Afghanistan: the corrosive corridor

Of late, the North of Afghanistan whose warlords had abetted US attack on Afghanistan in 2001, like Russia, is turning hostile to its former patron. Trouble had been brewing bit by bit as the regime in Kabul kept on losing ground to the Taliban twirl in South/East. The Long War Journal quoting a US intelligence official emphasises: "If anything, the relationship between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has strengthened, not weakened, over the past few years." If this is correct then the Taliban would be capable of marshalling vast resources all over the country. Prima facie the nature and scope of attacks in Kabul and other stations signify the professionalism utilised by the Taliban. Even General McChrystal appreciates the high standards achieved by the 'insurgency' which have upped the ante apparently after the recent surge of troops in Afghanistan. It is no joke that the Taliban opposed the surge while promising more attacks. This was done with a dual purpose. First, to register their hostility to any such move which they interpret as strengthening the 'occupation forces'. Second, to warn the Afghans not to participate in the presidential polls. July and August ended up the worst months for the foreign forces, particularly the US ones, in terms of fatalities for the last eight years. A daring attack on the NATO HQS close to where the US top commander sits and another on the presidential lawns were quite demoralising. Now even North is changing colours. McChrystal's new strategy appears to be based on his conclusions about the mistakes made by the foreign troops in the conduct of this eight-year-long war. The strategy, which runs counter to Joe Biden's mantra, is influenced by his guiding principle that "a foreign army alone cannot beat an insurgency." He would, therefore like to bend backwards to make sure that his troops provide security to the Afghans whom they are guarding as a priority. So far, the bunker mentality seems to have dominated the conduct of the troops whereby their own safety denoted by "force protection" mattered most. Such an attitude promotes a disconnect between themselves and the local people. The general also wants his soldiers to learn Pashto to be able to freely mingle with the local people in order to enhance mutual trust. Only with such collaboration and understanding can the troops win the "hearts and minds". This would herald a sea change in the bunker mentality of the foreign forces. The general rightly thinks that an "under-resourced" force cannot rise to the challenge being projected by the state of insurgency. As such he would like to augment his manpower; Afghan as well as from US. He also wants to gear up the training and recruitment of the Afghan forces to enable them to make their contribution to the cause. President Obama has desisted from giving any definitive comment about McChrystal's strategy. After calling it a "necessary war", his only commitment has been to assure that national interest alone would influence the final decision to the exclusion of home-politics. Speaking in NBC's programme Meet the Press, Obama said: "I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way - you know, sending a message that America is here for the duration. Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy I'm not gonna be sending some young man or woman over there - beyond what we already have." The state of affairs in Afghanistan happens to be very shoddy. While the Taliban talk tough, the Karzai regime has further been hurt by the August-election fiasco. With the outcome thereof in doldrums, because of the massive complaints of rigging, the system, or lack of it, has been badly belittled. This has demoralised the Afghans, generally, besides perking up the Taliban who are seeing success lurking around the corner. The Northern warlords had it good for quite a while after 2001. However, personal rivalries and 'turf-wars' had been gradually eroding the united stand they took in siding with the US to remove the Taliban from power. Now discontentment rules the roost in Baghlan/Kunduz particularly. Even Governor of Baghlan, a one-time Karzai-crony, has been bitter about the lack funds for his area. By a quirk of luck Kunduz also went awry due to the last month's misuse of aerial bombing by the German detachment to the chagrin of McChrystal. As the land-route from south/east has been under growing threat from the Taliban, the Northern one was considered, though longer, a safe bet. Presently, the foreign forces look ostracised from the outside world as their supplies are held hostage by serious insecurity. The only way-out is an open like the Berlin air-lift which would raise the costs hugely. The right wing loonies are running down Obama for his statesmanship, who tends to behave like Thomas Jefferson. One such blabbermouth called his wonderfully conciliatory speech at the UN General Assembly "basically a coup against America." Farid Zakaria in his article titled Obama the Gambler concludes: " Obama is gambling that America is strong enough to understand that machismo is not foreign policy and grandstanding on the world stage won't succeed. It's a big, bold gambit. I hope it works." Mr Obama's main ambition in life is to transform America at home. The last thing he needs is a Vietnam, as Economist confirms. The writer is a former secretary interior.

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