Sunday, August 14, 2011

Obama's Catastrophic Afghan Policy.

The town of Charikar is as lovely as Afghan towns get. It's a bustling, lively and friendly place, set in the lap of a range of hills that overlook the lush and vast Shomali Plains. For as long as anyone can remember, Kabuli families have been making the bumpy journey north for camping weekends on the hillsides above the town, in the springtime of the year, when the flowers are in bloom.

Last year I stopped into Charikar with some friends for some of the thick and rich almond ice cream for which the town is famous. In a crowded sidestreet ice cream shop, the locals laughed and beamed as I wolfed mine down. Thumbs up all round. In the streets, the only military presence I noticed was a small American convoy, a couple of humvees and a troop carrier of some sort. Passersby waved and smiled at the soldiers and hurried about their business.

I can't help but wonder if the locals are so friendly to Americans, or to anyone who might be mistaken for an American, now that President Barack Obama is offering the hated Taliban every possible incentive to fight harder and more savagely to ensure themselves a post-2014 role in the Afghan government. Plumping the cushions in Kabul for Taliban mass-murderers is now the official (and apparently the only) American strategy in Afghanistan. In his triumphant speech following the US Navy SEALs' daring and successful execution of Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama explicitly instructed the Afghan people to reconcile themselves to Mullah Omar and his blood-soaked coterie, by 2014. This is what "winning" is now supposed to look like. Are American soldiers still greeted with casual friendliness in Charikar?

When Canadian Forces delivered control over the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team to the United States last year, it was hailed as the most successful PRT in all Afghanistan, and the model for the future. Kandahar is lately beginning to resemble something like a rabbit disappearing down the gullet of a giant snake. Today, in Charikar - peaceful, friendly Charikar, capital of Parwan province - they're picking up bits and pieces of 22 dead people and more than 30 wounded in a Taliban suicide attack on the headquarters of Parwan provincial governor Abdul Basir Salangi. The governor is putting on as brave a face as he can: "Parwan is still considered a peaceful province.”

And the Taliban are still considered the Taliban by sensible people, no matter how many uplifting speeches Obama might make. "Settlement with that type of group is a disaster for Afghanistan," Amrullah Saleh, a key leader in Afghanistan's emerging Basej-e-meli democratic front, has once again warned. Saleh is the former head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security. He was fighting Talibs long before September 11, 2001 and he has been fighting them in and out of government ever since. Whether Saleh will be fighting the Taliban after 2014 is a question that is at the moment as unanaswerable as this one: After 2014, if America is still in the fight at all, which side will Obama be on?

There will be no Afghan women's delegation at the upcoming Bonn conference on Afghanistan. Ryan Crocker, the new American ambassador to Afghanistan has made that much plain: "There is going to be one Afghan delegation and it is going to be led by the government of Afghanistan." Does the United States object to the Taliban being there? Say Crocker: That's all up to Hamid Karzai.


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