Posts Tagged ‘ Vietnam War ’

Afghan Village Massacre Will Compound US Problem

By Amin Saikal for The Sydney Morning Herald

US forces are stumbling from one disaster to another in Afghanistan. The latest is the killing of at least 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier in Kandahar province, the spiritual seat of the Taliban.

It comes shortly after the American burning of copies of the Koran that set off a week of riots across Afghanistan in which some 30 Afghans were killed. This latest incident is set to heighten anti-American sentiment in the country, with serious repercussions for the international forces and their Afghan partners.

President Barack Obama and the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General John Allen, have profusely apologised and promised an immediate investigation. The perpetrator is described as a rogue soldier, who recently had a nervous breakdown. This is unlikely to placate many Afghans, especially in the ethnic Pashtun-dominated areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban-led insurgency is at its peak. Nor will it deter the Taliban from capitalising on the incident to once again castigate the US and its allies as infidel occupiers, and the Karzai government as their stooge.

It is also bound to add to the complexity of the new strategic partnership that Washington and Kabul are currently negotiating to establish the parameters for US military-security involvement in Afghanistan after the US and its allies have withdrawn most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014. While Karzai will find it expedient to become more demanding in the negotiations to show that he is not an American lackey, the Obama administration may need to make more concessions to Karzai, despite the fact that he has proved to be an incompetent and untrustworthy partner, who has continued to preside over a corrupt and dysfunctional government for more than a decade.

Rogue actions in conflicts are not unusual. There were many during the Vietnam War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The present US-led military involvement in Afghanistan has not been free of them either. An American soldier has just been convicted of premeditated murder of three Afghans two years ago.

American and ISAF troops have also been killed by rogue Afghan soldiers for one reason or another. However, what makes the latest incident alarming is that it has been enacted by a soldier who had a nervous breakdown, and yet was still on duty. He committed a massacre in a zone of insurgency where the Taliban had not been active for six months. Inhabitants across the region now will become more receptive to the Taliban than ever before.

All this does not augur well for a smooth withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and the current efforts by Washington, and, for that matter, the Karzai government, to reach a political settlement with the Taliban as part of the US-led NATO exit strategy. As the anti-US and anti-Karzai government feelings escalate, the more they will play into the hands of the Taliban and their supporters, most importantly Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence, ISI, to drive a hard bargain. The Taliban and ISI have never found the situation more conducive to their belief that the final victory is ultimately theirs. All they now need to do is await the substantial drawdown of foreign troops and further ineffectiveness and humiliation of the Karzai government. As one Taliban commander joked: ”We have the time and the Americans have the watch.”

It is most unfortunate that after some $450 billion in military expenditure, more than $60 billion in reconstruction costs, and 3000 foreign troops, mostly American, killed, and thousands of Afghans sacrificed, stability, security and good governance still elude most Afghans. The biggest question that will confront the US and its allies by 2014 is: what was that all about?

If it was for the purpose of destroying al-Qaeda and its harbourers, the Taliban, this objective has not been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead, as are many of his ranking operatives, but the network remains operative, especially in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. As for the Taliban, the US now wants to negotiate a political deal with the militia.

If it was for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan, this goal is nowhere near fruition. The country continues to teeter on the verge of the return of the Taliban to power and civil war, with the prospects of Afghanistan’s neighbours intensifying their scramble for influence.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University and the author of Modern Afghanistan.

We Should Hold Our Nose And Remain Engaged In Pakistan

By Joel Brinkley for Tribune Media Services

America’s involvement in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be the most complex foreign-policy dilemma the nation has ever faced. With the death of Osama bin Laden, along with Pakistan’s furious response, the knot is more tangled.

Right now, Afghan officials are reviling their Pakistani counterparts. Pakistan is flirting with China. American officials are threatening to curtail aid to Islamabad. Afghanistan is establishing what it calls the High Peace Council for reconciliation talks with the Taliban, while the United States is already saying the peace talks will almost certainly fail.

Meantime, Afghan Taliban leaders are trying to talk nice. Oh, we’re happy to let girls go to school, they are cooing through thin smiles. Just let us back into the government. At the same time, their fighters opened fire on an unarmed roadwork crew, massacring 36 workers and wounding 20 others.

Pakistani soldiers fired on a U.S. military helicopter flying along the Pakistan-Afghan border. But the government did display a small flash of grace. It gave the U.S. permission to haul away the ruined tail of the helicopter that crashed just outside Osama bin Laden’s home.

Think back to previous conflicts. Even the decisions behind the Vietnam War, one of the most traumatic events in American history, seem relatively simple by comparison. Now we are dealing with two nations led by perfidious, double-dealing scoundrels who take pleasure in disparaging us.

In a chorus over the last few days, President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials have been declaiming: You’re fighting the wrong war in the wrong place. They have their own self-interested motivations for saying that. Actually, though, they are correct.

Most analysts believe bin Laden left the tribal areas of Pakistan and moved to a compound just outside the capital to escape the rain of American drone missiles that were killing some of his minions.

Does it make any sense to believe that bin Laden would pull out all by himself, leaving behind his key aides and allies, like Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader? Of course not. Sooner or later we will learn that a half-dozen of them, at least, are hiding in full sight inside Pakistan, in their own high-walled compounds.

One frequent Afghan observation is well-taken, that all of the al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders of note are in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The United States acknowledged years ago that few if any al-Qaeda operatives remained in Afghanistan.

But now Pakistani leaders are insulting and reviling the U.S., and senior members of Congress are threatening to withhold aid. As Sen. James Risch, an Idaho Republican, put it during a recent Foreign Relations Committee hearing, “Why are we spending our kids’ and our grandkids’ money to do this in a country that really doesn’t like us?

“It’s a hard sell to the American people.”

But the United States can’t stop providing aid to Pakistan and pull out of the country. For one thing, most of the supplies for the 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan are trucked in from Pakistan, and Pakistanis have already shown their eagerness, if provoked, to attack these caravans and torch the trucks. Look at the map, and you won’t find another politically possible supply route.

Pakistan is an extremely unstable country. Its leaders hold onto their pathological obsession with India and refuse to recognize the dire threat that the Taliban and other militants pose from within. What would happen if the government fell, and Islamic militants seized Pakistan’s 100-plus nukes?

Meanwhile, the Afghan war continues, to deprive al-Qaeda of a home there once again. But if the U.S. pulled out and al-Qaeda returned, they’d be doing the U.S. military a great favor. We’ve been trying to get at them in North Waziristan for a decade now with limited success at best. Move back to Afghanistan and they would be easy targets.

What could Karzai do about it?

This summer, President Obama is going to announce the first troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. The number being bandied about now is roughly 5,000 troops. He should ramp it up, withdraw faster. After all, now we are caught in the middle of a civil war between the previous and the present governments.

As for Pakistan, we have to hold our noses and remain engaged. The possible alternatives are simply too ugly to imagine. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it at the height of the rancor last week, like it or not, “we need them, and they need us.”

Richard Holbrooke: The Death of a Peacemaker

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

President George H.W. Bush once described him as the “most persistent advocate I’ve ever run into.” President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, died earlier today after complications from heart surgery. He was a gifted diplomat and a tough negotiator who was considered one of the superstars of international diplomacy. Richard Holbrooke died Monday evening at George Washington University Hospital after doctors had performed emergency surgery Saturday to repair a tear in his aorta, the largest artery in the human body responsible for carrying blood from the heart to all parts of the body.

Described only days ago by President Obama as a “towering figure in American diplomacy,” Holbrooke was a career diplomat who started his career in 1962 as an officer during the Vietnam War where he initially worked at the US Agency of International Development. He continued to work on Vietnam issues during the war under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was a part of the delegation that presided in Paris for the peace negotiations to end the war. He also served as the director of the Peace Corps in Morocco in the early 1970’s as well as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Carter administration. He was in charge of US ties with China when relations between the two countries were “normalized” in late 1978.

Later in his career, he also held senior positions at a few prestigious Wall Street firms before returning to diplomacy under the Clinton administration. During this time he was credited with his most illustrious achievement to date when he helped orchestrate the Dayton peace agreement which ended the horrific war and genocide in Bosnia. He later went on to write a memoir titled “To End a War” and become somewhat of a celebrity in the Balkans, and is widely believed to have become the Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton if she had won. He also went on to serve as the US ambassador to Germany as well as the United Nations under President Bill Clinton before being tapped by the incoming Obama administration with the herculean task of being the special envoy of the United States to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

His last assignment was arguably his most difficult as he himself stated that “There’s no Slobodan Milosevic. There’s no Palestinian Authority. There is a widely dispersed group of people that we roughly call the enemy. There’s also al Qaeda, with which there’s no possibility of any discussion at all.” He mentioned that in the AfPak region, (a term he is credited with having coined), there are a range of militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that “an expert could add another 30.”

Such was the difficulty of his last assignment that some close to him are speculating whether the high level of stress and travels associated with shuttling between Washington, Kabul and Islamabad might have been a factor in causing a tear in his aorta. Certainly the complex and high strung meetings with Karzai and Zardari as well as the delicate balancing acts of diplomacy along with military operations in a region of the world described as “the most dangerous in the world” possibly took a toll on his health.

But to those that knew Richard Holbrooke, he was a man capable of taking on and winning the challenges of this and any difficult assignment as he had done so many times in his career. A New York Times reporter once wrote “if you want somebody to pull the trigger, or close a deal, think Holbrooke.”

Tonight in Washington DC, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and the thousands of employees of the US State Department mourn the death of this icon of American diplomacy and celebrate his lifelong service to the United States and the American people in search of peace in troubled spots the world over. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, a job vacancy has sadly opened up in the dangerous AfPak region of the world for an assignment that no one is capable of fulfilling quite like Mr Holbrooke. For the sake of the success in the Afghan war, peace and stability in Pakistan and securing America’s vital national interests in the region and around the world, let us hope that his successor will be half as capable a diplomat and negotiator as the late Richard C. Holbrooke, truly a giant of American diplomacy.

Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

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