INTERVIEW
 
Analyzing Obama’s New Afghan Strategy
Islam Online
2 December 2009
US president Barak Obama has unveiled his new strategy on Afghanistan after nearly three months of consultations, discussions, and sometimes debates with his political advisors, military leaders in Afghanistan, and US NATO allies.

Sending more 30,000 US troops to the war-ravaged country was Obama's answer that has raised several questions about how competent and realistic this decision will prove. The new strategy, however, has managed to absorb an expected shock for those who oppose Obama's decision–domestically and worldwide– and gave a clear answer to the question that had been widely raised: For how long will the US troops stay in Afghanistan?

"These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011," Obama said in his speech.

The Afghan war, Which is getting waning support among a large sector of US citizens, and even politicians in Obama's Democratic party as well, has been going on for eight years and has raised several unabated debates.

As far as Obama's new plan is concerned, experts and political analysts are at odds regarding perceiving his decision of sending more troops to Afghanistan. While some think the decision is necessary, others believe it's unrealistic and would further escalate the Afghan war.

Coherent and Realistic"

"I think Obama's new plan is coherent and realistic, because it takes into accounts the circumstances on the ground," Iain Mathewson, Associate Fellow of the International Security Program at Chatham House, a world leading think tank on international affairs, told IslamOnline.net.

"Obama said he would start withdrawing the US forces in July 2011, and stressed that the US 'will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground'," Mathewson said.

But at the same time, he believes it's not an easy task for the US troops in Afghanistan amid a variety of challenges over there. "It's a major challenge and it will not be easy, but it's necessary," Mathewson emphasized.

Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad, Pakistani analyst and associate professor of International Relations at Quaid-e-Azam University, sees that the surge is only a short-term military means.

"The troop surge is only a short-term military means to facilitate a qualitatively different counter-insurgency campaign that places greater emphasis on expanding Afghan security capacity, reinforcing civilian development campaign and reconciling with moderate insurgent forces in Afghanistan," he told IslamOnline.net.

He also asserted that the surge is "a military escalation that is essentially meant to prepare the ground for the eventual withdrawal of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan and a political resolution of the Afghan conflict."

"Diminishing Peace Hopes"

"In fact, president Obama's decision of sending more troops to Afghanistan has diminished hopes of providing peace and stability to the country, and has complicated the situation," Khalid Rahman, Director General of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), in Pakistan, told IslamOnline.net

"More troops means more violence, more clashes, and more losses and collateral damage. This means destabilization that has been there over the last eight years will only escalate," Rahman believes.

Kori Schake, former National Security Council staff member in Bush's administration and associate professor at West Point, was quoted by the CNN as saying that the timetable Obama has laid out is "completely unrealistic.""I think he's repeating a lot of mistakes that the Bush administration made in the early years of Iraq," Schake said.

Taliban's Response

The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have responded to Obama's new strategy and said that the US new decision of sending more 30,000 troops to their country would not work, and would further strengthen their resolve and resistance. "This strategy by the enemy will not benefit them. However many more troops the enemy sends against our Afghan mujahideen, they are committed to increasing the number of mujahideen and strengthen their resistance," the Taliban said in a statement sent to several media outlets a few hours after Obama's speech.

Earlier this year, The Afghan Taliban said repeatedly that its leaders were ready for talks on condition that the US had a plan or time frame of withdrawal from their country. "The Afghan Taliban have repeatedly said they are ready to talk to the Americans if there is a time frame of pullout of the US troops. That's the point that has to be given much priority now," Rahman said.

Observers think that Obama's new strategy has carried some positive hints. The new plan is stressing the US willingness to talk to moderate members of the Taliban."The thing that may be regarded as positive is that Obama stressed the US readiness to talk to moderate membes of the Taliban," Rahman, the IPS' expert, said.

He believes this US inclination to talk to moderate members of the Taliban, taking into consideration Taliban's similar inclination for such talks, may clear the way for an applicable formula that puts an end to the Afghani crisis.

"Another positive point in Obama's speech was giving a time frame of pulling out the US troops from Afghanistan," Rahman said stressing the importance of such a long-awaited announcement.

The Pakistani Front

"We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That's why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border," Obama said in his speech explaining how significant is the Pakistani front in this new strategy.

In this regard, Rahman believes that it's important to focus on Pakistan's challenges as a strategic hotspot in the region. However, he thinks sending more troops to Afghanistan is not good for Pakistan. "This troop surge is posing a threat to Pakistan. More tensions are expected to escalate," he said.

Pakistan's government has been facing domestic pressures over accusations of fighting the Taliban for only US interests. Pakistan receives huge amount of US aids for fighting the Taliban and for helping face a fragile declining economy.

Regional Dimensions

Some Afghan analysts are further speaking about a possible US message to Afghanistan's regional neighbors. Both Iran and Russia are particularly opposing the US existence in Afghanistan for their own national interests.

"I think the surge of troops will flare up regional rivalries and may turn Afghanistan into a battle ground. Tehran fears that Washington may have hidden plans for changing the regime in Iran," Suhail Shaheen, former editor in chief of Kabul Times, told IslamOnline.net.

"The Shindand airbase near the border of Iran has been built up for a possible future offensive against Iran," Shaheen said.

Russia, on the other hand, has its own concerns that the US may have schemes for penetrating into the oil-rich area of central Asian countries. "Similarly, Moscow will have concerns about a possible American penetration into the oil-rich central Asian countries, which are considered under the influence of Russia," Shaheen believes.

"Pakistan is also concerned about the growing Indian presence in post-Taliban Afghanistan and is blaming foreign hands for the bomb blasts in congested places in Pakistani cities." he added.

"So, this will pave the way for intensification of the situation in the country, and the Taliban will use this rivalries for their own benefit and step up their activities in the future." Shaeen said. Looking into the civilian dimension in the US new plan, one can say that it has missed so many aspects.

The plan did not address some major issues that concern a wide range of the Afghan people. Schemes on human development, economic, social, and political reforms did not have enough place in Obama's recent speech. These reforms are considered the most important aspects of improvement the Afghans have been eagerly looking for to face a prevailing economic and political corruption.

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