What Obama should do in Afghanistan - An Indian Diplomat's Perspective
The forthcoming visit of the United States Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to New Delhi should provide the Indian side an opportunity to have an in-depth discussion on Afghanistan. The point is, President Barack Obama is expected to revisit the Afghan strategy soon after the November 8 election in the US.
Delhi needs to structure its talking points regarding Afghanistan with foresight and wisdom. There is an avalanche of despondency today visible in the recent US discourses regarding Afghanistan.
Most assessments are gloomy but of course the stunning weekend editorial by The New York Times outstrips them all — demanding the complete, unconditional, total withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by end-2013 i.e., an year ahead of the anticipated drawdown through end-2014.
The NYT even recommends that the US should destroy its high-tech weapons rather than leave them behind in the Hindu Kush for Taliban and the Al-Qaeda to appropriate them. Are things so hopelessly bad?
The noted Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid has a fine piece on this big question. His answer? “Not really, provided…” I go along with Rashid’s prognosis. Indeed, there is a striking parallel with the February 1989 situation when the Red Army withdrew. The Soviets, Americans and Pakistan’s Zia-ul-Haq were all agreed that the PDPA regime would collapse without the support of the Red Army.
They were proven wrong. Najibullah’s fall, when it came, was precipitated by three factors: Soviets threw him to the wolves; Soviets began dealings behind his back with Ahmed Shah Massoud; and, Pakistan’s relentless attempts to overthrow the regime despite Najib’s numerous overtures to Islamabad seeking a modus vivendi.
Rashid is right: Washington should not pre-judge the Kabul government’s resilience. The heart of the matter is that Afghanistan has its own yardsticks and the resilience of the Afghan people should not be underestimated. It is a nation with acute survival instincts. The minimum that is expected of the US and its allies under the circumstances is to fulfill the aid pledges made for the post-2014 period.
It is a modest commitment, affordable and morally obligatory — $16 billion in economic aid through 2015 and $3.8 billion in military aid to 2017.
In sum, give the Afghans the breathing space to get their act together without the NATO and the “international community” cutting them adrift.
Second, it is inevitable that at some point substantive talks with the Taliban become necessary. But don’t make it a clandestine intelligence operation, as the Soviets did, without the Kabul regime being in the loop. Here, the imperative need is to have good intentions, which always provides scope for transparency. The fact is there is today a wide recognition among the world community that the Taliban need to be part of the solution.