September 23, 2009
The number of corpses of European soldiers sent back home from Afghanistan continues to rise without an end to the conflict in sight. Only this Monday, the Italians have buried six soldiers killed in action there, amid calls for concluding a peace soon – which reminds us of the Vietnam debacle.
Same day but on the other side of the Atlantic, Bob Woodward of Watergate fame has published in Washington Post a leaked report whose author, general Stanley A. McChrystal, threatens to resign if more troops are not sent to Afghanistan to contain the Taleban insurgency. The 66-page report of the ISAF general commander is addressed to Robert Gates and makes a gloomy assessment of the situation :
“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term … risks an outcome where defending the insurgency is no longer possible.” (Gen. S. McChrystal)
To achieve this, the general is asking for an extra 30,000 soldiers, mostly from the US. The UK is likely to send another 1,000 soldiers to strengthen the British contingent, the second largest after the US one.
According to Tom Coghlan, defence correspondent of The Times, Afghanistan is a country in shambles. In the south, rival criminal networks compete for drug revenues and Taleban insurgents seem to be winning the war against Western coalition forces. The Chazara, Tadjik, Uzbek and Turkmen minorities are unhappy with president Karzai and his monopoly on power. His regime is perceived as extremely corrupt and incapable of insuring the security of the country’s inhabitants. The Afghan state model, a highly centralized one, favours the Pashtun majority and the opium trade goes on unabated. According to Western observers, even the president’s brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, is a central figure in Afghanistan’s drug trade.
The lack of improvement in the living standards of Afghanis, the failure of the Western value system and statecraft solutions imposed there are a dangerous mix – one which, if unchanged, could insure the return of the country to fundamentalist Islamic values and the victory of the Taleban insurgency. This is bound to happen, especially if the Obama administration continues to prop up the discredited Karzai presidency and to drag its feet about committing more combat troops.
Diplomats present in Kabul now believe that the current situation calls for a Loya Jirga (traditional council of the elders in Afghanistan) with a mandate to draft another constitution and replace the Karzai regime’s people with credible leaders, maybe even invite moderate insurgent leaders to join into the country’s institutional reconstruction efforts. The sooner these military and political changes take place, the better for the soldiers in the field, as well as their worried families back home.Florian Pantazi