Commentary

Will the Kandahar Killings Hasten U.S. Withdrawal?

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

The day that U.S. and international forces leave Afghanistan may have drawn nearer. After weeks of bad PR resulting from culturally insensitive incidents, news of a lone U.S. soldier going on a rampage and killing 16 civilians couldn’t have come at a worse time. The situation has deteriorated to the point that the main regional editorials and commentators are not hesitating to call for a speedier withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan.

According to local news reports posted on Bakhtar News, President Karzai “met with elders, influential and relatives of martyrs of Kapisa province... President Karzai … once again expressed his condolences to the martyred families of Panjwayee and Tagab district and all other martyrs of Afghanistan and said that the Kandahar incident is open cruelty and oppression towards the people of Afghanistan...He added that not only the night operations by the foreign troops be stopped but the Afghan forces acts should also be in accordance with the law and they do not have the right to enter people’s homes. He considered the demand of the elders in relation to the strategic cooperation agreement with the U.S. as very justified and said that this strategic treaty with the U.S. is to the benefit of Afghanistan.”

In an editorial, the Gulf Today staff notes the killings were one more blow “for the United States in Afghanistan…. Much more damage has been done to Washington's strategy of trying to turn ordinary Afghan people into a U.S.-friendly lot. Following the killings the Obama administration is on a fast track trying to contain the damage...The Karzai government faces the most difficult job of explaining the incident to the people. Karzai’s denunciation of the killing as assassination will not do much to contain the anger of the Afghans... In the short term before the U.S. schedule for departure, the violence is likely to undermine all efforts at stabilizing the country.”

Similarly, The National’s editorial pages make the argument for a faster withdrawal: “The longer U.S. troops remain in the country, the more tension their presence is breeding. The burning of the Quran last month at Bagram Airbase, which triggered riots that have killed dozens, showed that even after more than a decade of war, U.S. forces continue to thoroughly misunderstand the country, not to mention Muslims worldwide...It is another indication that foreign-directed nation building, however well-intentioned, has seen its day. The U.S. failure in Afghanistan, and to a degree in Iraq, will have long-term consequences for those countries. After a decade of war, and most recently the deaths of these 16 civilians, there is so very little to show for it. Afghans must now rebuild. Foreigners can help those efforts, but first they must stop doing harm.”

The Dawn’s Seumas Milne calls the killings a “massacre” and asks, “After a decade of ever more degraded Nato occupation, who could conceivably wish for such protection? The slaughter of innocents in Panjwai, nine of them children, follows the eruption of killings and protests after U.S. troops burned copies of the Quran last month….The evidence surrounding the Panjwai massacre is so far contradictory. If it was the work of a single gunman, he was presumably unhinged or motivated by perverted religious or racist hatred. But however extreme, it was certainly not an isolated incident. As in Iraq, the killing and abuse of civilians by occupation forces has been an integral part of this dirty war from its earliest days. As it drags on, ever more outrages emerge.”

Across the border, some Pakistani commentators are also making the case for a hastened departure as well as, unsurprisingly, a greater role for Pakistan. The Statesman’s editorial, for example, asserts there is “No Afghan peace sans Pakistan…. The U.S. says it wants to keep to its plans of pulling all its forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014; the Afghan Army will then be in charge of the country's security. The trouble is that at present, with the Taliban growing rather than being crushed, it does not look as if the Afghan Army is going to be up to the job. Thus the desperation to get Pakistan on side — and it is desperation...Islamabad cannot, or will not, play ball. That leaves a gaping hole in Washington's Afghanistan plans.”

Another Pakistani daily, the Observer, is critical of the President Obama’s insistence that “his country has no plans to rush out of the country. His remarks came as there is raging debate among warmongers in the United States to prolong occupation and exploitation of Afghanistan... We believe that this is a path of self-destruction as there are absolutely no indications that the Afghan adventure has contributed an iota towards regional or global stability, rather it has destabilized the entire world beyond imagination besides shaking economies of many countries. Similarly, there is no proof that the situation on the ground is improving in Afghanistan as with the passage of time the United States is sinking into deeper trouble in that country...Instead of indulging in rhetoric, the United States should draw a clear timetable for withdrawal of troops and handing over the sovereignty back to Afghans at the earliest.”

Finally, it is clear that given the shifting public perceptions, the United States must reevaluate its strategy in the country, and, as Outlook Afghanistan’s Mehdi Rezaie puts it, “It is important that the U.S. seek the root causes of this palpable shift in public opinion and explore the set of deeper reasons as to why the U.S.-led NATO efforts in Afghanistan are in deep trouble. Introspection and doing away with previous paradigms and assumptions regarding Afghanistan and the war must be given a weight and pondered upon. That would be the only way to prevent further deterioration in the Afghan public opinion regarding the presence of international military coalition….After all, the international community, including the U.S. and the international military coalition, are fighting to win the perceptions. Shaping and retaining favorable perceptions lie at the heart of the efforts in Afghanistan.”


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