|November 13, 2001||atimes.com|
Rotten deals bound to prolong war
Two months after September 11 and five weeks after the first shots in retaliation were fired in anger, chin-up Washington opinion - by some counts, informed and sophisticated - has it that the war on terror is "meeting targets". As those targets have not been revealed, we can't dispute such claims. But if what's been accomplished to date has accomplished US and allied war planners' goals, we pity their strategic vision and deplore their tactical acumen.
A just and justifiable war to eradicate global terrorist capabilities and punish or end regimes and states helping to sustain them has in effect been reduced to a war against a government, with much "collateral damage" to the people of one of the poorest countries on earth - and even that's going badly enough for there to be no early end in sight. The problem, as can be expected, is politics.
On the weekend, after Taliban forces had retreated from Mazar-e-Sharif and were apparently relinquishing more territory to the Northern Alliance on the road down to the Afghan capital of Kabul, the US government got nervous. "We will encourage our friends to head south ... but not into the city of Kabul itself," said US President Bush at a joint news conference with visiting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday. Musharraf was quick to agree. "If they [Northern Alliance forces] do [enter Kabul], we'll see the same kind of atrocities being perpetuated against the people there" as after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan more than a decade ago, he said.
With his remarks, Bush acknowledged publicly for the first time what aides said has been the military strategy from the start: to keep the Northern Alliance from taking Kabul without some kind of post-Taliban governing arrangement being in place that would involve all major segments of Afghan society. A day earlier, US Secretary of State Colin Powell had said Kabul should be an "open city" in the post-Taliban era.
All this is frightfully wrong (not to call it plain old stupid), militarily and politically. In military terms - as Gen Powell, in particular, should certainly know - when you have seized the initiative and are on a roll, you don't just stop the tanks in mid-field. With Mazar-e-Sharif taken and, by latest reports, also the key western city of Herat, seizing Kabul before the enemy is able to regroup would likely be a less than overwhelming task and minimize casualties. It would also quickly insulate the eastern city of Jalalabad and throw the Taliban forces back on their southeastern strongholds in the Kandahar region.
Politically, in the face of such setbacks to Mullah Omar's hardliners, it would then become obvious if so-called moderate Taliban forces actually exist and come forward for inclusion in a post-Taliban government. But the time to talk is then, not now. Neither is this the time to make more deals with Pakistan. The Musharraf government has had six to seven weeks since it first decided to collaborate with the US in the war on terror to prove its influence with the Taliban and produce the "moderates" it wants to see represented in a new government. It has produced nothing of the sort. It is undoubtedly necessary for the ethnic Pashtun majority of Afghanistan to be prominently represented in a future Kabul set-up. But appropriate Pashtun leaders will come forward once they see that the Taliban are being defeated or have lost, not if they perceive indecision in the face of victory.
As for the broader US war strategy, where is it? For the time being, the number of "rogue" states worldwide that support terror has been reduced to one. That makes counting easier, but is hardly reassuring - except to those now hiding under or behind the Powell coalition skirts. Perhaps dragging the Afghan war out is deliberate Washington strategy to prepare action elsewhere while no one is looking. But frankly, we doubt that. In any case, it's dead wrong to prolong a war in a country in desparate need of aid and reconstruction when decisive action could win it in the near term. Seizure of Kabul would deal the Taliban the decisive military and psychological blow; sparing it - contrary to Musharraf - would merely prolong and intensify the suffering.
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