January 6, 2010

Don't Hold Your Breathe

Better late than never. Now that he’s on his way out, UN envoy Kai Eide is telling people how he really feels.

"There should be an acceleration of the training and mentoring of the army and a gradual transfer of authority from the international to the Afghan security forces," he told the UN Security Council. “This will be the first step in a new transition strategy which will allow the Afghans to be in charge of their future.”

"However,” he continued, “this transition strategy must include key transition areas. The systematic build-up of civilian institutions to enable the government to deliver services to its citizens and the development of the Afghan economy to enable the government to pay for these services when international aid is reduced. If we do not take these civilian aspects of the strategy as seriously as the military we will fail.”

Eide, among many proposals, advocated political engagement with the Taliban over an attempt to “split” the moderates off the hardcore following. America’s only argument is that “ten dollar Taliban” can be bought, ignoring the very real possibility that they either fight because they believe it the right thing to do; the Taliban could also pay them more in response.

“A peace and reconciliation process must be launched and become an integral part of the political agenda," he said. "It must be based on the Constitution and must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. If the insurgency agrees to join a peace process, then this will significantly enhance the prospects of (foreign) troop withdrawals.”

"We need a strategy that is politically and not militarily driven," he concluded.

If only Eide had stepped up and shared his thoughts during Afghanistan’s national election, instead of firing deputy Peter Galbraith for making the exact same claims, albeit in more extreme terms. Maybe his words will impact US decision-making, but since Eide was instrumental in parroting the Western line during Afghanistan's national election, holding out hope is recklessly idealistic.

As of now President Obama’s Afghan strategy is militarily driven. Aside from raising undue expectations for the Afghan National Army (ANA) and police force, America is pursuing a strict military strategy in Pakistan. The only politics played by US military officials is to pressure their Pakistani counterparts on expanding their operations in the FATA.

Since Pakistan refuses to enter North Waziristan while still engaged in the South, Obama has bombarded the North with five drone strikes in the past week. To quote the AP, "The latest attack was a lethal message that the Obama administration views its airstrikes as too effective to abandon, even though they are unpopular with civilians and the U.S.-backed governments in both Afghanistan and Pakistan."

More than a dozen strikes have followed Pakistan’s initial incursion into South Waziristan despite Pakistan’s insistence that they destabilize the battlefield beyond its control. Perhaps they’ve struck a deal. Or maybe America, as its officials overtly warned, is taking matters into its own hands with pure military force.

Plus US officials want into Baluchistan at the risk of civil unrest and are busy shipping Blackwater into Pakistan's cities. Pakistan officials have delivered evidence of Indian involved in terrorism. US officials, such as JCOS Admiral Michael Mullen, promised to pursue the allegations then went predictably silent.

Obama’s preoccupation with military force has been especially vivid during this last month. A radical shakeup, not just in his head, but in his entire National Security Team and the Pentagon, is necessary to fulfill Eide’s advice.

Don’t hold your breathe in the deep. You’ll drown.

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