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Saturday, 20 February 2010

Failure for the Obama administration

The much-talked-about London Conference has brought another failure for the Obama administration and its allies as the Taliban instantly rejected the talks offer, which lacked incentives for the combatants who are already achieving successes in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the allied forces are yet to learn lessons from the mistakes committed by the Bush administration in its war on terror. Throughout the London moot, Prime Minister Gordon Brown kept elaborating on the speech delivered by Obama only two days back, the US president's State of the Union Address. Since there was no incentive for the Taliban, they rejected the conference outright.

Why did one of the most prudent politicians of Afghanistan – Hamid Karzai – not spell out the contradictions in the new US policy on Afghanistan? Also surprising is the failure of the proficient Shah Mahmood Qureshi in convincing his US and UK counterparts on mending the confusions in the new Afghan strategy. Even the so-called shrewd and futuristic Western think tanks have failed in preventing their governments from a policy which would bring nothing to Afghanistan but bloodshed.

The new US policy is supposed to encourage initiation of talks with those Taliban elements which denounce terrorism. Prior to any talks, you have to create a conducive environment, and confidence-building measures are a must for bridging the gulf between the warring factions. The Taliban and Hekmatyar are clubbing talks with the exit of allied forces from Afghanistan while on the contrary the Western states are dispatching more troops to Afghanistan to take the battle temperature to new highs.

The icing on the cake is the covert efforts launched by the allied forces to divide the Taliban. Under the plan, $500 million have been allocated to win the loyalties of Taliban elements in order to isolate the Taliban leadership. This means that the US is not willing to hold talks with Mullah Omar, only with those who would be willing to ditch the influential Taliban leader.

Irrespective of the fact that neither were such efforts successful in the past nor would these bear fruit now, it is hard to believe that the Taliban would agree to sit at the dialogue table. Only an insane person would expect talks in such high temperature with increasing doubts between the warring factions.

The new US policy on Afghanistan is based on an assumption that the Karzai government would acquire stability. To the contrary, the US policy is further destabilising the Karzai regime. Due to the same policy, even the election of Karzai became much controversial. Now the allied forces have made the provision of aid to the Karzai government conditional on eradication of corruption. The question to be asked is: if the elimination of corruption by the Afghan government was so easy, could it not have achieved this target to restore its credibility in the comity of nations in the past? Keeping in view the fact that the Karzai government was made so frail that the president had to seek support from Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum and Qasim Faheem in the recent elections, how would a feeble and meek government consisting of people like Qasim Faheem and Dostum be able to achieve the ambition of corruption-free governance? So neither will this government be able to abolish corruption within its ranks nor the Western nations provide the Karzai administration the required financial assistance. Thus the dream of the stability of the Karzai government will never materialise.

Moreover, the sincerity of the US administration to Afghanistan and Pakistan could be gauged from the fact that the Afghan election commission had to delay the Afghan polls for six months due to the non-provision of a few hundred million dollars. In such a situation, it is hard to believe that the Karzai government would be stabilised by 2011.

The premature announcement of the Afghan exit plan has also given a new life and hope to the combating militant forces and the morale of the Taliban and Hekmatyar groups is now sky high. Since they are foreseeing success, it has become more difficult to get them to the dialogue table while they are winning on the battlefield.

The stability and peace in Afghanistan is linked with direct talks with Mullah Omar and Golbadin Hekmatyar. It would be prudent to form a government in Afghanistan based on national consensus, in consultation with the neighbouring states. Not only could that bring peace to the country but it could also protect and ensure the interests of the international and regional players.

It seems that Hamid Karzai has realised this reality and his efforts to strengthen his ties with Pakistan and Iran are an indication of that. However, ever since the new US policy has been made public, the gulf between the US and Pakistan is widening by each passing day. This is a bitter truth that both the friendly states today are at daggers drawn vis-à-vis the Afghanistan issue.

Neither is Pakistan willing to accept any role for India in Afghanistan nor does it agree to the notion that India is a stakeholder in this regard. On the other hand, for the first time Iran has boycotted any international moot on Afghanistan, and the absence of an Iranian delegate from the London Conference reflects the disagreement of the Iranian establishment with the new Afghan policy.

The issue of a missile defence system for Georgia has also warmed the temperature between Russia and the USA. The US media is also issuing reports on increasing Chinese investments in the Afghan province of Logar – clearly reflecting US concerns over the increasing influence of China in Afghanistan.

Since the allied forces are once again failing to focus on efforts to address the concerns of the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, it could be safely said that no formula can hold its ground until the concerns of the regional players and neighbours are not fully redressed.

The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: saleem.safi@geo.tv

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