Possibly seeking the impossible
ASK THIS | July 20, 2010
The American effort in Afghanistan is doomed if the Afghans don’t share our goals, and if the Taliban have a sanctuary in Pakistan. Are we prepared to stay there as long as it takes?
By Haviland Smith
We will not reach our goals in Afghanistan unless the Afghans share those goals, and until the Taliban are denied sanctuary in Pakistan.
But these two preconditions raise possibly unanswerable questions.
Q. What has led the Obama administration to believe that there is anything in the history or present realities of Afghanistan that suggests we will ever be able to convince Afghans that our goals, particularly as foreigners, have anything in common with theirs?
Afghanistan is a geographically inhospitable, tribal country whose people are corruptible, indomitable, bellicose and armed to the teeth. The governing ideals for the majority Pashtun people are embodied in the ”Pastunwali” or Pashtun Way, which motivates its followers resist by force of arms or subterfuge all attempts by anyone, particularly foreigners, to change their way of life. Afghans have often been invaded by foreign armies and are strongly xenophobic. They have never had or wanted a strong central government. And most Afghans believe that the recent election of Premier Hamid Karzai was massively fraudulent.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan military establishment has long supported the Taliban, seeing it as a potential counterbalance in its endless conflict with India.
Q. Can we continue our special operations and drone activities in Pakistan without further angering and alienating Pakistanis? Is there any chance the Pakistani government will change policy and actively join our efforts to eliminate the Taliban safe haven in their country?
We are now dealing with our Afghan problems with just over 100,000 troops. Our peak commitment in Iraq was of over 150,000 troops. Afghanistan is a far more geographically complicated and challenging country than Iraq and if we are to “win” there, we will probably need many more troops than we ultimately employed in Iraq. That would entail backing off the 2011 withdrawal deadline set by President Obama and preparing instead to extend our involvement there for years. The most optimistic estimates from General David Petraeus now range around a military commitment of at least seven additional years.
Q. Given our precarious economic and fiscal status and growing, competing national priorities, will we be able to continue the level of support that will be required? Is an increasingly disillusioned America emotionally and politically prepared to commit its treasure to achieve a “successful” conclusion -- even if we knew what that meant?
Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East, as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff, and as Executive Assistant in the Director’s office.
07/20/2010, 08:45 PM
Karzai and his government is unbelievably corrupt, the contractors in Afghanistan are unbelievably corrupt, and the Pakistani government is unbelievably corrupt.
Thanks to all this corruption Afghanistan has become a forever war that benefits the war mongering war profiteers, and the above corrupt entities.
07/22/2010, 05:55 PM
If we give foreign aid like food why dont we deliver whole un processed grain in small bags and just drop it off around the people needing food . whole dry grain can be kept and used for a long time it is cheap and can feed a person for a 5 pennies a day a day . Dont give aid to the government give it to the people , and let them give it to the government if they want too . This might help establish democracy . It has been said foreign aid is poor people in rich countries giving rich people in poor countries aid . Which is kinda stupid . I sometimes have been very proud of this country