Obama asked to change Afghan policy


LAHORE: Academics, journalists and NGO members, through a letter, asked US President Obama to change the American strategy in Afghanistan and underlined the need to go for a direct dialogue and negotiations with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan.
“The cost of the war is now over $120 billion per year for the United States alone. This is unsustainable in the long run. Despite these huge costs, the situation on the ground is much worse than it was a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has increased across the country, the letter says.
The letter further says that with Pakistan’s active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution. The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure.
“It is time to implement an alternative strategy that would allow the United States to exit Afghanistan while safeguarding its legitimate security interests.
The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them. We ask you to support a direct dialogue and negotiations with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan, the letter states.
Those signing the letter include Ahmed Rashid, Gilles Dorronsoro visiting scholar (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) and author of Revolution Unending), Antonio Giustozzi, Anatol Lieven, Alex Strick van Linschoten, Matthieu Aikins, Scott Atran, Anthropologist (University of Michigan) and author of Talking to the Enemy, Rupert Talbot Chetwynd, Robert Abdul Hayy Darr (author of The Spy of the Heart and humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan during the 1980s and early 1990s), David B. Edwards, Jason Elliot (author of An Unexpected Light), Antonio Giustozzi (author of Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop and editor of Decoding the New Taliban, Shah Mahmoud Hanifi (associate professor, James Madison University), Daniel Korski (senior policy fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations), Felix Kuehn (Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban), Minna Jarvenpaa (former head of Analysis and Policy Planning, UNAMA), Anatol Lieven, Bob McKerrow, Alessandro Monsutti, Nir Rosen, Gerard Russell, Astri Surkhe, Yama Torabi and Matt Waldman.
“The operations in the south of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and in Helmand provinces, are not going well. What was supposed to be a population-centred strategy is now a full-scale military campaign causing civilian casualties and destruction of property.
Night raids have become the main weapon to eliminate suspected Taliban, but much of the Afghan population sees these methods as illegitimate. Due to the violence of the military operations, we are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Pashtun countryside, with a direct effect on the sustainability of the war.
Drone strikes in Pakistan have a marginal effect on the insurgency, but are destabilising Pakistan,” the letter further says.
The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure. Military action may produce local and temporary improvements in security, but those improvements are neither going to last nor be replicable in the vast areas not garrisoned by Western forces without a political settlement.
“The 2014 deadline to put the Afghan National Army in command of security is not realistic. Considering the quick disappearance of the state structure at a district level, it is difficult to envision a strong army standing alone without any other state institutions around. The Taliban are a long-term part of the Afghan political landscape, and we need to try and negotiate with them in order to reach a diplomatic settlement,” the signatories to the letter say.
“The current contacts between the Karzai government and the Taliban are not enough. The United States must take the initiative to start negotiations with the insurgents and frame the discussion in such a way that American security interests are taken into account.
The Taliban will likely be stronger next year. The current policy will put the United States into a very difficult position,” the letter concludes.