Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Bit Of A Surprise

I rarely am shocked by the stuff I find at Watching America, but I must admit I blinked a couple of times yesterday. I just didn't expect to find an opinion piece in the English-language version of Al Jazeera co-authored by a US Congressman. The piece, a well-written essay on what the US really needs to do in Afghanistan, was written by Hekmat Karzai (the director of the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies based in Kabul, Afghanistan) and US Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA) (Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus's Afghanistan Taskforce). Their advice is right on the money, in my opinion.

Here are a couple of their points:

The precedent of pursuing solely military solutions in a country where insecurity runs rampant across political, economic and social spectrums is being rethought and revamped. This is a good thing.

What must also remain front and centre in all decision-making, however, is the constant query for what Afghans want and how to move operations quickly towards Afghan ownership. Most policies fall far short of these two goals.

A failure to win the hearts and minds of Afghans is a failure to win the security the US is seeking at home and abroad. On three critical fronts - security, governance and development - these shortcomings are evident.

Security, arguably the Afghan and foreign governments' primary objective, is seriously struggling, but not for the reasons that one is led to believe. ...

A primary reason why the security sector is struggling is because the attrition rate is dangerously high due to poor wages, soaring casualty rates, insufficient training, and the fact that the soldiers and police are deployed away from their homes to other provinces where they are viewed as outsiders.

The low recruitment rates for Pashtuns in the south and southeast hardly helps either.

Additionally, some 2,000 US trainer positions for the Afghan army and police have remained unfilled for the second year running. ...

Lastly, the development agenda needs rethinking as Afghans see a foreign disinterest in the building of their country's capacity. ...

Afghan alternatives - like the government’s Community Development Councils, which fund locally elected councils to design and manage their own projects - should be the focus instead.

In order to build Afghan ownership and capacity, contractors may need to forego the actual building and instead redistribute the funds into Afghan institutions and initiatives like the CDCs as foreign affiliation with the CDCs will put council members at immediate risk.
[Emphasis added]

What Mr. Karzai and Congressman Honda are urging is that the US actually listen to the people of Afghanistan and tailor our plans accordingly. This war cannot be won militarily: the Soviets learned this the hard way, as did the British before them. The most we can hope for is the rebuilding of the country in ways that are acceptable and even desired by the people of that country. And then we should go home.

I am both pleased with and proud that Congressman Honda has shown the courage to provide this essay to Al Jazeera. He will clearly be a target by every conservative on both sides of the aisle for his efforts. He did the right thing, however. His advice is not radical, it is commonsensical.

From your lips, Mr. Honda, to the president's ear.



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