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Resetting US Policy Toward Afghanistan is the Key to Peace- By: Prof. M. Siddieq Noorzoy
Saturday, 11.17.2012, 10:55am (GMT+1)

November 9, 2012


             President Barack Obama’s victory on November 6, 2012 in the presidential election may not have provided him a mandate for many domestic policy issues due to the totally different policy approaches taken by President-elect and the Republican challenger Governor Mitt Romney in meeting the economic challenges faced by the US and the divergent public support for each. But, with respect to one major foreign policy issue there is both a public mandate and an agreement between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, viz., to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by 2014. The US war based policy will be transitioned to an Afghanistan war based policy, that is the present policy. In the US the public mandate for troop withdrawal directly implying end of combat by the US (and NATO) derives its force from the many polls by several news organizations such as ABC-Washington Post, PEW, and CNN showing consistent majority support for pulling US troops out of Afghanistan which simultaneously  shows support for ending the foreign imposed war. The public in all major NATO countries ( Britain, France, Germany , Italy, Spain and others)  have also shown strong support for withdrawing their troops and ending the war in Afghanistan through large public demonstrations on many occasions over the years.

            In the US the political agreement on the critical war policy toward Afghanistan between the two party leaders clearly came out in the third presidential debate on October 20, 2012 as they enunciated their respective positions on the war in Afghanistan. Governor Romney talked about emphasizing peace as a tool in formulating his foreign policies to reach solutions to the international policy issues if elected President, and, of course, President Obama had received the Nobel Prize for peace in 2009 just as he was settling in the Oval Office, creating expectations then and since then that he will take up the mantle of peace toward Afghanistan replacing the war based policy in place since October 2001 some time in his presidency. The coming second term in office provides the President a perfect opportunity for this policy change. He has both the public mandate and nothing to lose to war hawks.

            During the three months of discussions involving ten sessions about a new US strategy toward Afghanistan debated at the White House in the summer months of 2009, before the announcement of sending another 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan on December 1, 2009, President Obama wanted an exit strategy from his advisors. He did not get that, Gen. Petraeus pushed for a surge of troops following a similar policy he had created toward Iraq thinking it will bring success.  Nonetheless, Obama crafted an exit strategy of sorts in the announcement for the withdrawal of 10,000 US troops by July 2011 and another 23,000 by September 2012, leaving behind 68,000 US and a total of 100,000 including NATO troops by late 2012. The final withdrawal of these troops is set for the end of 2014 as announced at the May 20, 2012 Chicago NATO summit. But, what follows next is highly critical for Afghanistan and the Afghan people.

            Both the long war and the lengthy troop withdrawal have created great political, security, and economic uncertainties in Afghanistan and continued concerns among the American people. The critical issues from the point of view of rethinking US policy toward Afghanistan, after years of more heavy fighting, at the  present in November, 2012 are, first, ending the war now and not dragging this war for two more years to the end of 2014, and, second, restarting a genuine peace process to bring political and social stability in Afghanistan. Both of these critical issues are within the post election mandate that President Obama can exercise given that there is clear support from the Republican party as enunciated by Governor Romney as the leader of that party and the repeated polls showing support by the majority of the American people on these issues.

            These policy changes will bring the following gains to the US and to Afghanistan. First, the loss of life due to mutual killings will stop. Second, the US can drastically reduce its expenditures which had risen to an estimated $120 billion per year. It must be remembered that for the last eleven years the US alone has spent more than half a trillion dollars on the war in Afghanistan.  Third, for the Afghan people and Afghanistan peace will mean a restart of new lives under peace and more attention and more resources made available through domestic reallocation and foreign redirection of funds for rebuilding lives and reconstructing the infrastructure and the neglected areas of the Afghan economy. This is critical for the future of Afghanistan given that the young in Afghanistan make up more than half of the population at the age of 20 or younger. Fourth, the great uncertainty about the future will diminish and after long decades of war once again Afghanistan can open its doors to receive the 3.4 million Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran, and also follow with resettlement of the internally displaced that number more than 500,000 in Kabul alone returning to their homes in the south and in the south west to attend to their farmlands  and small businesses and rebuild their lives. Fifth, with the end of war in Afghanistan and peace being established the whole region, especially the tribal region between Afghanistan and Pakistan can also return to normalcy. Here, the reset for the US policy must be to stop the drone attacks which the UN is showing increasing concerns about and international law experts call the drone attacks and targeted assassinations as clearly illegal conduct under international law. The US cannot continue to want to lead the world in many areas including holding the high ground in the applications of international laws and at the same time keep carrying out targeted assassinations of the so-called “militants” acting as judge, jury and executioner. This policy erodes the inner core value of how other nations see and judge the US on the international bilateral and multilateral issues particularly on the issues of war and peace and the need for political solutions. 

