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Listen to General Petraeus

Filed on October 19, 2008

It is said that war is too important a business to be left to the Generals. US commander General David Petraeus seems to understand the dictum. His latest pronouncement, while reviewing the Afghan war strategy, calling for a political solution to the conflict offers some welcome reality check in Washington.

His initiative to broaden the scope of dialogue by bringing on board all the stakeholders, including Taleban and Pakistan, can be the first step in the right direction.

General Petraeus, who will shortly take over the US Central Command in Middle East and South Asia, is busy these days in formulating a strategy to pull his country out of the quagmire.

Reports say he is also giving due consideration to the political-cum-economic orientation of the conflict. The four-star-general, famed for convincing the White House to negotiate an exit

timetable with the Iraqi government, has spelt out a three-pronged strategy of: reconciliation with the Taleban; Kabul’s rapprochement with Islamabad and making good use of diplomatic and economic leverages. The good General has also warned that the spiralling violence means the US could be stuck forever in Afghanistan.

Gen. Petraeus’s advice comes on the heels of recommendations by America’s 16 intelligence agencies that advocate a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Similarly, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General David McKiernan believe that Pentagon’s insistence on a military solution is “unattainable and impractical”.

So far so good! But what should be of concern to everyone involved is the dichotomy at work in the Bush administration. Petraeus and Mullen see logic in talks, whereas Defence Secretary Robert Gates insists on committing more troops. Similarly, Nato, especially Germany, is being convinced by Pentagon to send in at least 3,000 more troops for ‘fighting terrorism’. And then there are endless cross-border missile attacks and drone surveillance inside Pakistan — in utter contempt for the country’s sovereignty.

It’s about time the US accepted a couple of harsh realities: that the Taleban are staging a comeback and are a political force to be reckoned with; the amount of Afghan land under opium cultivation has grown from 20,000 acres in 2001 to 476,000 last year; and a weak and ineffective President Karzai has taken to blame game with Pakistan, and survives on the political support of warlords.

Afghanistan is yet to recover from decades of war and oppression. Its majority either lives in Diaspora or mud-brick homes in the country with no access to basic utilities. Lawlessness, drug-trade and corruption have only grown under the coalition’s presence.

Last but not the least, its spiralling effect has pushed Pakistan and the region into the arms of extremism and socio-political instability. The United States neither has the luxury of abandoning Afghanistan now nor can it prolong its offensive strategy.

The writing is on the wall for the Bush administration. Its post 9/11 misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost thousands of lives, and destabilised the entire region. The war-ravaged country, and the region at large, demands a broad-based political approach. President Bush, at the fag end of his tenure, has no choice but to pay attention to his Generals’ advice for a change in strategy.


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