By Mallad Rama Rao
Even two weeks after his Afghanistan speech, the world is questioning the notions at the basis of President Barack Obama's doctrine. The latest surprise is the suggestion of a carrot and stick policy for the Taliban
Expectedly, US President Barak Obama has defended his Afghanistan policy in his Nobel Peace Prize speech as a watershed event. Like his predecessor, George Bush Junior, he also cautioned the world of the consequences of not supporting the American war against Islamists. But at home, his policy has evoked a mixed response. The reasons would appear to be obvious.
In one breath Obama talks of pulling out US troops in 18 months and also his determination to bring the `war' in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion without making an `open-ended commitment.' Despatch of extra 30,000 US troops to the embattled country is in his view good enough evidence of his determination to win. At the same time he admits the war in Afghanistan can be won only when the last vestiges of the al-Qaeda and the Taliban are stamped out from not only the Afghan soil but also in their `safe havens' across the border in Pakistan.
The dichotomy in the Obama doctrine is therefore clear to the naked eye. Can anyone fix a time table for the decimation of terrorist groups? By announcing a sort of deadline for US pullout, he has assured the terrorist groups that all they have to do is to hold out for a year and a half before going on rampage in Afghanistan and beyond.
The return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan cannot be the end objective of the US policy. In fact, it will be a nightmare for an America that is already quite paranoid about threat from terrorists even though the 9/11 has remained a solitary instance for the US.
Undoubtedly, the pullout talk is a domestic compulsion for Obama.
It is a tough job to balance between the popular demand in his country and the pulls of strategic considerations for defeating the conglomerate of terrorists. To achieve that balance he is perhaps stepping up efforts to prepare Afghanistan to defend itself from terrorists and other dangers with its own forces. Simultaneously, the pace of rebuilding the impoverished country may be accelerated considerably. Recession in the world makes it difficult, though.
Frankly, since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2003, not enough has been done to accomplish the twin tasks which are vital for rebuilding the country and keep it safe from the forces loyal to the Osama bin Ladens and Mullah Omars, not to mention Pakistan's ISI. This is largely on account of excessive reliance on Pakistan to sanitise its border hideouts and to rein in its jihadi groups.
Not enough attention was paid till recently to the day-today problems being faced by average Afghans. The inadequacies in building the infrastructure surfaced suddenly when everyone started talking and writing about acute power shortage in Kabul. The discovery that the Afghan farmer had no incentive to give up poppy cultivation came late because in the first two or three years of the US invasion the world was being fed stories about how many schools and dispensaries were reopening and how thousands of Afghans were returning to the country. President Hamid Karzai is being roundly condemned in the West today for poor governance and corruption when seeds of it had been sown soon after his first election as head of the state.
If the US is really serious about ending the menace of terrorism of all forms it did not go about it with any determination. After 2003, the location of the terrorists was referred to only vaguely as being some obscure `border areas' between Afghanistan and Pakistan when American intelligence community, if not the policy-makers, knew that the territory where most of the followers of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were hiding was inside Pakistan and that Quetta Shura is calling the shots in southern Afghanistan in particular.
The obfuscation created a myth that Pakistan was whole-heartedly involved in the war against terror. No pressure was brought upon Pakistan to discourage it from providing `safe havens' for the terrorists in FATA on the border with Afghanistan. Barring the rare admission, Pakistan is making it clear that it will not go after its `assets' in the gory world of terrorists because they are useful for meeting its `strategic goals' of keeping Afghanistan completely under its influence and devising ways to destabilise India with the help of `holy warriors.' There is no move to force Pakistan to give up that policy. The benighted country is so obsessed with its `enemy'-- India -- that it would rather suffer from the hands of the very terrorists it nurtured and trained than exterminate them.
It is absurd to contend that Pakistan is not too pleased with the AfPak policy of Obama. The celebrations among the officially patronised community of `holy warriors' of Pakistan is obvious.
In fact, behind the veneer of criticism that the US exit from Kabul would expose Islamabad's flanks, there is a sense of excitement within the Pakistan establishment for the second opportunity at finding strategic depth in Afghanistan. It does not seem to matter that the jihadi export across Durand Line may also lead to complete sway of fundamentalists over all of Pakistan.
There is still nothing to suggest that the US and the West are actually acting `tough' with Pakistan, asking it to dismantle its vast network of terror factories. Pakistan has been systematically rebuilding its old India bogey. There are some US generals and politicians who echo the Islamabad fiction that Pakistan has `security concerns' on its eastern borders with India. India makes no claim to any Pakistani territory while Pakistan attacked India three or four times to wrest parts of India. What `security concerns' does Pakistan talk about when right from the 1980s it has been openly using terror as a state policy to hit India?
Obama's constituents are bound to pounce on him when they discover that without an `open-ended commitment' in Afghanistan the spectre of terrorists attacking the US and other countries in the West will only increase. Strangely, till now, neither Obama nor his egg-heads speak of any back up plan, if, as expected, the Taliban strikes soon after the US exit from Afghanistan. Already, the Taliban is in a resurgence mood, thanks to US and NATO follies. The US tax payer suffering the woes of Dollar meltdown would question the utility of the policy that has broadly accepted the notion that it is possible to devise an optimal US military presence in the arc of crisis.
As Jim Hoagland pointed out in The Washington Post (Dec 13), four decades ago, the US was opposed to stationing of US combat troops in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.
It is difficult to disagree with the observation of a Guardian columnist that the realism of American foreign policy can only be selective and ephemeral. But President Obama's Oslo speech offers a strong case for rollback of the policy since he admits that fanaticism is centred now in Afghanistan. The case is further strengthened by the transnational operations of Lashkare-Tayyaba which have come to light with the FBI's interrogation of David Coleman Headley, the US national of Pakistani origin who was charged with helping plot the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.
(The writer is editor, South Asia Tribune and a columnist)
Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi