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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 46, November 6, 2010

US in Afghanistan: A Catch-22 Situation

Wednesday 10 November 2010, by Mansoor Ali

The US strategy in Afghanistan is “unsustai-nable”, writes Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times. Why? Because, as he opines, “it is inadvertently financing its adversaries” while simultaneously “backing a corrupt government that drives people to the Taliban”—a kind of double-edged sword. In a way it reflects a lack of policy on the part of the Americans to meet the enormous challenge that the country (which has never been under alien domination and can never be subdued if past history is any guide) poses before the sole superpower in the contemporary world.

He quotes an Afghan lady running a logistics company serving the US military to claim that for every $ 1000 her company gets paid for working in insecure areas, approximately $ 600 land up in the Taliban hands. “Last year, she had a $ 200,000 contract to transport laptop computers to the US military in Kandahar. The Taliban seized the shipment, and she says she had to pay $ 150,000 to get it released,” he discloses, adding that this was not an isolated case and the other contractors have similar experience. So, the lady insists, the American strategy while hurting the Taliban in a way, helps the outfit in another form.

According to a security expert, “a single American soldier in Helmand province causes enough money to leak to the Taliban to recruit another 10 fighters trying to kill that American”. This should send alarm bells ringing in Washington.

He also poignantly brings out how the Afghan people, especially jobless youth, caught in the crossfire, end up joining the Taliban—the consequence of the absence of both vision and a coherent approach to sincerely help the common people of the war-ravaged and beleaguered nation. He asserts that the motive force behind the pro-Taliban surge was party ideological (opposition to infidels who have invaded Afghanistan) and partly economic (promise of hundreds of dollars a month alongwith fringe benefits like free food, tea and sugar). He laments “our (the US) counter-insurgency doesn’t include counter-recruitment”, and suggests that while going to any length to kill the Taliban, the coalition forces “need to be equally assiduous about providing jobs and outreach to prevent Afghans from joining the enemy”.

Significantly, Kristof’s report brings out the people’s disenchantment with the Americans while drawing comparison with the Russians. A Brigadier-General in the police force in the Afghan capital acknowledges that “America does development projects, but not as many as the Russians did”. Another Brigadier-General in the Army in Khost informs: “If you go to the villages and ask people who was better, the Russians or Americans, they’ll say the Russians.”

This, the journalist says, does not mean a softness for the Russians—it’s just that “many Afghans are sick of us”, and he also points to what some people in the country feel: America is in league with Osama bin Laden to keep Afghanistan weak and divided.

No wonder Washington has entered a blind alley from where it does not know how to come out. For the Obama Administration therefore the prime task is to extricate itself from Afghanistan. But the frightful prospects of an uncertain future also stare it in the face. A Catch-22 situation indeed! (And that too when Afghan President Hamid Karzai, by his own public admission, is openly accepting monetary help from the US’ arch-enemy Iran—ostensibly to pay for his “office expenses”—cocking a snook at Washington!)

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