Afghanistan, 18 months, or bust

In his speech on Tuesday, President Obama outlined the new strategy for Afghanistan.  He outlines the efforts undertaken against al Qaeda, the responsibility for the attacks, the shielding of terrorists by the Taliban, the new surge of 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, and how to deal with the insurgency in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.

Where I feel the strategy falls short is in its treatment of point #2 and #3 – “Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.”

“Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.”

Addressing the 3rd point, I do not believe there can be a true partnership with Pakistan.  Their efforts, are too strongly linked to their national security and the perceived threat from India.  The wars and conflict in Afghanistan provide perfect training grounds to send Mujahideen against Indian soldiers in Kashmir.  They are cheap, fanatical, and willing to die.  The ISI (Pakistan’s Intelligence Service) has long had its own hands in the deck, steering American policy through actions and intelligence on Afghanistan.  Instability in Afghanistan has helped provide Pakistan with billions of dollars in US aid.  Why break the piggy bank that keeps on dropping money willy-nilly? 

The third point should be a responsible relationship with Pakistan. 

Regarding point #2, I feel that if we truly seek prosperity for Afghanistan, it will require a far greater number of soldiers than even the surge will provide.  The legitimacy of the Afghani government is questionable given the election results.  Lastly, the key, in my mind, to countering the impacts of insurgency is economic development. 

I am not talking about the piddling amounts of money being spent in Afghanistan and Iraq now.  I am talking economic development funding on the order of magnitude of the Marshall Plan.  It is important to note, that the Marshall Plan only had to rebuild European economies.  For Afghanistan we are talking about creating infrastructure wholesale.  I remember reading a number of years ago, that with the construction of the Kandahar-Kabul Highway, transit between the two major cities was reduced from days to a single long day.  Sadly, that is the first, last, and only major infrastructure project I have heard of in Afghanistan.  And it was completed (phase I), in 2003.

If there is to be effective change in Afghanistan, the government must become transparent and trusted alongside economic development, and the elimination of al Qaeda.  The Taliban is another problem, but I believe we must remember that they are separate from al Qaeda.  For their various crimes against humanity, the Taliban will be judged.  However, it was al Qaeda, terrorists from our “allies” in the Middle East, who attacked us.  The Taliban only provided them shelter.

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