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The Wrong Man for the Job
Posted on Jan 23, 2009
By Scott Ritter
It is highly doubtful that Holbrooke will bring anything more to the table than cheerleading. President Obama’s stated intention to increase the size of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and to more forcefully assert U.S.-imposed “security” through continued military action in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan is a dangerous scheme, one Holbrooke will enthusiastically support. Reinforcing failure is never a sound solution. Take it from the veteran British military officers who have served in Afghanistan and now advise that there is no military solution to the Afghan problem. Listening to advice like that would go a long way toward developing stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan and neutralizing al-Qaida’s ability to organize and operate in those nations. The British recognize that the Taliban is not the problem, but rather part of the solution to what ails Afghanistan.
There will be no peace without a negotiated settlement that includes the Taliban. To accomplish this, leadership is required which recognizes the Taliban as a force of moderation, and not extremism. Holbrooke does not have a record which indicates he would be willing to consider direct negotiations with the Taliban. He tends to seek military solutions to difficult ethnic-based problems, and he is likely to argue for the deployment of even more U.S. troops to that war-ravaged nation. That would be a historic mistake.
Instability within Afghanistan continues to bleed over into Pakistan. As the United States pushes for a more effective military solution, there will be even greater pressures placed on U.S. leadership to become directly involved in Pakistan. The recent events in Mumbai, where Pakistani-based terrorists killed scores of innocent civilians, only underscore the inherent instability of Pakistan, which is fighting its own internal struggle against the forces of Islamic fundamentalism. Increased American military operations against Taliban and al-Qaida forces operating inside Pakistan will be a direct result of any increased U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Such military operations will only increase the influence of Islamic fundamentalists inside Pakistan, while doing little to halt the efforts of the Taliban inside Afghanistan.
The radicalization of Pakistan has potentially disastrous implications for Pakistani-Indian relations. There is already increased talk about the possibility of war between these two nuclear-armed regional powers. Any conflict between India and Pakistan, nuclear or not, brings with it the likelihood of a breakdown of central authority within Pakistan, and would even further empower radical Islamic fundamentalists. That would bring the possibility that sensitive nuclear material, up to and including a nuclear device, would fall into their control. Such an outcome is the stuff of nightmares.
Square, Site wide
The cause-and-effect relationship between what the United States does inside Afghanistan and what occurs inside Pakistan cannot be ignored by American policymakers. As such, the goal of any U.S. special envoy to the region should be to stabilize the internal Afghan situation and de-emphasize cross-border military operations into Pakistan. Any effort which embraces the Taliban as part of a new Afghan reality would, by extension, eliminate the need to strike Taliban strongholds inside Pakistan. With the Taliban co-opted as a part of the central Afghan government, the forces of al-Qaida would lose their effectiveness, as any effort to continue to fight in Afghanistan would invariably pit them against their former allies. Reduction of hostilities in Afghanistan would create a similar reduction in hostilities in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan. This in turn would result in a reduction of events which could be used by fundamentalists to justify radical behavior. And a reduction in radical Islamic fundamentalism would in turn allow for a more stable, moderate Pakistani government operating in a manner not only conducive to peace in Afghanistan but also peace with India and the entire region.
To embrace such a policy, the United States needs to contract the services of a U.S. special envoy capable of visionary thinking, one who possesses the political courage to stand up to a president and a secretary of state and argue against bad policy. I do not believe Holbrooke is such a man. As a result, I fear that the Obama administration will find the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan continuing to deteriorate to the detriment of American national security, and will increasingly waste time and energy in a period of so many problems at home and abroad. Afghanistan does not need to be one of these problems, but the selection of Richard Holbrooke as U.S. special envoy bodes ill for the prospect of lasting peace and security in a volatile region.
Scott Ritter, a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, is the author of “Waging Peace” (Nation Books, 2007).
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