Afghanistan: What's Gone Wrong?
On the eve of President Bush's Wednesday summit with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the U.S. effort in Afghanistan appears more troubled than at any time in the past five years.
Among the latest developments:
In a fresh round of violence, a suicide bomber today struck in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 18 people. Yesterday, a prominent women's rights advocate was shot dead outside her home in Kandahar; she was wearing a burqa when she died, reported The Times. And last week, NATO forces reportedly killed 23 Taliban insurgents.
Mullah Omar, the fugitive Taliban leader, endorsed the recent controversial truce between Pakistan and pro-Taliban militants in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, according to the Daily Telegraph in Britain. The Pakistani government has since denied Omar had any role in the agreement, according to the Daily Times.
Dissension has erupted in the ranks of the British military with the leaking of an e-mail in which the commander of a parachute regiment described British Air Force support of ground troops fighting the Taliban as "useless, useless, useless."
As headlines of violence and political strife mount, many in the international online seem to be arriving at similar conclusions: that the Taliban now enjoys greater political support than ever and the West's war against radical Islam in Afghanistan is foundering.
What has caused the Bush administration's one-time success story to go so wrong? Online commentators analysts both in Europe and throughout the troubled region offer some insight.
Trust and Tactics
Western military operations are not winning popular support.
Soldiers on the ground around Kandahar face huge obstacles in winning over the local people, reports Canadian correspondent Renata D'Aliesio in the National Post.
"It's not about pictures of soldiers handing out candies," American Gunnery Sgt. Rilon Reall told the newspaper. "It's about shifting a society, and that's going to take generations." Many people "have a disdain for the coalition forces because they have been let down in the past," Reall said. "When the coalition leaves, if they leave too early or don't follow through on their promises, then the people left here will look to see who can help them."
The Independent reports that British forces in Afghanistan "are restructuring their operations after months of fierce combat which have taken a mounting toll on the battlefield and caused rising concern at home."
"The Islamist fighters have been strengthened by the controversial opium poppy eradication programme which has seen farmers, with crops destroyed without compensation, become a recruiting pool for the Taliban," said the London daily.
"The British military have tried to distance themselves from the crop destruction, but they acknowledge that many Afghans do not differentiate between them and the private contractors from the US company DynCorp, charged with the task. As an elder at a village shura in Helmand pointed out: "The Westerners cannot tell the difference between our tribes, how should we be able to tell the difference between theirs?"
The Al-Qaeda Factor
Al-Qaeda is stronger than ever, said Britain's top counterterrorism official last week.
Peter Clarke, deputy assistant commissioner for Scotland Yard, told a conference in Australia that "that authorities overestimated the damage done to al-Qaeda by the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001," according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
"What we have seen is that al-Qaeda is incredibly resilient and we are seeing that there is a degree of direction and control coming from what we call core al-Qaeda," he said.
According to "senior diplomatic sources," cited by SMH, Afghanistan "has reached a 'tipping point' where it stands to descend further into chaos."
Al-Qaeda's allies in the Taliban have also gotten stronger, says Vikram Sood of India's Hindustan Times.
"Today's Taliban fighter is far more radicalised and sophisticated than the one who was pushed out by the Americans into Pakistan in 2001 While the Afghan army pays its soldiers the equivalent of $ 4 a day, the Taliban pay as much as $ 8 a day. The Taliban fighter is prone to resort to slaughter and beheading and seems to revel in watching DVDs that depict anti-American violence," Sood wrote.
"Musharraf has realised that the Taliban cannot be militarily defeated," he says. "It is, therefore, better to strike a deal with them as the next force in Afghanistan. In Musharraf's own army are officers and men reluctant to fight the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, on grounds of conscience. ... Pakistan is now much more Islamicised and concessions to mullahs are inevitable for political survival in the country, especially with elections due next year."
Islam vs. the West?
In the West, many see the U.S. strategy in the war on terror as deeply flawed. In the Muslim world it is seen as malevolent. Either way, Afghanistan's ordeal illustrates the inability of America to win allies.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist who wrote about the tactics of Islamic extremists for The Washington Post on the 9/11 anniversary, writes in EurasiaNet.org that "the recent turn of events in Afghanistan underscores the United States' and Great Britain's failure in the war of ideas."
Karzai's "political support is dwindling because the massive Western assistance needed to turn the war-ravaged country around has not been forthcoming, and he thus has little to show his people. Afghanistan's catastrophic increase in opium production, which is fueling the Taliban war effort, is a direct consequence of the West's failure to revive the Afghan economy."
The Guardian's Max Hasting says, "a dismaying number of people cherish such bitterness towards Bush and Blair for Iraq, Afghanistan and now Lebanon that they want US and British forces abroad to be seen to be defeated. This seems sorely mistaken. Whatever the follies of the past, it cannot be in the interests of the Iraqi or Afghan peoples, or of the world, for Islamic extremists to prevail."
In Iran, which supported the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban five years ago, the Iran Daily says U.S. policy has failed because of arrogance.
"First by creating the hardline Taliban and then in wake of the 9/11 attacks, the US set the stage for controlling the strategic region as its policeman and banker. Despite all its military adventures and political machinations, the US has been forced to witness its reckless Afghan policy go down the drain. Westerners, in particular the arrogant regime in America, aware of the fighting spirit of the Afghans and humiliation of the former Soviet Union in this troubled country not very long ago, would be naive to have expected a better deal."
Ansar Abbasi, Islamabad bureau chief for The News, a leading Pakistan daily says "the question that needs to be pondered particularly by the Bush-Blair duo and their stooges is as to how the Muslims should react to the massive killings of their brothers/sisters in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Palestine and Lebanon. Violent reactions are unavoidable unless the root cause of the problem is identified and addressed."
The most dire note was sounded by former Russian general Ruslan Aushev, who was injured while leading Soviet forces in fighting against mujahedeen rebels in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
"You will flee from there," he told the Telegraph.
He added: "Many have fought in Afghanistan; first and foremost, the British fought there in the 19th century. The astonishing thing today is that Nato and the coalition seem to have learnt nothing, neither from their own experience nor from our experience."
Despite such predictions, it doesn't appear that the U.S. will be leaving anytime soon, as Ronald Neumann, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, told Spiegel Online: "We are not going to evacuate. We are not going anywhere."
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