Afghan analysts and some senior officials not convinced by new Obama military strategy.
By Hafizullah Gardesh in Kabul
American president Barack Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and talk of a United States withdrawal starting in 18 months time has drawn a skeptical response in the country itself.
Afghan foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta told a news conference in Kabul that Obama’s announcement on December 1 was important for the region, “Obama once again clearly emphasised his country’s commitment to Afghanistan. This speech was something which was expected by the Afghan people, particularly in terms of supporting Afghans to take responsibility so the foreign forces can return home.”
He also welcomed the possible date for a withdrawal of US forces to start and said, “Eighteen months is a long time. We should accelerate the process of Afghanistan of security and governance.”
But General Nabi Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan defence ministry, did not consider 18 months enough time for local forces to stand on their own feet, saying they need at least four to five years.
“We can call our army independent when we have organised the air force, air defence…. We do not even have one tank in our army at the moment so it needs time to stand on its own feet,” he said.
“Although Afghanistan is going to have an army of 240,000 troops in the future, it will not be enough in the absence of international forces, considering the military forces of the neighbouring countries and the balance in the region.”
Military and political analysts in Afghanistan also questioned the US strategy.
Member of parliament Nurolhaq Olumi, an army general during the presidency of Mohammad Najibullah, who was killed by the Taleban in 1996, said there was no military solution to the problem of Afghanistan and political solutions should also be considered.
He welcomed plans to strengthen the Afghan forces and the US determination to fight al-Qaeda and terrorism, but complained that it did not address governance issues.
“The new strategy has not paid attention to civil and political institutions in Afghanistan at all. It is difficult for the military solution to work unless honest personalities are included in the government and a sound government is created with the cooperation and support of the people,” Olumi said.
He also criticised the US’s reliance on Pakistan for its plans, “More privileges are given to Pakistan in the new strategy. The strategy has not said that centres of production of terrorism will be eliminated wherever they are and most of these centres are controlled by the [Pakistan intelligence service] ISI and Pakistani army. The strategy has only said: we will fight against terrorism in tribal areas … It does not tackle the real centres of terrorism.”
In addition, Olumi also picked fault with the US plan to support governors, local commanders and ministers independently, saying this was against the national interests of Afghanistan, “This action will eliminate democracy, which will weaken the central government while Afghanistan badly needs a powerful central government. If America reinforces a governor or local commander, it paves the way for 10,000 defenceless people to be deprived of their rights and to suffer.”
Political analyst Abdol Hamid Mobarez does not consider the American strategy to have been properly worked out and he expected it to be refined.
However, he agreed with Olumi that strengthening governors and local commanders is a great mistake and risked splitting the country, “If such a thing happens, there will be 260 independent states in 260 districts of Afghanistan. This issue will increase the US’s problems infinitely and will lead Afghanistan towards break-up, something which the Afghan people are against.”
A more decentralised system of government had been the policy during the Afghan presidential election of the defeated candidate Abdullah Abdullah. “Abdullah wanted exactly the same thing that the US wants today such as elected governors, a parliamentary system, elected district governors, etc; however, [President Hamed] Karzai wanted a centralised government,” Mobarez said.
“It is clear is that the people voted for Karzai, which means they voted for a centralised government. If the US wants something else, but not centralised government, it means it is acting against the will and interests of the people of Afghanistan.”
Mobarez also expressed concern about the reliance of the US on Pakistan, “The Americans did not learn anything from Pakistan’s deceitful policies and double standards over the past eight years. They still count on Pakistan. Unfortunately, the strategy has not said anything specific about Pakistan.”
Hafizullah Gardesh is IWPR’s local editor in Kabul.