By John V Kalulanga
THE TROOPS SURGE
There is no need to send extra troops or escalate the surge of troops into Afghanistan by the coalition forces composed mainly by the USA and UK. There is probably more than the required number of troops on the ground to fight and win the war against the Taliban. What is needed in Afghanistan is just to work out new strategies aimed at shifting the focus of the western powers from aggression in Afghanistan to peace making including working side-by-side with Afghan people in hunting Al Qaeda, its leadership and to dismantle its cells as they may emerge to be the key to this debacle.
What is not needed now is to dig for every inch of Afghanistan territory but instead to win with the heart, minds, aspirations and hopes of the Afghan people. I believe that will also influence and attenuate the already shuttered and blinkered western attitudes towards weaker nations. There is also a need to avoid linking the Palestinian question with that of Afghanistan, because the Palestinian question has been with us since 1948. In addition the west should avoid thinking that the troop surge will work in Afghanistan because it worked in Iraq even though the circumstances there were radically different. Even in Iraq, the jury is still out, as witnessed by two deadly suicide bombings that killed so many people
We continue to see numerous deadly bombings, kidnappings and summary executions of innocent civilians ever since President Bush declared the end of hostilities. Afghan people never depended on their government in any case; they relied on their communities and cultural structures of governance to offer them protection and succour. In Iraq, an imposed centralised government of a totalitarian nature run by Saddam Hussein held sway for over 24 years. Afghanistan, up to now is controlled by clan warlords and by the Taliban. The society itself is feudal and it is a long while away to change it to western style democratic standards. This is also the case with Somalia.
The western powers need to remember that their mission there is not to organise elections or to build roads or choose who should govern Afghanistan. These questions, of road construction, organising elections, deciding the nature of the administration etc should be entirely the responsibility of the loya jirga and /or of the people of Afghanistan. The focus of the west should be entirely limited to work with whichever regime is in power and to intensify or escalate the search for Al Qaeda and its cells. This means working out a long-term strategy and mechanisms aimed at ensuring that Afghan territory will never again be used as a sanctuary or stepping stone for terrorism on other nations.
THE DILEMMAS OF THE AFGHAN WAR
The politicians on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean should be aware that no conventional weaponry can win a war in such volatile environment that is characterised by the following circumstances:
1) A war in a country where foreign troops are perceived as an occupying force;
2) Lack of local intelligence on functions and operational cells of the enemy;
3) Fighting a war without frontline and an enemy who has no uniform;
4) Fighting an enemy within and an enemy who has no conventional rules, boundaries and collective responsibility;
5) Lack of experience and capability of the infantry to sustain and maintain ground fire power without relying on air power support or air drone attack. A war can never be won with smart bombs;
6) Lack of local knowledge and experience of territory and terrain of the area and in an oriental country that has a long history of conflict and war with foreign invaders. The current USA led invasion does not have sufficient knowledge to enable it to overrun a very determined enemy in their terrain. This is the scenario as it was in Vietnam. The ex-Soviet Union learnt this lesson at a heavy cost and was eventually defeated by the local Afghan Mujaheddin fighters;
7) Lack of understanding of language, culture, custom and religion of the local people;
8) Fighting an enemy motivated by cultural and religious values;
9) Lack of coalition of cohesive and unified goals and objectives within the allied forces;
10) A war where the coalition forces don’t believe in what they are fighting for and let alone knowing what to achieve; and
11) A war which doesn’t have support at home. The Vietnam War was lost by the USA because of the collapse in public support and the determination of the Vietnamese people to resist both French and later American aggression. These are the same symptoms we are seeing today in Afghanistan.
In these circumstances, it is impossible to task the coalition forces to win the Afghan war militarily regardless of the size of troops and the highly sophisticated weaponry that are deployed there. The surge in Iraq for e.g. has not worked, if you consider the on going devastating suicide bombings that are claiming so many innocent precious lives.
