Saturday Morning Coffee

International Affairs Specialist by day, Blogger Enthusiast by night. This is a sneak peek into my world that should be enjoyed with ample time and a good and very strong cup of java.

Weighing the Pro’s and Con’s of Afghanistan

I’m hesitant to discuss Afghanistan, knowing full well that it connects much of the world’s security concerns and therefore much of t he world’s attention. I’m hesitant because I haven’t yet made up my mind about it and am not sure what I support. We know scant little to make a valued opinion. We know that it is home to the 9/11 terrorists and that before 2001, the country was a feudal state, run by brutal warlords who called themselves, the Taliban. We know that troops in Afghanistan bears greater justification than in Iraq and is consolidated by a handful of nations that would agree. We also know that this is an initiative that carries a high price tag. Can’t get much simpler than that!

Ok, so what do we do? First we topple the ruling elite, send in troops, dispersing would-be terrorists who subsequently lead and utilize guerrilla styled attacks throughout the country. Meanwhile, brave coalition forces attempt to create stability, form a working army and consolidate a reliable leader. The reorientation of the US foreign policy is comforting as there is safety in numbers, but there are several obstacles that stand in the way of making Afghanistan what the world wants.

Obstacle #1: Does Afghanistan want to be occupied? Answer: Likely not! Who in their right mind wants to be occupied?! But if you’re President Hamid Karzai and you want to consolidate power by creating a standing army and police force that pledges allegiance to your ruling, then the ISAF and US missions are your friend, not enemy. They’re the one’s that are defending your rule, will provide the foreign aid, diplomatic support and investment needed to bring Afghanistan in to the 21st century. That’s not what Karzai seems to care about though – his childish reaction being uninvited to Washington (itself a reaction to Karzai’s scrapping of an independent panel revealing Karzai’s election fraud) was to seek out persona non grata himself, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and invite him for tea and a speech. Someone better teach this man his manners! Really calls in to question Karzai’s vision for the country that is a little less American occupation, and a little more corruption, little less democracy and a little more hate speeches. Makes you think whether we’re supporting the right man? The fact that there was fraud at all in the last election suggests that the rival presented a real challenge to Karzai – if it was fair, would a different President be in power, whose views align more closely with the coalition forces? In any other situation, I’d reject this notion of playing puppeteer to a nation – no nation should have that power, except when it comes to Afghanistan.

Obstacle #2-4 : We’ve agreed that occupation is necessary and if it’s necessary, it’s going to be messy and costly and likely lengthy. Guerrilla type tactics are extremely effective and give the guerrillas an advantage, working on their own doorstep. At the same time though, terrorist displacement throughout Pakistan, Yemen and further to Germany and inside the US makes me think that it’s working. There is no base of operations anymore and organized crime and terrorism is much more difficult when borders divide them and technology can track them. Granted we haven’t succeeded in developing the necessary precautions or tools to prevent this yet and we’re ignorant not to.

The costs are astronomical for all countries involved and it comes at a particularly fragile time when the world’s economies are consistently being gambled with.  No one wants to do it, but no one also wants a concentration of terrorist activity and training grounds. Afghanistan has suffered years of neglect and mismanagement and its principal industry is the drug trade. This isn’t a problem that Afghanistan can conquer alone.  If balancing a budget is more significant to a foreign policy and a re-election campaign than ensuring global security and avoiding endless destruction and loss of life, then by all means it’s time to pack up shop. But these priorities are not clear – either you’re all for it and all the things that it includes, or you’re all against it.

And lastly, Afghanistan will be a lengthy process. Most wars are. Hopefully with increased troops to the region, reconstruction and development can proceed – that’s nation building. There’s no clear recipe for it, but the idea is the same. In a nutshell; demobilize combatants and consolidate rule; create opportunities that provide an alternative to violent extremism; rebuild and reconstruct infrastructure that instills the instruments of the state (especially the judicial, legislative, education and health sectors) and creates jobs – at least that’s the intention.

No one wants a war. No one wants to be tangled in mess for years that will only drive up a budget and drive down popular support. The obstacles are just a few among many that include Afghani support for the mission, Pakistan, confusion among multi-national intelligence circles, drug trafficking, democratic values and human rights and many, many more. (Note: I purposefully excluded religion from this list as I don’t see religious differences as an obstacle to this mission) I’m tired though of debating the pro’s and con’s of whether we should or whether we shouldn’t be there. Clear priorities have to be drawn and committed to, if anything, to build the confidence of a teetering Afghanistan and show that our support is unwavering and its reliance on corruption, terrorism and illicit ways are things of the past.


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