Monday, January 27, 2014

Abandoning Afghanistan

An article in today's New York Times raises a lot of issues surrounding the so-called "zero option," which would be a total pull-out of Afghanistan by the end of this year.

While the headline suggests that the drone program would be put in jeopardy, a lot more is at stake. Not only would total withdrawal simply turn over large portions of the country to the Taliban and the fundamentalist elements in Pakistan, it would pave the way to a return to civil war. That alone is enough to reject the zero option. 

As the article mentions, a major reason for our presence in Afghanistan is to keep an eye on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. While it is well known that Pakistan and India have arsenals aimed at each other  -- a sad homage to the paranoia that grips the region -- it's much more serious because Pakistan is apparently developing highly mobile "tactical" nukes. 

Given the inherent instability of Pakistan, its illusory control of the northwest provinces, and its widely accepted ties with and support of the Taliban, possession of tactical nuclear weapons poses a big problem.

It requires no stretch of the imagination to suspect that these exceedingly destructive weapons could fall into the hands of elements of the Taliban and/or the fractured and diverse incarnations of al-Qaeda.

The threat of this to both Afghanistan and Pakistan is obvious. But it doesn't stop there. The region is at stake as well.

Perhaps the best example is al-Qaeda's recent takeover of Fallujah, the bloody and bitterly contested city in Iraq. This is a clear and dangerous consequence of the US total pull-out of Iraq. 

Now Al-Qaeda militias control parts of Syria. They're scattered across northern Africa in countries such as northern Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, and Mali.

This makes a domestic threat to the US all the more real. 

Yes, this theme has been explored extensively already by thriller writers and Hollywood productions. At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, this is a real situation that is evolving slowly but surely.

Because of this, it is all the more important that the US abandon the zero option in Afghanistan. The threat posed by the region, if left to its own devices, is frighteningly real. 

There is historical precedent. The attacks of 9/11 were hatched by bin Laden while he was in Afghanistan. And where did he go to hide for more than a decade? Pakistan.

What is still more disconcerting is that the US policy makers are presenting Afghan President Hamid Karzai as an obstacle because he won't sign the agreement that would give us a long-term presence in Afghanistan.

This is absurd. Karzai is in office and is only alive, in fact, because the US put him there and keeps him there. Not only is the stability of the region dependent on US and NATO presence, so is US long-term security.

All of this is at risk because Karzai is throwing yet another irrational and self-destructive temper tantrum in a fake show that he cares about the Afghan people? No one in Afghanistan takes Karzai seriously, so why should the US?

It is apparent that by giving Karzai the credence that he does not deserve, the Obama administration is giving itself political cover for a possible total withdrawal.  

The US cannot abandon Afghanistan. There is far too much at stake, in the country, in the region, and at home for the US to pull out. It would be a huge mistake. 

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