The surge has not changed the security situation on the ground. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians are still being killed on a daily basis despite the surge of troops. For e.g. on 19/08/2009, 101 people were killed in front of the ministry of justice and then on 25/10/2009, twin b omb blasts against governmental municipality buildings close to the heavily-fortified Green Zone killed at least 155 people and injured more than 700 in central Baghdad, in the deadliest attack in Iraq since the infamous Qahtaniya massacre in 2007. F our suicide vehicle bombers massacred hundreds of members of northern Iraq's Yazidi sect in the deadliest post-war attack to date. The final death toll was over 450 and wounded more than 500 people. On the same day, a suicide truck bomber struck the Thiraa Dijla Bridge near Taji, killing ten people and sending three civilian vehicles plunging into the river below. And these killings continue everyday. To date, there have been 1715 deadly suicide bombings in Iraq since 23rd February 2003.
The war in Afghanistan is a war that must be won by concession, diplomacy and respect consistent with the wishes of the Afghan people. However, this is also a war that the west cannot afford to loose, because it will be a total failure for the international community in its commitment to the Afghan people; like the case of Rwandan genocide in 1994. The point is to give the Afghan people an opportunity to decide their own fate with support from the international community and not have any imposed solutions from outside Afghanistan itself. The western powers need to consider new strategies aimed at bringing the people of Afghanistan together as stake holders in the management of their country rather than receivers of external goodwill. Western powers should avoid pretending to be democratising Afghan society because the afghan people have their own system of local democracy. It may not be perfect but it has served their society and people for centuries. The west should resist imposing a form of democracy on Afghanistan that they don’t want. The society itself is feudal and it is a long while a way to change it to western style democratic standards.
The situation in Afghanistan has to be resolved politically. It is a major focus of world crisis at the moment, there is no war that can be won without peace, and this is the dilemma that President Barack Obama has to deal with if Afghanistan will not escalate into his new Vietnam. I suggest that President Obama should encourage direct dialogue with Taliban. Western powers are undergoing extraordinary times in Afghanistan that requires immediate attention and critical thinking and analysis. There is a need to break the political impasse. And if Taliban is the key to western success in the Afghanistan conflict, there is no reason why the west should avoid talking to the group. The west should also stop hunting Taliban leaders because this will not help change the situation on the ground. Talking to Taliban to seek peace can convince them to come to the negotiating table on a road map to peace rather than follow a path to war. This would be a victory for peace.
I believe engaging Taliban in strategic peace talks in return for them to giving up violence will give the Afghan people opportunities to rebuild their country and give hope to their children and would be a unique opportunity for NATO to disengage from Afghanistan on honourable terms and with reduced risks and casualties to their military and civilian personnel. That will also help to reduce collateral damage among Afghan civilians. What is needed therefore is to secure the peace that can allow the Afghan people to rebuild their lives and become proud members once again of the international community. Any peaceful resolution of the Afghan conflict can not be achieved on the terms or demands of the western nations alone. It has to be a just peace that takes into account the need of the Afghan people and follows a peaceful route but also assures the western countries that Afghanistan is not a safe haven and will not be used as such by organisations like Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists.
Therefore western powers should consider the following in order to give peace a chance in Afghanistan:
1) Declare a cease fire. Coalition forces should only return fire where they are attacked;
2) Scale down all military activities against Taliban;
3) Set up a time table for withdrawing of allied coalition forces;
4) Invite Afghan factions including the loya jirga, Taliban, clan leaders etc., and encourage them to come to the negotiating table to decide about the future of their country;
5) Allow them to elect their own leaders and to set up a government based on their cultural values and aspirations;
6) Support whichever government in power but without compromising search for Al Qaeda’s terrorists;
7) Offer to train their military and police forces;
8) Focus on the search for al Qaeda top brass and their sources of income;
9) Support Afghanistan national reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes where necessary; and
10) Work with Afghan government and NGO to empower local community development projects.
