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October 12, 2011
The tenth anniversary of the beginning of US military action in Afghanistan has provided an opportunity for looking back as well as for casting the gaze forward. The editorials and commentaries from Afghanistan and its vicinity are putting very little positive spin on this important milestone. Beyond the immediate threat posed to the Kabul government by the Taliban regime, what continues to concern most observers in the region is the delicate balance among India, Pakistan and the United States.
In Afghanistan, the Daily Outlook’s editorial asks whether “the presence of the international community [has] been destructive for Afghanistan? [If] the U.S. had not invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban would have continued to rule Afghanistan from Kanadahar under the leadership of Mullah Muhammad Omar. The Taliban just in five years of their government 1996-2001, turned Afghanistan into a nest of terrorists....The international community has helped Afghanistan generously in the last decade in the areas of economy, democracy, civil society, education, women rights and so on....There are still hard challenges ahead of Afghanistan, but they can be resolved by establishing better ties with the world and by furthering cooperation with and gaining support from the international allies of Afghanistan, especially its neighboring countries. The Afghans, in no way, want the return of Taliban in any shape or any role.”
Kabul Press’ Matthew Nasuti, however, expresses frustration with the current U.S. strategy: “Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. agree on very little, but both are united in their determination to lose to the Taliban in Afghanistan. This comprehensive effort crosses party lines....The level of mismanagement and confusion has been so stunning that it cannot be passed off as mere negligence, but appears to be part of a conscious and deliberate effort to lose the war....In analyzing the war plan, its only goal was to push the Taliban from power (not destroy the Taliban)....Rudderless and without direction from Washington, D.C., the Afghan war today continues aimlessly.”
In India, the milestone coincided with a new agreement between Kabul and Delhi. As the Asian Age editorial puts it, “The significance of the pact should be seen in the light of the signal failure of the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan after 10 years and $400 billion spent (for the U.S.)....It is in New Delhi’s interest to further aspire to rope in as many of Afghanistan’s neighbors as it can in an anti-extremist front which would aim to underwrite Afghanistan’s stability and independence. Otherwise, Pakistan might find it tempting to seek to return to Kabul with inordinate influence, using the Taliban as the cat’s paw.”
The other Indian daily, The Hindu, puts the agreement in the context of a larger geostrategic realignment: “As it prepares for a withdrawal of its combat forces in Afghanistan, the United States has been particularly vocal about a larger Indian role in that country. The Strategic Partnership Agreement between India and Afghanistan is confirmation that New Delhi is willing to take on such a role....That the India-Afghanistan agreement has come at a time when Afghan-Pakistan relations are at a particularly low point does not help....But this makes it more important for India to dispel the notion that its increasing involvement in Afghanistan is aimed at marginalizing Pakistan. India has legitimate interests in Afghanistan, and the friendly ties between the two run deep into the past.”
The Pakistani media, however, has been quick to underline its unhappiness with current U.S. policy which according to the Pakistani government, undermines its domestic stability and international standing. Underscoring the tense relationship between the United States and Pakistan, Pakistan’s daily Nation accuses Obama of a “blatant lie…. With the U.S. and Pakistan vowing to go different ways in dealing with the so-called war on terror, their relations are turning sourer by the hour.... Turning a blind eye to the reality on the ground in Afghanistan that almost every informed person is telling the world, [Obama] claimed that his forces were closer than before to defeating Al-Qaeda and its network....At the same time, the U.S. own former top general in charge of the war has also come out with the truth: the Americans began the war with a “frighteningly simplistic” view of the country and [for] even 10 years lacked the necessary knowledge....Meanwhile, as Pakistan’s corps commanders meeting at GHQ firmly stick to the stand, ‘no more operations,’ the political leadership wholeheartedly sides with the armed forces.”
Others in the region suggest various actions that need to be taken to address the current security considerations in Afghanistan. The Khaleej Times editorial believes, “Ten years after the U.S.-led invasion, Afghanistan stands at a critical juncture. While many gains have been made in terms of nation building, security remains a major challenge. The war is far from over....Clearly the fault lines in US-Pakistan relations are now deepening. This will impact the war effort as well. This is why it is imperative that both engage in efforts to defuse tensions and work out a joint strategy on how best to address their individual grievances. The most significant thing to remember is that a stable Afghanistan will not come about by dragging the war into other spheres. More significant is to learn to balance political negotiations with the same insurgents that are being militarily engaged with.”
Gulf Times’ Eric Margolis reflects on a “very grim 10th anniversary…. Operation Enduring Freedom – the dreadfully misnamed 10-year U.S. occupation of Afghanistan – has turned into Operation Enduring Misery....The most damning assessment comes from the U.S.-installed Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai: America’s war has been ‘ineffective, apart from causing civilian casualties’...The U.S. is bleeding billions in Afghanistan. …The ghost of Osama bin Laden must be smiling....Facing the possibility of stalemate or even defeat in Afghanistan, Washington is trying to push India deeper into the conflict. This desperate ploy, and nurturing ethnic conflict, will ensure another decade of misery for Afghanistan.”
Finally, in a sharp editorial, the Saudi daily Arab News reflects on the Afghanistan debacle and what it says about U.S. power: “To a man, military observers state categorically that military operations will not cure the underlying disease of the ongoing Afghan insurgency and that NATO allies remain far from reaching their goals. Pakistan seems to be the key....There are fears that the country could be sliding back toward the kind of civil war that killed and displaced thousands of people in 1992-96…. Ironically, the U.S. apparently needs and is secretly seeking a political settlement with the same people it bombed out of power. This is the ultimate humiliation for a superpower.”
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