General Petraeus premise

On formally taking over the command in Kabul over the weekend, General David Petraeus showed a tremendous skill in the choice of words. Being a very learned man, he appears to be doing much better than George Bush, who remained a Texan cowboy even in the White House. In addition, General Petraeus can boast of how he exploited the Shia-Sunni divide to contrive a breather in the killings in Iraq at a crucial stage. What goes on now appears to be nobodys business as only the Iraqis are suffering. In the interest of world peace, one would wish him Godspeed in handling his new mission directly. However, what he said last Sunday to the ISAF troops appears to be no better than old wine in new bottles. The war has, so far, been conducted on the model of Iraq. Perhaps, as the number of the US casualties is nominal, the local history, traditions and ground realities appear to be put on the backburner. Though one cannot ignore attempts by ex-Generals David D. Mckiernan and Stanley McChrystal to try and woo the local communities whose near and dear ones were killed in the US/NATO operations - by way of collateral damage - through offers of sympathy but no formal apology for the wrong done. General Petraeus defined the current war as a contest of wills. As a commander he felt obliged to raise the depressed morale of the soldiers by the use of language which remains futuristic. He claimed; Things will get worse before they improve on the ground. However, he asserted: We are in it to win. Of late, win has been missing in the statements of most of the US top hierarchy. This approach was dictated by the worsening situation in Afghanistan for the foreign troops. June proved to be the deadliest mon-th wherein 102 soldiers lost their lives, besides a bigger number of non-fatal victims. This by itself demoralised the troops generally but the McCh-rystal drams only aggravated their anger and anguish. Quite naturally the situation remains enigmatic for the US troops. This is more so as Karzai is trying his peace jirga, while the US command predicts a horrible fight. By becoming the longest war the US has fought, it is in a real Catch-22. Despite the brilliance of President Barack Obama, the prospects are rather daunting for the foreign troops for the following reasons. First, as the war is, almost, nine-year old, the Afghan public opinion is losing faith in the US which automatically helps the Taliban. Second, the Taliban are fighting as the aggrieved party and their claim is helped by the presence of the foreign troops on their soil. Throughout the known history, the Afghans have always resented any kind of military presence of foreign origin in their country. Unfortunately, scepticism is growing about the US policy which is, apparently supported by the 'on-again, off-again NATO presence. Third, the initial attack by the US in October 2001, in collaboration with Russia and the northern warlords, is known to have led to many atrocities on the part of the invading troops. This may have been caused by malice or arrogance of power. As per their traditions, the Afghans never forget the killings of their own people on whatever pretext it may be undertaken; more so by a foreign power. Fourth, such criminal misuse of power remained a regular feature of the tactics adopted by the occupation forces, while the neocons ruled the US. However, it continues now at a much lower rate. All the aggrieved are sworn to take revenge for the killing of their kith and kin. This provides a regular supply line to the Taliban. General McChyrstal, as commander of ISAF, started to express sympathy with such victims and also started distributing money among the aggrieved parties. Hence, there was some lull in the killing of foreign troops till May this year. In the light of objective realities, it appears that a military victory is a far cry. This is more so as the Afghans have no security, no employment and very poor access to justice. All this gets further dogged by corruption not only among the local people but now manifestly among foreigners which erodes USAs credibility and image. The status quo is devastating for the Afghans and the worst thing is the dismal prospects for the future as the public opinion turns against Obamas war. As more civilians perish under the US control or lack of it, it will incur more and more hostility. Unfortunately, the US wasted about eight years, while defining its role in the reconstruction of a country which has been destroyed by its so-called war on terror and, by proxy, the anti-Soviet war. As it has woefully lagged behind in that vital sector of its responsibility, thin-gs appear to be rather dismal for all concerned. A successful COIN operation is not possible, while the Afghans long for even the basic needs and also as all money 'spent in their country goes to the US troops practically. Only a very small percentage goes to the benefit of the terribly impoverished population. A certain known website estimates that the US is spending one million dollars on every living soldier per year. If this was known to an average Afghan, the situation could become awfully explosive to the delight of the Taliban. However, misery among the local people is proliferating fast rendering them generally hostile to the foreign troops which helps the Taliban directly and indirectly. General Petraeus is a scholarly soldier. Surely, he can appreciate what he is up against but he is using his talent with the language to bide his time. The US politics is also causing tremendous confusion at home and abroad. President Obama had the bad luck of taking over a quagmire from Bush, who probably never understood anything about Afghanistan. Obama certainly has to make sure that he can salvage his country in distress. He has to woo the Afghan people with the help of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia for known reasons. Meanwhile, Indias claims and ambitions vis--vis the war-torn country are yet to be tested. An average Afghan, historically, never rated the Indians high The writer is a former secretary interior.

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