Friday, December 11, 2009

A deadliine? Ahmed Rashid

A Deadline We Can Believe In?: Advantage: Taliban
NY Times By AHMED RASHID Op-Ed Contributor December 11, 2009
Lahore, Pakistan - WHILE President Obama deliberated three months before
releasing his new Afghan surge strategy, his decision actually muddied the
waters as far as American credibility in Afghanistan and Pakistan is
concerned, and created misapprehensions in Europe.

Many NATO allies were thunderstruck at the deadline announcement. The
British, who have the second-largest contingent in Afghanistan, have said
their 10,000-troop presence in Helmand Province will not be affected by any
timeline. Senior administration officials have spent the last week in Europe
and in Afghanistan and Pakistan rowing back on what the president said,
insisting that the plan is flexible.

In the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, most people are of two minds. They would
like the Americans to leave soon, but don't want to lose their front-line
status in the war on terrorism, which brings vast amounts of American aid.
Despite widespread anti-Americanism on the streets, the ruling elites are
nervous about being dumped by America, as they were in 1989 after the
Soviets withdrew.

Much of the confusion was the fault of President Obama himself. He should
have devoted far more time in his West Point speech to thoroughly explaining
the 18-month timeline. It seems almost as though his speechwriters got no
input from the Afghan experts working for Richard Holbrooke, the American
envoy here, who could have told them how poorly it would play in the region.

On the battlefield, there is no doubt that extra troops deployed in the east
and south of Afghanistan will help in retaking areas now held by the
Taliban. But the fear is that the Taliban will melt into the north and west
of the country, where NATO troops operate under caveats that limit their
ability to go on the offensive. Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai has
contradicted the Obama plan by saying that the Afghan Army and police will
not be ready for five years.

Nor has President Obama outlined exactly what the civilian surge hopes to
achieve. He has ruled out nation-building, but that is precisely what
Afghanistan needs. Most important is building a functional Afghan economy
with permanent jobs in place of the temporary positions provided by the
present donor-driven development projects.

Pakistan remains the biggest problem. While President Asif Ali Zardari has
said all the things Washington wants to hear, there is no agreement as yet
from the Pakistan military to go after the Afghan Taliban strongholds in
Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Provinces. The Pakistan military is
unlikely to act unless there is a parallel movement by the Americans to
defuse Indo-Pakistani tensions over Kashmir, and unless India is more
willing to reduce its forces on Pakistan's eastern border.

We can understand the president's serious domestic constraints — the
economy, health care and Congressional elections next year. But this is all
the more reason to make sure that the United States and NATO can deliver
success in the next 18 months and get all the nations in this region to back
their efforts. All this could have been done without an arbitrary timeline.

Ahmed Rashid is the author of “Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central
Asia” and “Descent Into Chaos.”
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