Afghanistan Occupation Unsettles the Region

By N. Gunasekaran

Afghanistan’s second direct presidential election, held on Aug. 20, was hailed by President Barack Obama as the “historic election,” but it was marred by complaints of widespread fraud in the balloting. Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission received more than 2,600 complaints of fraud or abuse. As Taliban forces called for a boycott, barely 30% to 35% of the population voted. Results are being released in stages and the final tally is expected on Sept. 17. With 91.6% of the vote counted, of 5 million votes, incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai claimed 54.1%, while former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah had 28.3%. Needing 50% to win, President Karzai was close to victory, but a UN-backed election commission found “clear and convincing evidence of fraud.”

The lack of legitimacy and people’s distrust of the outcome of the elections [as well as Taliban threats to kill or maim voters] contributed to the low turnout.

President Obama described the occupation of Afghanistan as “a war of necessity” with a mission to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.”

Can these goals be achieved through a puppet regime in Kabul and with the continued military occupation of the country? The US Defense Department’s updated figures showed that at least 734 members of the US military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan from the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 through August 2009. More than 200 British soldiers have been killed. The Global War on Terror, with the price tag of [$864 billion as of June 30, according to the Congressional Research Service], has only resulted in immense losses, without any marked success. But the Obama administration has not been deterred and is planning to increase the troops to 68,000 by the end of this year. Also, the situation inside Afghanistan has been deteriorating with the increasing corruption and flourishing poppy trade, and, in the words of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the “Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated.”

The escalation of war strengthened Islamic radicalism in Asia and its extremist, terrorist activities have caused a serious threat to regional security and stability in Central and South Asia. Given the region’s importance as a major source of petroleum resources as an alternative to the volatile Middle East and Caspian regions and Afghanistan being an important trade route, the struggle for influence between the US and other countries has intensified. However, the US, with its military might and its occupying forces, has become the predominant player in the region. To dominate this region, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has broadened its reach to station troops in the region.

India has paid a lot of attention to Afghanistan since 2001. India offered $1.2 billion for Afghanistan’s reconstruction; provided planes to Ariana airlines, the Afghan national carrier; established hospitals and schools; and planned to take bilateral trade to $700 million by 2010. But these exercises were often interpreted as countermeasures to Pakistan’s influence in Kabul. Pakistan is situated between Afghanistan and India, and there were concerns that Indian foreign policy towards Afghanistan was aimed at attaining a hegemonic position for India in the region. So the tensions between India and Pakistan persist due to the shared fear that Afghanistan could be used by one to destabilize the other.

With this backdrop, both countries didn’t resist the US occupation of Afghanistan, in spite of the fact that it has fueled terrorist attacks in both countries. The reliance of the US on Pakistan to fight the terrorist groups with strengthened ties between Pakistan and NATO have so far produced no concrete progress. Recently, a suicide bomber came close to assassinating a prominent Saudi royal, Prince Muhammad bin Naf, and al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack. This incident showed clearly that the eight-year-old war had not liberated the Arabian Peninsula from the threat of ruthless al-Qaeda. Also, India’s strategic partnership with the US, with its military dimension, has caused concern among its neighbors. One of the dangerous consequences of militarily alliances with the US is an increased arms race in the region on an unprecedented level.

Even in the US, the realization is gaining ground that the US military presence in Afghanistan has been undermining its own national security.

Rick Reyes, a retired corporal in the US Marine Corps who served in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003, is a staunch advocate of “exit strategy” in Afghanistan. In Roll Call magazine, he wrote: “We must rethink our strategy because it’s yielding little but upset allies, frustrated locals, fodder for extremists and less, not more, security.”

Russ Feingold, De-Wis., writing in the Wall Street Journal, asked the US administration to announce “a flexible timetable” to end the US military presence and he said it was “one of the best things” the US could do to advance the US security interests in Afghanistan.

So, to safeguard regional security of Asia and as well as the national security of the US, an end to military occupation in Afghanistan is a prudent option.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2009

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