Barak Obama told US sailors in Jacksonville, Florida, yesterday that he will not rush to commit American soldiers to Afghanistan and put them into harm’s way before a clear military strategy is put forward. “You deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals as well as the equipment and support you need to get the job done," Obama stressed.
Obama has come recently under increased pressure to respond to Gen. McChrystal’s request for additional 40,000 troops to stabilize Afghanistan. Republican leaders demanded that President Obama respond quickly and some, including former vice president Dick Cheney, have gone so far as to accuse him of "dithering" over sending an urgently needed augmentation of the US military force.
The call to send additional troops ahead of developing a clear strategy and mission is extremely irresponsible and could complicate the United States ability to deal with the rising violent extremism throughout South Asia, and would plunge the country into a new costly military adventure that could further undermine the economic and political standing of the United States.
Obama is already aware that a strategy capable of stabilizing Afghanistan must be comprehensive, involving both “military and civilian” components, and has already told the Council on Foreign Relations that he would be willing to commit more troops only if he finds reliable Afghan forces to partner with and a civilian plan to provide basic services to the people.
The United States needs a new approach for dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan that starts by examining how the current strategy is failing. The current strategy focuses on supporting corrupt leaders and regimes as long as they are willing to promote our short-term geopolitical interests. Incompetent political leaders who mismanage their societies and misappropriate national resources, and then use American foreign aid to suppress their populations, bread violent extremism that undermines both local and global peace.
President Obama is right to worry about putting his administration support behind the Karzai government, because a corrupt and repressive regime can never gain the respect of its own population, and is bound to collapse under the weight of its own corruption. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger brother of the president of Afghanistan, tops the list of corrupt Afghan leaders. American officials believe that he is directly involved in opium trade and is responsible for selecting provincial officials who are willing to facilitate drug trafficking. He is also believed to be responsible for the widespread vote-rigging in Kandahar province.
The Obama administration should be equally concerned about pushing the Pakistan government to use its military might for dealing with the rise of violent extremism in its northern provinces, while paying lip service to the welfare of the tribal region that has become a breeding ground for extremism. Indeed, the Pakistan government has shown a reckless disregard for the wellbeing of ordinary Pakistanis as its budgetary allocation for national education and health demonstrates. The government of Pakistan spends less than 3% of the national budget on public health and education combined.
The United States’ current strategy, which seeks a military solution to a complicated social and political problem, is wrongheaded. Pressuring Kabul and Islamabad to rely on their military to deal with their violent extremists is likely to fail, because this strategy overlooks popular grievances and social inequities. The Obama administration should first and foremost pressure these governments to improve education, build infrastructure, and fight poverty.
The 2009-10 budget announced recently by the government of Pakistan totals Rs. 2.482 trillion ($29 billion), of which a meager Rs. 4 billion ($48 million) were allocated for primary and basic education and Rs. 22.5 billion ($270 million) for higher education. Rs. 23 billion ($280 million) were allocated for public health, (61% increase from the previous budget). This is in a country with a population that exceeds 180 million.
Standing for the basic rights of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and withdrawing support from the corrupt practices of their governments, is key to bringing a long-term stabilization to this increasingly troubled region. This may require a dramatic shift in the way the United States define its strategic interests. It is about time that the United States rethink its strategy and ensure that it spends more resources on assisting its allies to promote true democracy and develop social and educational conditions. Absent that no amount of firepower could change the current trend of militancy and radicalization in Central and South Asia.
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