Finally, An Afghan Exit Strategy

In a major policy turnaround, the US has revealed that it is working on an exit strategy from Afghanistan. Washington has already held discussions with its Nato allies as President Barack Obama prepares to unveil a new Afghan strategy.

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Published: Wed 25 Mar 2009, 11:35 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:33 AM

Speaking on “60 Minutes” on CBS this week, the new US president stressed, “there’s got to be an exit strategy.” Also, while singling out Al Qaeda for criticism, the US leader argued that the use of force alone couldn’t solve Afghanistan’s problems. So even though the proposed exit from Afghanistan may take a while to materialise, it is correlated to a number of factors that are likely to determine the withdrawal of not only the US but also other Nato forces that are fighting as part of an international coalition.

It would include, first, regaining control of area that is currently ceded to the insurgents (60 per cent of the country, according to independent estimates), second, to establish an effective national security force that is capable of fighting the insurgents, third, to strive for effective governance. Nato has already been considering withdrawal in three to four years. The Europeans have been facing immense domestic pressure and are reluctant to commit more troops despite US pressure.

In a departure from his predecessor’s goal of a ‘workable democracy’, Obama is seeking a more specific aim: the neutralisation of al Qaeda threat to the US. This confirms the US perception that Al Qaeda high command — principally Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri — are in Afghanistan. However, its significance stems from the fact that the president has stressed on rooting out Al Qaeda and has omitted mentioning the Taleban in this instance.

The key difference herein lies in a possible opening the US may be offering to the Taleban and other insurgent groups to distance themselves from Al Qaeda thereby isolating them. Though there have been renewed efforts at engaging the Taleban and other groups in dialogue, there has not been much success. The Taleban group under Mullah Omar and the Haqqani group have termed the dialogue efforts “a sham” and an effort to divide the resistance.

An outright rejection of dialogue may, however, be a hardline stance as other indications point to indirect dialogue with mediators in countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In short, efforts for dialogue should continue.

The US exit plan also affirms its intention to step up military confrontation in insurgent-controlled areas, particularly along the border with Pakistan considered crucial to the war. It would also entail renewed focus on weaning away the moderate factions from the extremists among the insurgents — emulating a successful Iraqi initiative against Al Qaeda. There’s also talk of strengthening Afghan national security capabilities and focusing on development and better governance. It is likely that the Karzai government may be replaced by a more effective and broad-based government. So Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan may not be dramatically different from that of his predecessor’s. But it’s more realistic and could succeed if the coalition deals with the insurgency as a resistance force enjoying popular support.

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