|From Juan Cole:
1. Obama's plan depends heavily on training 100,000 new soldiers and
100,000 new policemen over the next three years. It has taken 8 years
to train the first 100,000 soldiers fairly well, and the same period
for the Europeans to train a similar number of police badly. Can the
pace really be more than doubled and quality results still obtained?
2. Obama's plan assumes that there can be a truly national Afghan
army. But the current one is disproportionately Tajik and signally
lacks troops from the troubled Helmand and Qandahar provinces. Unless
the ethnic tensions are eased, training a big army could well provoke
an anti-Tajik backlash in Pashtun regions that feel occupied.
3. Obama's goal to "break the Taliban's momentum" may well fail. Only
20 percent of insurgencies in modern times are defeated in a decisive
4. The US counter-insurgency plan assumes that Pashtun villagers
dislike and fear the Taliban, and just need to be protected from them
so as to stop the politics of intimidation. But what if the villagers
are cousins of the Taliban and would rather support their clansmen
than white Christian foreigners?
5. Obama is demanding that Pakistan help destroy the Taliban movement,
a historical ally of Pakistan in Afghanistan. While Pakistan now has
good reason to attempt to wipe out the Pakistani Taliban Movement,
which has committed a good deal of terrorism against the country,
Islamabad has no reason to attack the Afghan guerrilla groups fighting
Karzai. They are fellow Muslims, and are Pashtuns (as are 12 percent
of Pakistanis), and dislike India. The Northern Alliance elements in
the Karzai government, which have recently grown stronger, are
pro-India. Obama is asking Pakistan to betray its national interests,
which is not realistic in the absence of some much bigger carrot than
a few billion dollars in foreign aid.
6. Obama asserts that although the Afghan presidential election was
marked by fraud, the results (the victory of Hamid Karzai) are
legitimate within the constitutional framework. But isn't it possible
that Karzai has decisively lost legitimacy among broad sections of the
Afghan public, wounding him as a partner in working for a recognition
of the legitimacy of a greatly expanded foreign occupation army in the
7. Obama is demanding accountability from cabinet members in
Afghanistan and offering agricultural and economic aid. But 15 present
and former cabinet members are under investigation for massive
embezzlement, and 7 key ministries were only able to spend 40% of
their budget allocation last year. Isn't Obama counting on a culture
of official probity and a governmental capacity that simply does not
exist in Kabul? What happens when there is more cabinet-level
corruption and when the Ministry of Agriculture once again just can't
spend the money Obama gives it?
8. Obama assumes that the US is not fighting a broadbased insurgency
in Afghanistan. This assumption is true in the sense that there is
zero support for Taliban or Sunni extremists among Tajiks, Hazaras,
Uzbeks, and a majority of Pashtuns. But if we looked at the equivalent
of counties in Helmand, Qandahar and some other Pashtun provinces, we
might find substantial swathes of territory where the insurgency is in
fact broadly based. Moreover, Pashtun guerrillas can count on a
certain amount of sympathy from other Pashtuns in their struggle
against foreign forces-- including the 20-some million Pashtuns of
Pakistan. If the issue is not the "cancer" of extremist ideology, but
a form of religious Pashtun anti-imperialism, then that could be the
basis for a broadly based movement.
9. Obama maintains that the "Taliban" have in recent years made common
cause with "al-Qaeda" in seeking to overturn the Karzai government.
But although the Taliban control 10-15% of Afghanistan, there are no
al-Qaeda operatives to speak of in Afghanistan. That does not sound
like much of a common cause. By confusing the Taliban with al-Qaeda,
and by confusing the Taliban with other Pashtun guerrilla groups such
as Hikmatyar's Hizb-i Islami, Obama risks making the struggle a black
and white one, whereas it has strong regional, ethnic and nationalist
overtones (see 8 above). Black and white struggles are much more
difficult to negotiate to a settlement.
10. The biggest threat of derailment comes from an American public
facing 17 percent true unemployment and a collapsing economy who are
being told we need to spend an extra $30 billion to fight less than
100 al-Qaeda guys in the mountains of Afghanistan, even after the
National Security Adviser admitted that they are not a security threat
to the US.