikely but possible. So even as we intensify the effort, we need realistic expectations about how long the effort will take — and how to know if it is failing. President Barack Obama should approve the full buildup his commanders are requesting, even as he also steels the nation for a difficult and uncertain mission ahead.

Why Obama’s new strategy makes sense

Obama is completing a review process that is likely, in the end, to approve roughly doubling U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan to about 65,000 from 30,000 or so. The total NATO-led international force will then approach 100,000 total troops; the overall coalition will also include 150,000 Afghans in uniform (about a quarter of whom are presently in respectable military shape).

To some critics, this buildup looks like pouring additional resources into a black hole deep in the heart of the mountains of Central Asia, with no particular sense of what they will do or why they will be helpful. In fact, some critics argue that the buildup will make matters worse — not only for our troops, who will likely die in larger numbers than before, but for the prospects of the mission, since a buildup will further antagonize the famously xenophobic Afghan people and further motivate the Taliban as well as other extremists.

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