President Barack Obama’s surprise Afghan visit last week came at a time when the White House is finalising a long anticipated review of the costly war amidst embarrassing revelations of Wikileaks regarding mistrust between US and Afghan government.
The fact that Obama could not meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, during his short trip, did not help improve understanding between the two governments. However Obama sounded positive in his address to soldiers at US military base in Afghanistan. “We said we were going to break the Taliban’s momentum and that is what you are doing. You are going on the offense, tired of playing defence, targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their strongholds. Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future,” he said.
Despite Obama’s optimism, the real picture in Afghanistan is not that bright for US and allies. Recent leaked diplomatic cables exposed the deep misunderstanding between US government and Karzai administration.
According to Wikileaks, US ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry described President Karzai as a “paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building” adding that Karazai’s “vision for Afghanistan’s future relies too strongly on warlords, tribal chiefs and other personalities of the past who would be difficult to reconcile with our commitments to build strong government institutions and professional security forces.”
Eikenberry also highlighted the rampant corruption at the highest level of Afghan government and hinted at the involvement of President Kazai and his top aides in money-laundering practices.
On the other hand, the leaked documents also indicate that President Karzai does not trust US administration. According to Wikileaks, Karzai feared that White House had been trying to remove him from Afghan presidency. How could Obama hope for a victory in Afghan war with such a great trust deficit between the two key allies?
The visit, which was Obama’s second to Afghanistan as president will be followed by a White House review of Afghan war to be made public later this month. The experts believe that the review would not change the nature of Afghan war but it would decide the pace of US withdrawal from Afghanistan after July 2011.
Prior to the review, the US military officials in Afghanistan are claiming that they have significally weakened Taliban through their major operations in Marja and Kandahar. But analysts believe that the mid-December timing for the US review is tactically helping Pentagon to make heavy claims of gains against insurgents. These claims cannot be contradicted for at least a few months as the extreme winter in Afghanistan has halted Taliban temporarily from launching attacks on coalition forces.
However the actual war situation in Afghanistan is not that promising. The year 2010 has been the deadliest year for US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. According to independent website icasualties.org, 469 US soldiers had been killed until the first week of December this year. The number surpasses 317 for all of 2009, which was more than double the previous record of 155, set in 2008.
Overall, the total number of coalition causalities has reached 675 so far this year, which is a record since the US occupation began in 2001.
Afghan government-led efforts to initiate peace talks with Taliban had also suffered a major blow this year when it was revealed that a person believed to be representing Taliban in official talks was a fake.
For months, Nato planes ferried the man believed to be senior Taliban commanders Mullah Mansour back and forth from Pakistani tribal area to Kabul for secret talks with Afghan leaders. It was later confirmed that the man was an imposter and had since disappeared after pocketing large sums of money.
As expected, the blame game started soon after the debacle and US officials blamed British intelligence for sponsoring the imposter while British officials said the man was introduced to them by Afghan intelligence.
This incident indicates misgivings among allies in war on terror. Leaked diplomatic cables have also highlighted the differences between Islamabad, a key ally in war on terror, and Washington over Afghan war strategy. The two countries are apparently not on the same page when it comes to dealing with Afghan Taliban.
This grave situation calls for a genuine review of US political and military strategy in Afghanistan. The new strategy should incorporate serious efforts to remove misunderstanding among allies especially between Kabul and Washington. It should also include a clear plan for speedy transition of military role to Afghan forces. If the purpose is to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan, the efforts must be made to indicate that US and allies would respect the will of Afghans people.