Afghan Anxieties

March 10, 2010 by Post Team 

Afghan AnxietiesAfghan Anxieties:BBC — A speech on Afghanistan by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband highlights the growing concern that the military surge led by the United States is not being matched by a political surge by the Afghan government.

In his speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, Mr Miliband does not foresee, let alone predict, outright victory over the Taliban.

The best he hopes for is greater stability in, perhaps, two years: “It is realistic to aspire to see a country on an upward trajectory, still poor but with a just peace, with democracy and inclusive politics bedding down at all levels and with incomes growing.”

However, he adds: “It is only feasible if politics comes to the fore. This is how the war in Afghanistan will be brought to an end.”

Military superiority

His speech comes as the United States, supported by Britain and other Nato governments, is trying to achieve a balance between the military pursuit of the Taliban and the development of civil society.

In the current thinking, the two go together in what is known as an anti-insurgency strategy, which depends on military superiority and political development feeding on each other.

Clearly, the British government, for one, does not think that the second element is being given enough attention.

In particular, Mr Miliband called for more to be done to reconcile those Taliban elements who can be turned.

“A reintegration programme will have major impact only if it is coupled with a serious effort to address the grievances of those whom President Karzai describes as his ‘disaffected compatriots’,” he said.

Ultimate objective

The problem, he suggested, had been “neglected for far too long”. It went back as far as the Bonn conference in 2001, which followed the removal of the Taliban from power by the US-supported Northern Alliance.

As Mr Miliband put it: “The Northern Alliance came to Bonn as the new masters of Afghanistan.

“But they were not representative of the broader Afghan population. It was right that the Taliban leaders were excluded from Bonn. But other, more significant and legitimate groups were seriously under-represented, most notably the various Pashtun confederations from which the Taliban draws its strength.”

He then put his finger on his ultimate objective, a crucial one as his own government prepares to fight a general election – the withdrawal of US and British troops.

“Only if the scale of the insurgency itself is reduced will the Afghan authorities be able to govern their land in sustainable or acceptable ways.

“And only then will we be able to withdraw our forces confident that we will not have to return.”

Reconciliation efforts

It is surprising, perhaps, that he felt the need to make this speech so soon after the London conference on Afghanistan in January, when all this was spelled out to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

It appears Mr Miliband, at least, does not have much faith in Mr Karzai’s efforts and that therefore the Afghan leader needs some encouragement to make the jirga, or peace council, he has called for 29 April a meaningful event and not just a media show.

The speech is also littered with mutterings about continued corruption in Afghanistan, a theme that featured heavily in London as well.

Behind the scenes, British officials have been active in trying to encourage Taliban elements to reconcile with the Kabul government.

This has been going on for a couple of years, with a renewed emphasis recently but with uncertain results. The main Taliban leadership remains defiant.

Consequently, there are those on the military side who feel that in the end it will be the military pressure that counts on the Taliban and that political development and reconciliation will have a secondary role.

The argument has yet to be played out on the ground. It is under test in Helmand province, where a military push is being followed by civil development.

Mr Miliband’s speech shows that among leaders of the governments supporting President Karzai, the level of confidence is not, at this moment, high.

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