COMMENT: President Karzai’s dilemma —Mohammad Jamil - Saturday, April 09, 2011

President Karzai’s tirade of the Afghan Taliban’s sanctuaries in Pakistan has become too trite, too obsolete and too puerile an idiom to stand. If there is no indigenous militancy and insurgency problem, who then are the ISAF and his own forces fighting in the villages and cities of Afghanistan? 

President Hamid Karzai, while visiting the families of civilians killed in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province, urged foreign troops to get out of Afghanistan and take their fight across the border into Pakistan. This is an effort to deflect the failure of the NATO and Afghan forces and to blame Pakistan for all the mess in Afghanistan. One of the reasons for his frustration is that the US and Britain are poised to stop aid to Afghanistan if corruption is not rooted out. He, in fact, is facing a dilemma. In the event the US forces leave or are forced to leave, he does not stand any chance to remain at the helm. And if the Americans decide to stay on for an indefinite period, he will continue drawing flak from his compatriots for the loss of innocent lives in NATO strikes or the heinous acts of those who kill Afghans for sport. American army specialist Jeremy Morlock, 23, pleaded guilty in a US military court on March 23, admitting that he was part of a “kill team” that deliberately murdered Afghan civilians for sport between January and May last year. Though ISAF commanders claim that there is modest progress, the overall situation in Afghanistan is grim, which has been admitted in a recent report.

The semi-annual White House report to Congress to judge progress or otherwise on key objectives of the war in Afghanistan and operations against al Qaeda in Pakistan, has stated that Pakistan lacks a robust plan to defeat the Taliban. The report notes a deterioration of the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the country’s northwest along the Afghan border between January and March this year. The report however acknowledges that “tremendous human sacrifices” were made by Pakistani forces in the region, but concludes that, “what remains vexing is the lack of any indication of ‘hold’ and ‘build’ planning or staging efforts to complement ongoing clearing operations”. The problem is that they are neither willing to address Pakistan’s concerns nor do they realise that Pakistan’s military is already overstretched, and if the military operation is extended to other areas, it could prove counter-productive. As regards their claim that the Taliban or Haqqani group are operating from Pakistan, one can question them as to what they are doing on the other side of the border. Why do they not kill the militants while they cross the Pak-Afghan border?

Afghans in general are tired of continued foreign troops’ presence on the Afghan soil. They have suffered death and destruction since the 1970s when Soviet forces invaded, followed by a civil war and then a pounding by the US and allied forces since the ouster of the Taliban. They vent their anger in different ways. They came out onto the streets in droves to protest the Quran’s desecration by Pastor Terry Jones. What seemingly is upsetting for the NATO forces is that the protests broke out in places like Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Kabul — three of the seven regions that President Hamid Karzai identified for the first transfer of security from the coalition forces to the Afghan army and police. Their contention that these demonstrations have been incited by the Taliban is tantamount to a self-confession that the Taliban are still a force to reckon with and not on the run, as their military commanders have been projecting ever since the troops surge. Mazar-i-Sharif is warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum’s stronghold, Herat is another warlord Ismail Khan’s redoubt, and violent demonstrations in those areas bespeak greatly of the Taliban’s persistent influence.

Meanwhile, debate is raging in the US over troop withdrawals from Afghanistan this summer. But military leaders and President Barack Obama’s civilian advisers are at odds as far as the size and pace of the planned pullout of US troops is concerned. The Pentagon stands for a token drawdown, say 5,000 from the combat forces, whereas the Obama administration is pressing for a massive withdrawal as promised. President Obama would like to see the withdrawal of 30,000 additional troops that were sent on the military commanders’ demand. In fact, the American public is wary of the war’s cost, which is around $ 120 billion this year. According to recent opinion polls, 75 percent of the people want a quick withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, as they feel that they will have to bear the brunt of the prolonged war.

Seeing the public mood, even Republicans, who till as recently as February 2011 were against the drawdown, have changed their stance because they have to go to the people for votes next year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s about-face is quite obvious. She has been talking about three preconditions for starting negotiations with the Taliban: a) they renounce violence and dissociate from al Qaeda; b) lay down arms, and c) accept the existing constitution. More recently, she said those were “not preconditions” but “negotiable objectives”. There have been rumours about talks being held, courtesy Saudi Arabia, but the Taliban have always refuted such news and have said that they will not enter into any negotiations unless the foreign troops are withdrawn. After the surge in troops and operations in Marjah and Helmand, ISAF commanders seem to be satisfied with the progress, but to independent observers and analysts, there is not much to write home about. On the face of it, the process of the drawdown of foreign occupation forces and transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan army and police has been set in motion to start by the middle of this year and to complete by 2014, but according to Secretary Defence Robert Gates, it will depend on the situation prevailing at that time.

Let us presume that they will go ahead according to schedule. But can President Karzai imagine what an Afghan army comprising Tajiks and Hazaras would mean after the transition in the Pashtun regions, as there is chronic Pashtun-Tajik antipathy and Pashtun-Hazara loathing? President Karzai should come to terms with the harsh ground realities. His tirade of the Afghan Taliban’s sanctuaries in Pakistan has become too trite, too obsolete and too puerile an idiom to stand. If there is no indigenous militancy and insurgency problem, who then are the ISAF and his own forces fighting in the villages and cities of Afghanistan, not just in the south or east but also in the far-flung north and west? President Karzai, instead of the blame game, should get into serious negotiations with the Taliban, as the only way forward is to give fuller representation to the country’s Pashtun majority. This will help him bring his war-torn nation to peace, security and stability. Indeed, the American military commanders would act very wisely if they put their full weight behind their political leadership’s latest moves for a political solution involving peace negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

Source :\04\09\story_9-4-2011_pg3_5

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