Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Guest Column: Getting Obama’s Afghan policy back on track

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(C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in the column are his own).

By C. Uday Bhaskar

The May 12 summit meeting in the White House between visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his host, U.S. President Barack Obama comes against the backdrop of the mercifully aborted May 1 terrorist bombing incident in New York’s Times Square.

From the barrage of news and commentary that floods various media outlets here in Washington DC, it is evident that the Obama Af-Pak policy unveiled with considerable fanfare last year will be in for detailed and contested policy review.

Immediate U.S. interests apart – including the Obama second term, the stakes for the long-term stability of the entire southern Asian region and the troubled Muslim populace in the scattered diaspora ranging from North America to west Europe are immense and complex.

Standing by your friends:India, U.S. push ahead with nuclear deal

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OBAMA-INDIA

For all the hand-wringing in India over getting sidelined by the United States in its regional strategy,  the two countries have gone ahead and just completed an important deal on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from reactors to be built in India.

The agreement is a key step in the implementation of the India-U.S.  civil nuclear pact which grants India access to nuclear fuel and technology, even though it has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Under the agreement India can reprocess U.S.-originated nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards which in itself is a symbolic concession, according to the Washington Post. It said that the Indians were a bit concerned about the idea of American officials running around their  nuclear reactors , a sort of  “a symbolic, sovereignty issue” as  a source in the U.S. nuclear industry said. They would rather submit to oversight by the IAEA, which thus far is a model the United States has only followed for nuclear collaboration with  Europe and Japan.

Pakistan still the greatest worry, says Biden

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(Outside the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah)

(Outside the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told CNN this week that his biggest worry was not Afghanistan, not Iraq and not even Iran which is hurtling into a fresh confrontation with the West over its nuclear programme.  The big concern was Pakistan with  its nuclear weapons and  a radicalised section of society.

“It’s a big country. it has nuclear weapons that are able to be deployed.  It has a real significant minority of radicalised population. It is not a completely functional democracy in the sense we think about it.  And so….. that’s my greatest concern.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

“My Life with the Taliban” – on study and Islamic values

zaeefIn  "My Life with the Taliban",  Abdul Salam Zaeef -- who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later served in the Taliban government before it was ousted in 2001 -- writes of how he longed to escape the trappings of office and instead follow in the footsteps of his father as the Imam of a mosque, learning and teaching the Koran.

"It is work that has no connection with the world's affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind," he writes in his memoirs, newly translated and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.

America, don’t “leave us in the lurch” in Afghanistan

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(U.S. Marines in Nimroz province, southern Afghanistan)

(U.S. Marines in Nimroz province, southern Afghanistan)

One of the first things that U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates did during his trip to India last week was to assure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the United States did not intend to cut and run from Afghanistan.  America was committed to Afghanistan for the long-term, he said, trying to calm Indian concerns over the Obama administration’s stated plans to begin  withdrawing troops from July 2011. 

It struck me as quite remarkable that India, long a prickly nation opposed to superpower presence in the region, had so openly pinned its hopes on a prolonged U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Quite a change from the time  it would rail against the presence of such “extra-regional” powers.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Brzezinski on U.S.-India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China

brzezinskiThe Real News had an interview last week with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski who talks about how U.S. policy is playing out across Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China. The second part of the interview covers his support for the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, but here is what he has to say about Pakistan and the regional dynamics: 

"We are in Afghanistan because we have been there for 8 years, now getting out is easy to say, but by now if we get out, quickly, the question arises, what follows? Is there going to be again a very sort of militant regime in Afghanistan which might tolerate al Qaeda's presence and beyond that is now a new issue, namely the conflict in Afghanistan has come to be connected with the conflict in Pakistan. Pakistan is an important country of 170 million people which has nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons, and delivery systems, delivery systems to the entire region around so we have to think much more responsibly on how to deal with this problem ... "

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan and Pakistan: on the battle for Kandahar

arghandabIn the vast swirl of debate about Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is worth taking the time to read this piece in the Small Wars Journal by Michael Yon about the looming battle for Kandahar and the central importance of the Arghandab River Valley (pdf document).

Just as "a tiger doesn’t need to completely understand the jungle to survive, navigate, and then dominate", Yon argues, you don't have to master the full geographical and historical complexity of the Afghan war to grasp the importance of the Arghandab River Valley in securing Kandahar -- a battle he suggests will be crucial in 2010.

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