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    South Asia
     Aug 19, 2009
The US has a plan for Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chances of being re-elected on Thursday for a second four-year term received a major boost on Monday with the return from exile of ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has added his considerable weight to Karzai's campaign.

In the bigger picture, though, whether or not Karzai is re-elected, Afghanistan's troubled neighbor Pakistan, and its United States ally, are preparing the ground for a broad-based post-election consensus government that it is envisaged would play a pivotal role in defeating the Taliban-led insurgency.

The plan is based on one implemented in Pakistan last year which saw a pro-US civilian government elected into power. That

 

government in Islamabad has had a high level of success in cracking down on militancy in the tribal areas.

The latest polls show Karzai some way ahead of his main rival, former foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah, but it remains doubtful that Karzai has enough support to win 51% of the votes cast, which he needs to avoid a runoff with the second-placed candidate. Other challengers include former planning minister Ramzan Bashardost and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.

Dostum went into exile in Turkey eight months ago over allegations of beating up a political rival. His unexpected return will solidify the support of the million-strong Uzbek community behind Karzai. Last week, the Pashtun president received a pledge of support from another powerful figure - Tajik Ismail Khan, a mujahideen hero from the western city of Herat.



Regional positioning
The Pakistani ambassador to Kabul recently visited the Panjshir Valley in north-central Afghanistan, where he paid his respects to the shrine of slain Tajik Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was known as the "Lion of Panjshir". The envoy met with top leaders of the Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan, an Islamic political party, as well as with Abdullah.

The meeting was significant in that Abdullah is traditionally portrayed in Pakistan as close to India and Iran. Islamabad is clearly resurrecting the ties the Pakistani military establishment once had with northern leaders. These links were broken when Pakistan threw its support behind the Taliban when they came to power in the mid-1990s. The wheel has turned full circle, as Pakistan is also pulling back from its support of the the Pashtun Taliban.

"This is more or less the same plan the Americans designed in Pakistan in 2007 when they finalized a plan of a broad-based, pro-West secular and liberal coalition alliance to be elected in the 2008 elections to form a consensus government which would provide the support to the Pakistan army for its coordination in the US-led 'war on terror'. It was planned that the whole setup would be overseen by a civilian Pakistani president," a senior Western diplomat told Asia Times Online in Kabul.

"An identical plan has been drawn for Afghanistan and all regional and international powers are on board for that purpose. The plan involves a role for all major [Afghan] players and there is a chance that after the elections, parliament will be more and more empowered and that the position of chief executive will be created - he would work in coordination with parliament and the president," the diplomat continued.

"It is also planned to escalate a training program for at least 100,000 Afghan soldiers who would be able to work independently within the next two years. At the same time, intense efforts are going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan to strike as many deals as possible with the lower and middle cadre of the Taliban. The aim is to get them to lay down their arms and be a part of the next parliamentary elections. There is a high hope that through this plan an Afghan turnaround will be possible in the coming years," the diplomat said.

The US has tried various approaches in the eight years since it led the invasion of Afghanistan that threw the Taliban out of power. Yet the insurgency rages stronger than ever. Similarly, many policies were adopted in Pakistan to crack militancy in the tribal areas, which feeds directly into Afghanistan. Finally, it appears the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari is doing the business.

This is the rationale behind the concept of a broad-based government in Kabul that would incorporate the main players, especially through the establishment of a "chief executive" position. Karzai, win or lose, would be involved, as would Abdullah, and most likely heavyweights such as Bashardost and Ghani.

Afghanistan is not Pakistan, though, and bringing assorted warlords and traditional tribal leaders into one cohesive administration will be no easy task.

Britain's General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff, has qualified his remarks that Afghanistan will require development assistance for "twenty, thirty, forty years - who knows how long it will take"?

But it will take time, and during that time the Taliban will not be sitting idly by, even if, as Western diplomatic circles in Kabul would have it, their promises to disrupt Thursday's polls turn out to be the climax of their insurgency.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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