             The recent study by a team of 20 professionals at Boston and Brown universities under the title of the Eisenhower project released in 2011 state that in Iraq the war has cost the lives of 125, 000 civilians and 19,922 army and security people. The statistics this team used were based on sources in the US, UN, NGO’s  and media outlets. However, there are no on the scene surveys for many cases involving the killing of civilians in these wars. This is critical for all these wars since many times on the scene and local sources have reported much higher figures for people killed than by US and NATO officials or foreign sources. The killing of 91 civilians, including 60 Afghan children, in the village of Azizabad , Herat, on August 22, 2008 was a prime example where the names and ages of the victims were recorded by the local people and yet the official Pentagon count of the civilians killed were given at 33 individuals in the final report, whereas,  the previous reports stated as few as five civilians killed by the air and ground assaults by US forces on the village and its occupants at a Friday gathering for memorial service of a local Afghan . There have been many other incidents like this throughout the eleven year war in Afghanistan.

            The team at Brown and Boston university estimated that the war in Afghanistan had killed 30,456 (civilians, security personnel and “insurgents”)  and that the US attacks in the tribal region and the larger effects of the war on Pakistan have led to the death of more than 35,600 “civilians and insurgents”. In the case of Afghanistan Wikileaks had stated that between 2004-2009 alone 20,000 Afghan civilians had been killed as revealed by official US sources. 

            For the US more than 6,000 US soldiers have been killed in the “war on terror” and more than 550,000 Veterans are needing care. The three wars against Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, the US has  been fighting is costing more than $4 trillion according to this study much of it financed by borrowing from foreign sources thus costing long term interest payments and adding to the $16 trillion national debt. If there is going to be a reset in US policy, these killings have to stop that have been carried out under the pretext for protecting the American people (by fighting the  “insurgents’ or militants” in the mountains of the region without offering any evidence as to when the Pushtun people harmed any one in the US ). Sixth, the imposition of US war based policies mainly carried out by the Pentagon and the CIA under the so-called “war on terror” has not only cost the lives of tens of thousands in Afghanistan, Iraq  and in the tribal region between Afghanistan and Pakistan and Pakistan proper ( estimated at the loss of 225,000 civilian lives), but, they have rendered world institutions such as the UN and its various agencies and the World Court among other  international institutions working for a better world dysfunctional in their duties for attempting to solve international problems and to establish peace and justice especially for the Muslim population of the world which have born the brunt of the harms from the so-called “war on terror” policy.  

            One would not be surprised that a comprehensive study about Muslim and non-Muslim conflicts in many parts of the world during the last eleven years would show either direct or indirect links and wider effects from the  so-called “war on terror” where governments have found it convenient to apply abusive powers and committed acts that otherwise they would not have in the absence of these wars. These wars have created a free for all against the Muslim population of the world. Witness the massacre of the Muslims in Burma by the otherwise peaceful Buddhists, the Russian policies against the Caucuses, especially Chechnya and the Chinese policy toward the Muslims in north west China. Why have these events followed one after another in recent years, require answers for a peaceful world. The US as standard bearer for world justice, as politicians have claimed in the past, has bargained away its leadership if the policy makers have struck an implicit understanding with other nations so they can play against the weak by their own rule rather than by an internationally agreed rule of conduct under the UN Charter protecting human rights throughout the world.  

            Thus, the appeal for establishing peace and in particular for ending the longest war that both the US and the Afghan people ( i.e. the Taliban et al as members of the Armed Opposition ) have fought which is now in its twelfth year will bring much direct benefits and indirectly create much positive externalities in addition to saving lives, and treasure, to apply to the care of many needs both in America and in Afghanistan. The world also requires this change in policy by the US after eleven years of war for broader goals of achieving justice and preventing abuse throughout the world.

            The question is will President Barack Obama take America on the road to peace in Afghanistan for rebuilding lives, and establishing long term mutual respect during the first few months of his second term in office. During his first term the misplaced emphasis was on expanding the war that he inherited, the drastic results of which we have seen both in Afghanistan and in America, and the war itself has ended in a stalemate at best despite the disproportionate forces used. We are reminded by the similar Russian experience. When Gorbachev took power in the Kremlin in early 1985 apparently his Generals advocated intensifying the war against Afghanistan thinking they will win. There is evidence for this in two studies; an article in the Problems of Communism May –June issue 1987, Vol.36, No. 3, pp. 43-54, showing heavier shipments of weapons and petroleum ( from Russian sources) to Afghanistan during 1985-1986 and another article in Encyclopedia Iranica, 1997, pp.163-169 showing losses in lives, houses, villages and livestock which were heavier during those years. By the Fall of 1986 Gorbachev was seeking the help of Ronald Reagan to get out of Afghanistan at their first summit meeting in Iceland. And by the Spring of 1989 the Soviet troops retreated and by the Fall of 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and by the Fall of 1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated freeing 15 Republics from Russian-cum-Soviet communist rule since 1917.

            In Afghanistan now in late 2012 it is time to give peace a chance for the long term prosperity of the Afghan people suffering from decades of war. In fact, in the war in Afghanistan there is no other alternative than peace. If the US simply walks away from Afghanistan without trying to establish peace through peace negotiations and help solve some of the other problems created by this war the world will not look favorably on the US leadership and the US would not have ended its involvement “responsibly” in Afghanistan as President Obama and Vice President Biden have stated in their public speeches. To keep the war going until 2014 and then to “transitioned” the war to the Afghan people themselves does not meet the expected standard of responsibility for the leader of the world. We hope a close look at the realities of Afghanistan will bring a reset in US policy to end the war and restart peace negotiations with sincerity to bring positive economic and social changes badly needed, actually in both countries.


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