Militarism in Afghanistan is not enough

The U.S. Afghanistan policy needs a revision, given realities on the ground.

Uttam Das

President Barack ObamaâÄôs announcement in December 2009 of the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan has received mixed reactions at home and abroad. Military compulsion on the ground and political expediency at home are apparently in collision; frustration and anger are growing. Allies in the Afghan war such as France, Germany and Australia have reportedly opposed ObamaâÄôs announcement. However, the United Kingdom, Poland and Italy promised to send a small number of additional troops. By June 2010, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is expected to be 98,000. There were 29,950 U.S. troops in the International Security Assistance Force under NATO command, which has 64,500 troops, most supplied by the NATO member countries. Though Obama had promised âÄúchange you can believe inâÄù following his landslide victory in the 2008 presidential election, in the meantime heâÄôs faced criticism for his decision to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan. The president announced that he will begin to withdraw troops in Afghanistan by July 2011 to bring an end to the decade-long war; however, the timeline has not convinced the American people, especially those on the left of the presidentâÄôs own Democratic Party, who are increasingly demonstrating in front of the White House against the war. Analysts and media in the region of South Asia are also critical of ObamaâÄôs new plan. The influential Indian daily The Hindu observes that sending additional troops to Afghanistan may provide âÄútactical relief to American commanders on the ground;âÄù however, there is no guarantee that this new deployment would bring any âÄúvictory against terrorism and extremism.âÄù For this, innovative strategies must be devised. In a Dec. 3, 2009 editorial, The Hindu identified four deficits in AmericaâÄôs war against the Taliban and al-Qaida: the political consideration or attention, military doctrine, Afghan capability and a commitment from Pakistan where both the Taliban and al-Qaida allegedly have bases. Flurries of questions will continue to surround the comprehensiveness of U.S. policy and military actions in Afghanistan in the Asian media. Given the reality on the ground, Pakistan is now in a crisis of sectarian conflict and a rising religious militancy. There is also reported presence of al-Qaida members in its territory; thus, PakistanâÄôs stability, politics, economy and military power are under great threat, as observes the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Ittefaq. Analysts comment that it is likely impossible for the United States to win the war in Afghanistan by merely raising the number of troops. On the contrary, it may prolong the war with serious casualties on both sides. Analysts recommend improving the conditions of the Afghan people by investing in poverty reduction, education and health. But the country has been further devastated by a war that has brought insufferable civilian casualties. Any investment in social sectors would facilitate to decrease the anger of the Afghan people toward the United States. Without this infrastructure, the poverty- and illiteracy-ridden country will not be able to get on its feet. The U.S. policy should also engage resources to other countries in the region where al-Qaida is reportedly trying to spread its âÄúideology.âÄù The presence of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, natural challenges and displacements all contribute to the peopleâÄôs vulnerability, which catalyses the spread of ideological organizations like al-Qaida. Reportedly, a swath of religious schools in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh âÄî allegedly beyond the reach of government monitors âÄî are working as bases for the spread of the militaristic, ideological challenge to the West, especially the United States. To offset this trend, governments need to engage civic institutions, but this deserves investment. In the latest development, a London conference on Afghanistan has drafted a recommendation to initiate dialogues between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with an aim to dislodge al-Qaida from the country. The Taliban extremist Islamic group is essentially ideologically distinct from the terrorist al-Qaida and seized power in Afghanistan in 1996. However, the international community must monitor such dialogues to ensure they are strategic and to guard against the Taliban using it as a legitimization and recruitment tool. These dimensions in the Afghanistan conflict make a challenging situation all the more difficult, but for now, the deployment of more troops to the region seems only to increase our dependence on military strategy. What is needed most desperately in the region, however, is stability, investment and infrastructure.