War, Afghanistan and Obama:
The Need for a New Direction
The Syracuse Peace Council endorses some of the steps taken by the Obama administration. These include reversing policy on US detention and interrogation practices, ordering the closing of the prison at Guantánamo Bay and initiating US troop withdrawal from Iraq. However, we are deeply concerned about the planned military escalation in Afghanistan. We seek President Obama's commitment to radically change US foreign policy in Afghanistan and throughout the world. The PNL compiled the following article from several fact sheets published by United for Peace and Justice (www.unitedforpeace.org).
Escalation is NOT the Answer
There is no "military solution" in Afghanistan. Obama's advisors say the war in Afghanistan "cannot be won on the battlefield" and military think tanks like the Rand Corporation agree that political, local law enforcement and peacekeeping solutions are a more effective alternative to surges in foreign military forces. Pentagon plans to send 30,000 more troops which will extend seven years of failed US strategy in Afghanistan. Ultimately, Afghan security must be led by Afghans.
Afghanistan has been a training ground for US torture. US torture of detainees did not originate at Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo. These practices - going back at least as far as the Viet Nam War - were exported from Bagram Air Base and other military prisons in Afghanistan. More military activity will mean more detentions, even while there is no policy to process the 600 currently held without charge at Bagram.
Americans, Europeans and Afghans do not support foreign military escalation that will cost many lives. At least 18,000 Afghans have been killed since the US invasion and tens of thousands of innocent people have been injured. Civilian casualties foster resentment among Afghans and distrust of their own government and US forces. Nearly 1,100 US and "coalition" troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion. Opposition to the US military campaign in Afghanistan is steadily increasing in the US, and most Europeans want their troops withdrawn from this disastrous NATO mission.
Connection with Pakistan
In terms of US foreign policy, Pakistan and Afghanistan are intertwined, and one cannot be considered without the other.
In the first hours of his presidency, Barack Obama ordered two strikes by unmanned Predator drone missiles on villages in a remote area of Pakistan. Twenty-one civilians were killed. This was the 38th such bombing by the US since August 2008. At least 132 civilians have lost their lives. We could never condone any bombing, but Obama's action begs the question: why bomb Pakistan? Why violate the sovereignty of our supposed ally?
In 1893 the British drew the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (then part of India), dividing the two countries in a remote, mountainous area. The dividing line bisects the Pashtun, a non-state nation of 42 million people straddling the border. The Taliban arose from the Pashtun, and it is to the Pashtun areas of Pakistan that the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces retreat when they need sanctuary. As part of its war in Afghanistan, the United States is bombing the Pashtun people of Pakistan.
For 30 years, the United States has used Pakistan to try to gain control of Afghanistan: first against the Soviets and after 9/11 against the Taliban. To this end, the United States has worked closely with Pakistan's notorious Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Since 9/11 the US has pumped billions of dollars in military aid into Pakistan. And, in exchange for services rendered, the US turned a blind eye to the development of Pakistan's nuclear program.
The result of these policies has been disaster. For months both the US and Pakistani governments said the drones were based in Afghanistan; but recently published satellite photos reveal that the planes fly from secret bases in Pakistan. This revelation will greatly increase tensions within Pakistan, especially in its Army. Thus the bombing strengthens the Taliban and weakens the central government, aggravating the country's instability. Any breakdown of stability in Pakistan - a nuclear power of 173 million people that has had five military coups and three wars with India since independence in 1947 - would be a danger to the region. To "save" Afghanistan, the United States is destabilizing Pakistan.
It is apparent that traditional military tactics will not bring about peace in Afghanistan. After eight years of US-led war, Afghans still lack jobs, clean water, food, electricity, health care and schools. The US has never really tried peace. US policy has helped violence and corruption to soar. Now misplaced hope in military solutions is preempting peaceful strategies. New approaches are imperative:
Transform the mission. Afghanistan won't begin to stabilize until Afghan needs, defined by Afghans, surge to the top of the international agenda. The US military's "counter-terrorism" mission since 9/11 has trumped protection of the people, despite al Qaeda's minor role in Afghanistan. Non-military aid likewise has put US special interests first. We must re-orient US policy to act on Afghans' behalf.
Foster justice, reform governance. Afghans say their top problems are government corruption, lack of judicial redress and lack of public services. US and NATO forces work with corrupt officials and hire local warlords to "protect the troops." As chaos spirals, local support for the hated Taliban grows because at least they promise order - their way. The US must pressure President Karzai to replace corrupt officials with competent, honest people. Other important steps would include support for the Reconciliation and Transitional Justice Plan and pushing for an independent international commission to investigate and redress grievances.
Surge real democracy and drop US support for shams. The US betrayed Afghans' hopes for representative government with sham "democracy." The upcoming August 2009 elections must be transparent and better monitored; war criminals must be barred from running. Intimidation of women in public life must be prevented, or Afghanistan will be deprived of their talent, vision and ardor for peace.
Surge genuine development aid, and have Afghans lead. Priorities are way out of whack. While pouring $100 million a day into military operations, the US has delivered only half its pledged $10.4 billion in humanitarian and development aid. And most of this has been wasted on ill-conceived projects, pricey consultants and crony contractors. Congress must change the law that requires USAID to give most contracts to US companies. It should fund small-scale cooperative efforts defined by communities for education, jobs, new skills and self-sufficiency. "Provincial reconstruction teams," which can't deliver on these needs but undermine the work of legitimate NGOs by militarizing aid, must be eliminated.
Surge diplomacy, but not by negotiating away Afghans' future or excluding women from the table. Peace talks must be transparent and led by widely respected male and female Afghans, not manipulated by foreigners. No more deals with warlords. No sellout of Afghans' rights for supposed stability. Launch a diplomatic effort with all regional players, including Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan and Central Asian states.
The peace movement needs to push for these alternative approaches to prevent failed policies from creating another US-led, Iraq-like military disaster. In doing so, we can build on some of the positive foreign policy steps already undertaken by the Obama administration.