President Barack Obama has concluded his deliberations about the vital subject. Last week witnessed the ticklish toll among foreign troops while eight Afghans working with the US forces were killed al a NATO air strike. Recently, a tragedy struck Hood Fort in Texas. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an American Muslim and a psychiatrist, opened fire on his comrades killing 13 and wounding 29 before getting shot. President Obama, while expressing his outrage at the sad demise of troopers, counselled patience so that facts are brought out. In the same vein, the Muslim community in the US also condemned such a grisly incident, which bedevilled the prevailing gloom in the US and the world over.
In Pakistan, serious loss of life is becoming a daily affair. Undoubtedly, the start of the military operation against South Waziristan blew it. While the army has made great progress, the situation remains awfully confused. A perception prevails here that Pakistan and the US are not operating on the same wavelength. Reportedly the army seized arms and ammunition of US/Indian origin and the ISPR has been hesitant to disclose the same. Such a complex set of insights or ground realities appear to be rather demoralising for the Pakistani people, more so, in the worst hit areas of NWFP that bear the brunt of the bizarre blitz.
They are suffering from regular bombings, suicidal or otherwise, but their sacrifices appear to be billed against nobody except the spectre of 'terrorism'. In places like Peshawar or DIK, the relief infrastructure is so poor that the people have to, generally, carry their own dying patients at their own risk and cost. This does not bode well for the coalition, as losing public support can spell a cataclysm in this sensitive area. Except for one or two ministers, the rich representatives - because no poor person passes political criteria for issuance of tickets - hesitate even going for offering fateha. However, the Frontier society is traditional and it stands by their country, despite poor governance. Why can't the US build makeshift hospital facilities to alleviate the sufferings of these people, as our 'disaster-relief' appears to be 'busy'? Why can't the federal communications minister, who is the son of a late dear friend of mine and belongs to a respectable family of Peshawar, put his foot down to provide immediate rescue outposts for his constituents? We definitely want answers, but that is not going to happen.
Next in Washington DC, President Obama faces a gigantic challenge. The administration seems to be split over General Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops. While the army commanders are taken in by the Iraq experience, discretion demands distinct foresight. Moreover, the British media are crying hoarse that going by history, the war is not winnable despite the hectic efforts of Gordon Brown to promote other course. In addition, the European Union too is sceptical about the nature of the NATO commitment to the ongoing war regardless of the over-enthusiasm of Secretary General Anders Fogh Rassmussen. No wonder its leaders, generally, keep blowing hot and cold to put paper over cracks without practically raising their stakes. As most of the major countries were colonial powers while Germany suffered a catastrophe in search of her share of the same under Hitler, their experience also dictates their 'to be or not to be' policy in Afghanistan.
General McChrystal's new strategy lays the right emphasis on the security of the Afghan people. It visualises his troops learning Pashto to be able to show respect for the local culture and traditions for winning the 'hearts and minds' of the people. Reuters has circulated a photo from Killeen in Texas wherein an American Chaplain Jason Palmer in uniform is talking to Imam Syed Ahmed Ali on Saturday (November 07, 2009) at the local Islamic Community Centre while his colleague looks on. They met as Jason invited the Imam to join the memorial service for the 13 victims of the Fort Hood. Major Hasan was said to have used the centre to offer prayers. Furthermore, Jason is caught making a gesture, which means a lot to an Afghan. He is holding his hand against his chest, which signifies goodwill. Thus, General McChrystal's inspiration appears to be at work. However, this ought to have been initiated in 2002 when the Bonn Conference created a mirage about great things to come after the Taliban lost power. Sadly then the army, like the neo-con administration, was rather gung-ho.
François-Marie Arouet, known by the pen name Voltaire, has said: "Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?" Hence, all options before President Obama underline the necessity for a concord with the Afghans. This is so because history highlights hereditary hostility to 'foreign occupation' despite all odds.
In the past, Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, advised the US to aim at "dialogue" to terminate the "long sufferings of the people." About the 'surge', he emphasised: "This is something we discussed too, years ago. But we decided not to do it. I think our experience deserves attention."
In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai is to become a president again following his discredited election. Recently, the news appeared that his brother was a CIA agent as well as a drug baron. Reportedly, Obama has warned him to cut corruption visibly for earning US support. While Admiral Michael Mullen rightly labelled Karzai's legitimacy, "at best, in question right now and at worst, does not exist." Apparently insulting Karzai, a former Unocal employee and another Diem, publicly makes him 'a donkey with a new saddle' as per an Afghan proverb. Anyway, the US does realise that a coalition of warlords had been whipped up by spending dollars duly helped by the neighbouring countries in the wake of the 9/11 sympathy wave. In Iraq, the US persecuted the Sunni minority by partnering the majority but the Pashtuns are the majority in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, while the Taliban creed caused a lot of misery, the ethnic factor is still important.
The US must define its long-term strategy to be followed regardless of the party politics. Pakistan is playing the pivotal part, despite the widespread mayhem let loose against the people. How long can our people keep dying in the hope that the US would stand by them? Moreover, Indian overtures reveal self-deception. The Maoists, a rebellion against the status quo defined by the rampage of the rich, are a great threat. Arundhati Roy asks: "If it takes 600,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?" Therefore, the US must guarantee her commitment to the region to win peace and also to AfPak. Remember fire-fighting can't forestall an Armageddon.
The Nation. I M Mohsin. The writer is a former secretary interior.