The Obama Administration’s careless message that it is turning away from Afghan President Hamid Karzai may go over well in the US, but it is destroying Afghan support for a continued US presence in the country. Afghanistan’s recent history should remind us that such implications open doors for either ‘great game’ competitors like Russian or brutal bloody coups against former Presidents like Mohammad Najibulla, who was hung during the last Afghan communist regime.
In true US fashion, instead of taking ownership of mistakes, it is just easier to blame the weaker party and sweep him under the rug. Conveniently forgetting the American contribution to the chaos.
Sure some of this mayhem is Karzai’s fault and he may not be the best for Afghanistan in the future, but we, the international community, must leave that decision to the Afghans. Alternatively for our part, when talking about blame, we must take a considerable portion of it.
Since the international community banned together to destroy Al Qaeda, the strategy went from a war on terror to building a State. Without, I might add, sufficiently preparation.
Americans should know that international interventions are not easy. It is particularly important to understand things like tribal codes, culture, language and history, but, once again, the intervenors failed to do their homework. As a result, they sent highly inexperienced people to an extremely complex warring country.
To make matter worse, the civil and military established are still not prepared to understand, communicate or work together. On my first visit there I felt as though everyone was hording resources only to pour them down their own carefully protected drain.
Seven years after the US strikes on Al Qaeda and the ousting of the Taliban, eighty percent of the country still lacks water, electricity and decent clinics for basic health care. Thousands of women, despite Laura Bush’s claims, are sill forced to wear the burka, fail to get any education, forced to marry at a young age, sometimes as young as nine, and are denied fundamental maternal care, which for them more often than not leads to death.
While the military and aid workers alike build roads and schools in what they think is good faith, Afghans destroy them. Not because they are not needed, but because they are constructed without Afghan input, assistance or consultation and against cultural norms and rules.
As service providers fight over territory and implementation strategies, Afghans continue to live with minimal, if any, governance and negligible services. All evidence in their minds that this foreign occupation is not working. Thus, the insurgence gets stronger.
The United States newly appointed envoy, Richard Holbrooke, experienced this first hand. He arrived in Kabul just a day after coordinated suicide attacks on government buildings that killed 27 people. An obvious demonstration that the Taliban has extended its reach and while the international community has not.
Holbrooke has been tasked with “coordinating all government efforts to reach US strategic goals in the region.” The million-dollar question however is what are those goals.
The Obama Administration for its part is sending mixed messages. The Afghans are counting on support for progress toward economic and political modernization, but they are only hearing about more war.
Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, statements support this. He told Congress that there was not enough “time, patience or money to pursue overly ambitious goals in Afghanistan,” but we must tackle “our greatest military challenge,” which is Afghanistan. Those statements coupled by the action to appoint the former commanding general of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, as the ambassador shows an undeniable military rather than civil focus on the country.
This new idea of using “smart power” and “robust diplomacy” is missing the mark here and causing substantial Afghan stress. The US managed to panic Karzai who is looking to the Taliban and Putin to calm him down.
Holbrooke’s recent remarks that, “Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well” could not be more correct. At least though, he has proclaimed for now that he is listening. Sadly, no one is.
For the past four years international experts, military and civil alike, repeatedly warned that the international community was failing. For their part, most Afghans told every foreigner they could find to send that message as well.
The new Administration pledged additional and much needed support to address these calls. However, despite the Gates’ words that, “the U.S. “must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military…” it, ironically, continues to focus on guns and steel. One can only hope that Holbrooke decides to operate differently.
The Afghans are looking for the international community to deliver on its promises of much needed infrastructure. They are looking for coaching and coordination so resources are not lost and they themselves can learn to use them.
And, despite all this talk about the Taliban, Afghans are not looking to be thrown back into their brutal and debilitating arms. Cutting Taliban arteries is preferable.
Closing madrassas in Pakistan would be an excellent start. Further working closely with Afghan clerics to help them bring a new mindset within communities will go a long way especially when it comes to women.
The US must also stop sending endless monies to the Pakistanis without accountability. Too many dollars are going to the intelligence service in support of the extremist instead of eliminating them.
In fairness to all parties, the international community must be clear on its expected outcome, be reasonable with expectations, and promote multiparty negotiations on milestones to be met for the future. Additionally, it must require accountability, transparency, cooperation, and coordination from all parties including and with the Afghan people.
This is a large commitment. However, until the international community accepts responsibility for the situation on the ground, accusing Karzai is just a diversion from the mistakes we have made all on our own.