The west must admit that Afghans have culture and lifestyles that can not be dismantled. The west can only succeed if is willing to resolve the Afghan question within Afghanistan’s own model of democracy. Democracy can never be exported but it should come from within the people’s communal will and according to the societies’ cultural, customs and religious values, e.g. the loya jirga. The loya jirga (grand assembly) has been called at times of national crisis in Afghanistan for centuries. It is regarded as the highest manifestation of the will of the people of Afghanistan. The loya jirga's main roles include; deliberating and deciding upon matters of war and peace, election of leaders, enactment of fundamental laws, ratification and endorsement of treaties reached with outside powers and defence of territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Because it is a unifying, time-honoured and uniquely Afghan mechanism, a loya jirga can offer the best hope for the various Afghan factions a platform to reach consensus that will rapidly transform Afghanistan’s political landscape. This would give the Afghan people a badly needed vaccine of optimism about the future of their beautiful, ravaged country.
FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN
Western powers need to abandon their traditional culture of spreading propaganda of fear of the global society. That was possible in the cold war period. But now global empowerment and awareness is flowering. I think whatever fundamental differences western powers have with some countries including Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba, Burma etc., are fundamental differences that can be reconcilable through engagement and mutual respect. Therefore, western powers need to recognise the role and importance of the Taliban in the future shaping and making of the new Afghanistan. That is if western powers have the will to seek for a lasting solution to the global crisis.
The main western misconception is the fear of the unknown that has been characterised by decades of blackmailing and undermining the legitimacy of those nations that do not agree with its policies. There is a need to recognise, that the end of the cold war changed the world in different ways and a new world order has emerged. For example, while the former USSR disintegrated into mini and sub-states, the USA and western powers were left exposed to vulnerability of political, economical and social uncertainty as they emerged from the ashes of fear and peace to the realms of freedom and uncertainty. The west has to deal with the emergence of the shambles of political and economic uncertainty. They are also faced with other aspects of the different cultures and social values that were oppressed during the darkest days of the cold war. I believe it is imperative that western powers align their policies and engage amicably with weaker nations and different cultures and social values as they emerged. However, that can only be achieved if the west can move-away from its traditional culture of fear of the unknown to embrace the daily changing needs of the new world order.
There is a need for the west to engage with Iran on an equal level and there should be consensus that Iran should be allowed to build peaceful nuclear energies for fuel purposes. The western powers also need to work with Iran as an equal partner to maintain political and economic stability in the Middle-East. I don’t think Iranian state has a problem with the existence of the Jewish state along side that of a fully-fledged Palestinian independent state. I think the Iranian state will recognise the Jewish state, but it may be frustrated like any one else due to lack of progress about the establishment / formation of the independent Palestinian state and to allow the return of Palestinian refugees dislocated since 1948. The Western powers need to make concessions by refuting economic embargoes and releasing frozen Iranian assets held in western banks. I think imposition of an embargo is pointless because it serves no purpose. For example, imposing an embargo on North Korea has not succeeded in enforcing regime change and /o reducing nuclear proliferation. North Korea is a nuclear armed country today even if we play it down.
I think none of us can dispute, that had the west engaged with North Korea after the Korean War, probably, that would have been the best time to stop North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons. Can we really believe that political and economic embargoes represent an effective way deterrence or mechanism for regime change? If the west had avoided politics of fear of the unknown, and engaged effectively with countries such as North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Sudan etc, the situation in these countries would be quite different from what we are seeing today. We need to learn from the experiences of the sectarian conflict in the Northern Ireland and Libya's conflict with the US and Britain. Libya has emerged from a status of pariah state into the international community through dialogue.
The west still can still continue its domination in the global social, economical and political scene, however in the 21st century that can only be achieved under an emerging new era of social, political and economic emancipation of the rest of the world. It’s therefore, very important for western powers to embrace change. It remains to be seen whether President Barack Obama’s mandate for change will resonate in concrete policies that will benefit the people of the world and create a new world order.