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Critique of President Obama's Afghanistan/Pakistan Strategy

March 31, 2009

In presenting his Afghanistan/Pakistan policy to the nation on March 27, President Obama said we must escalate the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan to protect the U.S. from Al Qaeda terrorism. But people are tired of such scare tactics, sick of endless wars which only increase violence. United for Justice with Peace calls for a new policy which withdraws U.S. troops, prioritizes diplomacy, and repairs the damage we have already caused.

President Obama stated that we are fighting in Afghanistan to protect the U.S. from Al Qaeda terrorism. But the rebels in Afghanistan are not Al Qaeda – they are fighting against foreign occupation and for their version of Islam, not to threaten the U.S. or other countries. As a recent RAND report confirmed, military action is the least effective means of responding to terrorism (working in only 7% of the cases studied) – political engagement, economic development, education, and police work are far smarter. More than 7,000 Afghan civilians have been killed by U.S. military action in Afghanistan, compared to the 9/11 death toll of 3,067.

President Obama stated that the U.S. did not choose the Afghanistan war and that we were forced into it by the 9/11 attacks. But it was President Bush’s choice to define a crime – the 9/11 attacks -- as an act of war, and to respond with military means. Pres. Obama has unfortunately not challenged Bush’s mistaken identification of criminal terrorists as “soldiers” fighting a “war”. The U.S. itself had created and armed the very forces we are now fighting -- the U.S. government organized, armed and funded Afghan jihadis to fight the Soviets in the 1970s. Pakistan’s military, supported by U.S. aid, similarly created the Taliban in the 1990s.

Pres. Obama was right when he said that a return of Afghanistan to Taliban rule would mean brutal government and denial of human rights to the Afghan people, especially women and girls. But he forgot to say that the regime of Hamid Karzai is little better. Support for warlords, corruption, involvement in the opium trade, and inability to enforce the rule of law, coupled with U.S. air attacks and night raids on civilians, means that the situation of the Afghan people including oppression of women, rape and lawlessness are now as bad or worse in most parts of Afghanistan as they were under the Taliban regime, according to Afghan women’s organizations. Instead of military approaches we need to support Afghan civil society in their efforts to end impunity of all armed groups.

Obama said that the U.S. is not in Afghanistan to control that country or dictate its future. But Hamid Karzai was chosen leader at the Bonn Conference in December 2001 because of U.S. support, not because of his standing in the country. In 2004 the U.S. also interfered with the Afghan elections, ensuring that former warlords could run instead of being prosecuted for their crimes. Now, press reports say the U.S. is pondering how to downsize the Afghan president’s position to a figurehead and install a new leader to exercise real power. With such manipulations in the background, talk about safeguarding this year’s elections is not about helping Afghans exercise their right to choose their leaders. It is really about the U.S. strategic aim to control the region.

Pres. Obama said he will shift the emphasis of the U.S. military mission to training Afghan security forces, setting targets of 132,000 for the Afghanistan National Army and 82,000 for the police force. But such enormous numbers are unsustainable for Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, and an oversized army has oversized political influence. With a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces as proposed even by President Karzai, and a reduction of regional tensions, Afghanistan can defend itself without mortgaging its future.

While most expected Pres. Obama to call for negotiations to resolve the Afghan insurgency, he did not do so. Instead he called only for a sham “reconciliation” process in which Afghans who have worked for the Taliban will be paid to switch sides. But this model would further fragment the country and build up warlords. Only Afghans can choose their political direction. In a positive sign, the Afghanistan National Council of Ulemma (religious scholars) recently called for a new Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly), which would involve all Afghan groups and bodies and be mediated by the Saudi king.

Pres. Obama professed admiration for the Pakistani people because they have struggled for their democracy. He should have mentioned who and what they are struggling against – rule by a small elite, and against a continual cycle of military dictatorships, supported by huge amounts of U.S. military aid. Pakistan’s oversized military, fifth largest in the world, has dominated since the 1950s. The U.S. should end, rather than increase, its colossal aid to the military. Since last summer U.S. Predator drones have been raining death on Pakistani tribal areas, killing civilians as well as militants. New plans to expand air attacks to the Quetta area will further enrage Pakistanis. The U.S. should focus on nurturing negotiations between India and Pakistan rather than sending arms to either.

Pres. Obama promised a $7.5 billion development aid package for Pakistan over 5 years, but said little about reconstructing a devastated Afghanistan. While people in both countries have real needs, this money will not be well spent unless the U.S. changes the way it spends foreign aid. As Oxfam said in a recent report on the U.S. Afghan aid program, “there has been limited success in part because the US uses foreign aid to achieve short-term or security objectives”. 60% of U.S. “foreign aid” spending never leaves the U.S., so that wheat is purchased in North Dakota and shipped to Afghanistan, while Afghan farmers are priced out of the market and turn to poppy cultivation. Still more aid is wasted on high-priced Western consultants, skimmed off in bribes, or used to support military strategies which have little to do with human development. To be effective, development aid must be locally directed and managed by the people of each country.

The proposal to designate portions of Pakistan as “Reconstruction Opportunity Zones” is a scheme to enmesh Pakistan in a global economic web which could only increase the glaring inequities in Pakistani society. Cooperative enterprise and production for the domestic and regional market is the economic model both Pakistan and Afghanistan should follow, and Pakistan needs land reform.

Pres. Obama said the U.S. will enlist its NATO allies and other countries in its Afghanistan/Pakistan project. But few if any other major countries are on board with the new policy, which sends the signal that the U.S. is not interested in giving up control of its Afghan adventure or U.S. bases there. NATO should go back to Europe. A real international peace conference for Afghanistan should be called, grouping India, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China, the U.N. and others to address regional security and establish a new international peacekeeping body to replace U.S. and NATO forces.

SPEAK UP NOW. Call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111, its switchboard at 202-456-1414, and the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121, and ask for an end to the U.S war in Afghanistan and Pakistan

UFPJ Obama's A-P Strategy.doc217.5 KB