Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama, Karzai and an Afghan mirage

Last year, under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan slipped three places on a widely respected international index of corruption and became the world’s second-most corrupt country. It now ranks 179th out of 180, a place long held by Somalia.

According to a United Nations report published in January, Afghans paid $2.5 billion in bribes in 2009, roughly a quarter of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (not counting revenue from the opium trade). The survey, based on interviews with 7,600 people, said corruption was the biggest concern of Afghans.

On the military front in a war more than halfway through its ninth year, attacks on U.S. forces and their NATO allies totaled 21,000 in 2009, a 75 percent increase over 2008, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) a week before Karzai’s visit to Washington. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, noted that Taliban insurgents had set up a “widespread paramilitary shadow government…in a majority of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.”

The Pentagon, also in advance of Karzai’s visit (in the second week of May), reported that Afghans support his government in only 29 of the 121 districts the U.S. military consider most strategically important.

“The insurgents perceive 2009 as their most successful year,” the Pentagon said. “The Afghan insurgency has. ..a ready supply of recruits drawn from the frustrated population, where insurgents exploit poverty, tribal friction and lack of governance to grow their ranks.” As to corruption: “Real…change remains elusive and political will, in particular, remains doubtful.”

War and Peace, by Barack Obama

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

It is a timeline rich in irony. On Dec. 10, Barack Obama will star at a glittering ceremony in Oslo to receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. That’s just nine days after he ordered 30,000 additional American troops into a war many of his fellow citizens think the U.S. can neither win nor afford.

Whether the sharp escalation of the war in Afghanistan he ordered on December 1 will achieve its stated aim – disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan – remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: more troops equals more fighting equals more deaths — of soldiers, insurgents and the hapless civilians caught in the middle. Not exactly a scenario of peace.

from The Great Debate UK:

Is Iraq stable enough to cope without U.S. troops?

Tim Cocks-Tim Cocks is a Reuters correspondent based in Baghdad.-

For the U.S. military, it's the million dollar question -- or rather the $687 billion question, according to a recent estimate of the Iraq war's total cost. Is Iraq now stable enough for them to take a permanent back seat?

The short answer is no one knows. The only way they were ever going to find out was to leave Iraq's own forces to it and hope the whole thing doesn't come tumbling down. They started doing that on Tuesday when they pulled out of Iraqi cities.

It's been an encouraging start. A big bomb in Kirkuk cast a shadow over Iraq's celebrations of its new-found sovereignty, but since then things have been relatively quiet. Militants might try to take advantage by stepping up attacks, but for the moment they seem content with celebrating a "victory" over the occupation -- and setting off the odd bomb, of course.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Do Obama’s Afghan plans still make sense post-Mumbai?

The United States is aiming to send 20,000 to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan by the beginning of next summer, according to the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The plan is not unexpected, and from a military point of view is meant to allow U.S. and NATO troops not just to clear out Taliban insurgents but also to bring enough stability to allow economic development, as highlighted in this analysis by Reuters Kabul correspondent Jon Hemming.

But does it still make sense after the Mumbai attacks -- intentionally or otherwise -- sabotaged the peace process between India and Pakistan?

As discussed many times on this blog, most recently here, a crucial element of President-elect Barack Obama's Afghan strategy was to combine sending extra troops with a new diplomatic approach looking at the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India region as a whole. The argument was that Pakistan would never fully turn its back on Islamist militants as long as it felt threatened by India on its eastern border and by growing Indian influence in Afghanistan on its western border.  India and Pakistan, so the argument went, should therefore be encouraged to make peace over Kashmir, to reduce tensions in Afghanistan and pave the way for a successful operation by the extra U.S. troops.

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