Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
U.S. mid-terms and the Afghan war
It’s one of the biggest weeks in U.S. politics, with the mid-term elections to the Senate and the House of Representatives, and it may well eventually impact the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even though it’s not been a campaign issue. If the Republicans win big, as everyone expects them to, what happens to President Barack Obama’s war strategy for the two countries, increasingly operating as two full-fledged theatres, rather than a conjoined Af-Pak mission?
Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations says given the Republicans’ solid support for the war in Afghanistan, a defeat may not be such a bad thing for Obama so far as his Afghan mission is concerned in the near term. Support and funding for the war could be enhanced if they gained control, which may not be the case if the Democrats, who have serious doubts about the mission, were to return. Big Republican gains will also signal to Afghanistan and Pakistan that America remained serious and committed to the region, despite a deteriorating security environment on both sides of the Durand Line.
Indeed the one big reason why the war hasn’t made it as a campaign issue is because of the schisms it has opened in the two parties. Democrats are silent because many oppose the war but don’t want to run on an anti-Obama platform. Most Republicans, on the other hand, support the war but now find themselves uncomfortably aligned with a Democratic president whose every other policy they are bitterly opposed to.
But this may not be the situation for long. First off, carrying the argument further, many Republicans who support Obama’s decision to send additional troops don’t like the idea of setting out a withdrawal date as the president did when announcing the surge. They argue that the July 2011 deadline for the withdrawal of troops to begin sends the wrong signals to U.S. partners in the region who question Washington’s commitment, as well as further emboldens the insurgents to simply wait out the U.S. departure from the region. They are also more likely, reflexively, to oppose any truck with the Taliban; certainly not at this point when the insurgency is at its strongest. They would rather General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces, were given more time to pound the militants into coming to the negotiating table. As Politico blog says :
For starters, Republicans would almost surely press President Barack Obama to loosen the July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, as well as seek assurances that he would be willing to send in more troops if Gen. David Petraeus, his commander there, asks for them.
It quotes Republican strategist John Ullyot, a former staffer of the Armed Services Committee , as saying that putting deadlines on the mission is going to be a lot tougher to defend in a beefed-up Republican congress. “There is no question there will be a lot more pressure on the administration to give commanders as much time as they need; the summer deadline is going to be huge.”
Already, the administration has been insisting that no high-level talks with the insurgents are going on. On Friday, Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said while more Taliban foot soldiers were coming forward to lay down their arms, reports of peace talks were overblown. Official sources, though, say all parties in the conflict are considering ways to reach a political settlement, and have described cautious preliminary contacts between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
While broader support for the war is assured, you can be sure that U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will be closely watching all civilian aid going to Afghanistan. They have grown increasingly sceptical of President Hamid Karzai’s inability or unwillingness to crack down on corruption and as the Congressional Quarterly reports the pressure on civilian aid programmes is likely to increase after the mid-terms. Already it says :
Lawmakers are slapping conditions on reconstruction funding, working to cut funding or threatening to block it altogether. Some are outright scornful about the ability of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government to hold the country together.
Across the border in Pakistan, pressure from the U.S. Congress is expected to be just as intense both to fight America’s war on the Islamist militancy, as well as to use the billions of dollars of aid given to the country effectively. Last month at a hearing to confirm the new U.S. envoy to Pakistan, Republican senator James Risch asked if there was any sense of appreciation in Pakistan of the amount of money and effort the United States had invested in the country to pull it back from the brink. “This government is going to borrow 41 cents out of every dollar it spends this year. I mean this … is a real sacrifice Americans are making. They’re sacrificing their children’s and grandchildren’s futures in order to build infrastructure in Pakistan.”
You can already hear voices urging the administration to hold Pakistan’s feet to the fire. Further aid must be made conditional to the administration fighting militancy according to a set of benchmarks, argues Ashley Tellis at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Change the rules of the game to force Pakistan to stop supporting the groups that are helping the Afghan insurgency and plotting attacks elsewhere, he says.