Genghis Khan: Since he invaded Afghanistan in the 13th century, one major power after another jas tried to bring Afghanistan to heel - all to no avail. Will the United States manage to get out with its dignity intact?
Abraham Lincoln said: "What
has once happened will invariably happen again, when the same circumstances
which combined to produce it, shall again combine in the same way."
Obama might like to recall
this statement, particularly now that he's launched a new offensive in
Afghanistan. The situation is precariously similar to when Lyndon Johnson was
at the helm. Johnson inherited the Vietnam War from his predecessor and opted
for an increase in the number of U.S. troops. The number rose from 16,000 in 1964
to 553,000 by 1969. But it failed to do the job and Richard Nixon had to withdraw
after buying some time to save face. New Zealand and Australia decided to pull
out earlier in 1971 and were followed by the U.S. in 1973.
This time the battlefield is
Afghanistan. Obama has inherited a war on a landscape that throughout history has
been notorious for brutal civil wars. Genghis Khan failed to
prevail here - even with his naked barbarity. Great Britain retreated in 19th
century - as did the Russians when they were "Vietnamized"
in a war of attrition during the 1980s. But Obama thinks he can win.
which is the first big offensive of the Obama presidency, must be seen in this context.
This time the plan is to enter Helmand Province, the stronghold of the Taliban,
and to hold and build the area for the upcoming Afghan elections. Obama has
already increased U.S. troop levels by 21,000, bringing the total number of American
boots on the ground to 68,000. Simply put, this number isn't enough to win militarily.
Perhaps, Obama would like to pay heed to the advice of FikryatTabeyev, former Soviet ambassador to Afghanistan from
1979 to 1986, who is of the view that no escalation of troops can bring lasting
peace to Afghanistan.
The coalition countries
already know this and hence at the last NATO summit, we saw a reluctance to
commit more troops. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already termed
the war "unwinnable" and has refused to pledge additional troops. So to
pull his country out of this quagmire, what other choice does Obama have?
To answer this, let's
go back to the beginning. The U.S. only came in Afghanistan to capture Osama bin
Laden and disrupt the al-Qaeda network. There were no other grandiose plans
like nation-building or promoting moderate elements and democracy. Milton
Bearden, CIA station chief in Pakistan from 1986-89, wrote prior to the U.S.
invasion in 2001: "Washington may be tempted to try to oust the Taliban
regime, but doing so could rekindle Afghanistan's brutal civil war. The United
States must proceed with caution - or end up on the ash heap of Afghan history."
But the Yankees lost the
sight of this and turned their faces toward Baghdad, putting an indigestible amount
on their plate. The U.S. has to understand that no amount of voting will bring
a representative and a consensus-based government to Kabul unless all ethnicities,
including the alienated Pashtuns, take part. And at that point Washington must
have an exit strategy, for lasting peace will be given a serious chance only
once the foreign troops are off of Afghan soil.
Henry Kissinger proposed such
a strategy while writing in the International Herald Tribune. He suggested
a formal neutrality for Afghanistan that would be
guaranteed by all its neighbors and the great powers. Meanwhile, the government
in Kabul would give assurances not to export terrorism. The 1839 Treaty of London
is one accord that comes in one's mind. It contained a similar agreement of
neutrality for Belgium.
Afghanistan has always been
the battleground of proxy wars between various nations. The inclusion of India
in Obama's contact group for Afghanistan shouldn't be views with suspicion. For
if India is on the table along with other neighbors of Afghanistan, the
prospect for reaching a comprehensive agreement for the neutrality for
Afghanistan is much brighter, provided Pakistan's concerns are also addressed. But
for this to take place, Obama must connect all the dots in the region - be they
in Tehran or in Srinagar.
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