2 minute readBlog: The cost of the Af-Pak withdrawal

People protesting the US presence in Afghanistan have swamped the White House Facebook page, in an attempt to influence President Obama’s State of the Union address. This is a result of a petition by a group called Rethink Afghanistan which has launched a petition.

The statement, repeat posted on the page by the protesters, says, ” President Obama, I, and more than 20,000 voters signed of this petition from Rethink Afghanistan: ‘In your State of the Union address on January 27, 2010, I will listen for a concrete exit strategy for our troops in Afghanistan that begins no later than July 2011 and which completes a withdrawal of combat troops no later than July 1, 2012.’ ”

Istanbul and London are seeing conferences this week that have something like this as their agenda.

The circumstances of these two conferences have exposed the position of relative weakness in which the US-led alliance in Afghanistan is placed.

The declaration of the beginning of a withdrawal from 2011, the ad hoc surge of troops, the lack of success in jury-rigging a semblance of governance in Afghanistan, the continued absence of a half-way reliable trained army and police and the inability to do anything about the reluctance of Pakistan to combat the Afghan Taliban are all signs of this weakened position.

A declaration of withdrawal should have been made only after reaching some level of satisfaction from conferences like the two being held this week. It certainly seems more logical to first assure the scale and scope of transfer of responsibilities to the Afghan security forces before announcing a withdrawal, rather than after.

The surge of troops is an attempt to achieve dominance over the more-hotly contested or no-go areas of Afghanistan, in a, hopefully, short enough period of time for US, to be able to force the Taliban and its allies to the negotiating table. But even if it succeeds, there is an overbearing possibility that such dominance will be momentary, considering the depletion of forces to begin in 2011.

The Taliban are no strangers to suffering casualties and can simply decide to refuse to parley, preferring to wait for a walkover. If they do talk terms, it is likely to be a prelude to a return to pre-October, 2001. What, then, would be the objectives achieved by the US and it’s allies in Afghanistan?

In general terms, will the departure of the US and its allies leave the region safer than before the US invaded Afghanistan? Would al Qaeda be in less of a position to launch terror strikes? Would Pakistan and India be less likely to go to war over terrorism launched from former? Would Pakistan be less or more viable as a functioning state?

Most importantly, would the Afghan people have hope left for a fair go; an even chance?

But if not withdrawal, then what? Pundita has some interesting ideas.

So what do you think?