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President Obama: Where’s the “Change”?
Published on 23 Nov 2010 at 03:30
By Asar Hakimi
Two years ago Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential election with his famous “Change” slogan. The people of Afghanistan also had hopes that they would feel the effects of this promise in their own, war-weary country. But two years on, Obama’s words have not been translated into action, and Afghanistan has seen little significant change in the War on Terror.
U.S. troops have now been in Afghanistan for more than nine years. During this time, both major American parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, have taken their turn in the White House. But the current situation in Afghanistan shows that neither party has been able to overcome the challenges of Afghanistan. The security situation continues to deteriorate, drugs and corruption are still a problem, and Taliban insurgents are still a threat.
Obama has now only two years left to try and address these challenges. Will he be able to bring change to Afghanistan in his remaining time in office?
When Obama announced the troop surge last December, people expected that he would ramp up the war against the Taliban inside Afghanistan, and simultaneously extend the fight in Pakistan, to put severe pressure on Pakistan to increase its own efforts in the war on terror.
In part, these expectations were fulfilled: drone attacks on Pakistani soil have increased significantly. But other than this, Pakistan did not face very stringent demands to curb terrorists on its side of the border.
The Obama administration has not followed a cohesive policy in Afghanistan, varying its approaches and reactions widely. For example, Washington has harshly criticized Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while at other times hailing him as a strong partner.
Within the U.S. military, prominent commanders are starting to voice their objections.
General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was sacked from his position as a result of these disagreements, with General David Petraeus taking his place.
Petraeus attempted to repeat his tactic in Iraq by empowering local militias to suppress the Taliban, in addition to the NATO-led coalition and Afghan forces.
Karzai initially rejected Petraeus’ policy, but eventually he gave in, with the result that militias are now being formed in many provinces.
The war against terrorism, the primary reason for America’s presence in Afghanistan, has now grown to encompass many other aspects of policy. Talks with the Taliban have now become a central issue, supported by the United States. The Afghan government has now formed a High Peace Council to initiate contact, attempt to reconcile with the Taliban and bring them into the government, provided they lay down their weapons and accept the Constitution.
But many civil society groups, including human rights organizations, women’s groups and the political opposition have questioned Karzai’s reconciliation efforts. They voice concern that bringing the Taliban closer to government will undermine the achievements that have been made over the past nine years, especially in the areas of freedom of speech, civil rights, and women’s rights.
But Karzai’s government is pursuing reconciliation more for its own interests than to satisfy the international community or domestic civil rights groups. And in doing so, he has adopted an increasingly strident ant-Western tone.
This has surprised analysts, who see Karzai as a creation of the West, specifically of the United States.
“Karzai, who came to power with the direct support of American administration, has taken a very strange stance,” said political analyst Wahid Mojda. “This shows that Obama’s “change” slogan has at least affected relations between Kabul and Washington. Things are very different from when George Bush was in office.”
Obama’s announcement last December that the U.S. forces would begin to withdraw from Afghanistan in July, 2011, did not improve matters.
Most analysts see the deadline as unrealistic, while giving moral support to the Taliban.
Now that the Republicans have won a majority in Congress, Obama is facing still more hurdles.
“The Republican victory will certainly affect Obama’s decisions in the futures,” said Mahmood Saikal, a former deputy foreign minister of Afghanistan. “The cancellation of the troop withdrawal in 2011 will be the first change.”
Saikal believes that now, in order to implement his policy agenda, Obama will have to negotiate with the Republicans. This, in Saikal’s opinion, will have a definite effect on the war in Afghanistan, including troop numbers and support for the Afghan government.
Wahid Mojda also believes that victory of the Republicans in Congress will influence Obama’s foreign policy.
“Obama has lost his independence of action in foreign policy, especially regarding Afghanistan where 100,000 American forces are busy at war,” said Mojda.
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