A War of Necessity?

Time seems to be running out for the Allied forces in Afghanistan. With the clock ticking louder and louder, the United States is in a deeper quandary than its other allies.

By Faryal Leghari

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Published: Mon 24 Aug 2009, 12:26 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:47 AM

Trying hard to quell the deep rumblings of discontent amongst its NATO partners, with every falling soldier in the battlefields of southern Afghanistan, it faces a momentous challenge on multiple fronts. Even as the British casualty figures crossed 200 in the recent operations launched in the restive Helmand province, questions about the necessity of the war have risen to a crescendo, sparking furious debate all over Britain, as well as Europe.

In response to the growing disenchantment with the United States-led war that seems unnecessary and unwinnable to an increasing number of people in NATO states, the head of US Central Command, General David Petraeus recently commented on the viability of the war. While advocating the need for the ongoing engagement, Petraeus has also warned of time running short for the international forces. The international coalition is expected to show progress under the strategy deployed at present before the US Congressional elections taking place in November 2010. In addition, according to Petraeus, the reasons for waging this specific war should serve as an important reminder to those who may question its viability in the long term.

The specific purpose for fighting the war in Afghanistan has been to destroy, dismantle and defeat the Al Qaeda, as outlined by US President Barack Obama in his revised strategy for Afghanistan. Relentless US pressure on allied NATO states to commit more military personnel was met with obdurate refusal to do so. Even as the US sent additional forces and took over operational command from NATO, the disgruntlement as the operations intensify, continues to grow. While it is difficult to argue against the US position that it is a war of necessity and not of choice, the bigger question emerging from the thickening fog of dusty battles revolves around the discourse of choice and necessity. The war according to Petraeus is Obama’s war of necessity not one of choice. Indeed, if weighed against the backdrop of Al Qaeda’s lethality, the necessity factor does win hands up. Still it may be wise to question the necessity of fighting a nationalist insurgency that was forced in an alliance with the Al Qaeda at the times of US attacks in 2001. It may be wise to recall that Mullah Omar himself was not too partial to either the Al Qaeda ideology or leadership, despite his refusal to hand them to the Saudis and later the US. Isolation and condemnation of the Taleban regime only served to harden their resolve thereby forcing them to forge a marriage of convenience with the terrorist outfit. That choice for the Taleban was one made from necessity; it is not a holy scripture that cannot be rewritten.

If we were to assume that the situation was to worsen — as predicted by General Petraeus — this would naturally mean more Allied Forces casualties. It would also mean more civilian casualties, though the new US Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal has made it a point to keep minimal civilian casualties as the corner stone of his operations. But given the geographical perspective and the nature of the guerrilla-based insurgency, civilians will inevitably be sacrificed to a considerable extent. Interestingly, Petraeus known for his military acumen, previously demonstrated in Iraq, has his nose to the ground as far as realistic assessments go. Not only has he conceded that the insurgency is of ‘industrial strength,’ Petraeus has stressed on the necessity to engage the insurgents and hold talks — at least on the low level — stressing, that it was impossible for the international forces to otherwise kill or capture their way out of the insurgency. Though this may not have made headlines since talks of possible engagement with the moderate factions of the insurgency had already been discussed, but it is noteworthy, coming at this juncture. Even with the military operations underway in the insurgent strongholds in the south and east, the growing consensus among the US and NATO military commanders is to intensify efforts to hold talks with the insurgents.

The Afghan elections on August 20 have seen only a 40-50 per cent turnout compared to 70 per cent in the last elections held in 2004. Fear of the insurgents, attacks and growing disillusionment with the government that failed miserably on deliverables both on the security front as well as socio-economically were the main reasons for the low turnout.

Even so, defiance of the insurgents call to abstain from voting in what was called a Western sponsored sham exercise is commendable on part of those Afghans who did participate in the voting. While the election outcome stands contested between incumbent President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, the bigger concern is about the challenges lying ahead for the new government.

There is increased focus on reinvigorating efforts at rebuilding the socio-economic sectors as well as on reintegrating disparate groups in order to reduce opposition to the international presence. By incorporating the political and socio-economic development as integral components, the new strategy seems to be set in the right direction. The problem lies in implementation, both for the US and the Afghan leadership, that to date, has only managed to sink deeper in the quicksand of corruption and ineffective governance. The next leadership would have to take stock of past mistakes and start delivering.

Besides, the US taking greater responsibility in battlefield operations, it also needs to focus on expansion and training of Afghan security forces, thus shifting responsibility to them in the long run. In addition, ensuring security with minimal civilian casualties is now deemed imperative to success in the war efforts. Moreover, with the settling of the dust post-elections, the need to renew efforts to break the deadlock with the insurgents is equally important, as advised by Petraeus.

Faryal Leghari is KT’s Assistant Editor. She can be reached at faryal@khaleejtimes.com

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