- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008



The latest news from Afghanistan is bad and only likely to get worse. More American servicemen are now being killed and wounded in Afghanistan than in Iraq. The intensity and frequency of Taliban attacks continue to rise. And the sanctuaries in Pakistan for all stripes of insurgents and terrorists have created a festering crisis with the United States - not fully ameliorated by the visit in Washington this week of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani.

Earlier this year, the Atlantic Council released a report on Afghanistan beginning with this warning: “Make no mistake … we are losing in Afghanistan.” The “we” includes the Afghan people and the international community. Furthermore, NATO has bet its future on succeeding in Afghanistan, a bet it could lose if conditions are not soon reversed.

One understandable and incomplete response has been the call for more forces. Sen. Barack Obama succumbed to this temptation after his Afghan visit. More forces are needed. While NATO commander Army Gen. John Craddock has repeatedly called for troop increases - as did his predecessor retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones - both officers have constantly reminded us that military force alone cannot and will not win. Yet, over the past several years, these pleas especially for the critical need of making sweeping civil sector reforms have fallen on largely deaf ears. The result has been lip service not action.

In simple terms, the collective “we” are failing because reforms to the Afghan civil sector have been inadequate at best. One reason is the inherently weak position of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is more politically akin to being mayor of Kabul than the leader of the nation. But Mr. Karzai’s reluctance to take meaningful action has hurt. As a result, reforms to the judiciary, legal system, rampant corruption, job creation and infrastructure repair programs along with ending a pervasive and growing narco-society have been and remain insufficient to the tasks at hand.

Mr. Karzai has also been unhelpful by maintaining his harsh attitude toward Pakistan and his refusal to take positive steps to improve mutual security. Mr. Karzai’s rather implausible threat of sending the fledgling Afghan army into Pakistan to eliminate insurgents finding sanctuary in FATA did not improve Pakistani relations either. The continued hostility and animosity between Mr. Karzai and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf exacerbate these difficulties. And this vitriol has been passed on to visitors to Kabul with blanket accusations that Pakistan continues helping to foment the Taliban, both as a check on India and as a means to exert control over Afghanistan irrespective of where the full facts and truth might lie.

Learning from what has happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is self-evident that the best of intentions disintegrate over political and strategic issues and not military operations. The most formidable impasses in each country are political and rest on the ability or inability of the political leadership to act forcefully in their own best interests. One exception has been Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s show of backbone by calling for a time horizon for reducing U.S. forces.

In Pakistan, the new government is suffering from profound birthing pains. Before becoming too critical, we should answer the question of how many new U.S. administrations were up and running in four months? The answer is none. Yet, the U.S. is impatient with Pakistan and frustrated, if not furious, with what the White House and Congress see as Islamabad’s failure to act decisively in FATA by sealing the borders and neutralizing the insurgents.

As we are proposing “tough love” for the new Pakistani government, the same is needed in even greater proportions in Afghanistan. For too long we have allowed the weakness of the Karzai government to serve as an excuse for failing to reform the civil sector - often not realizing that our own inefficiency and occasional incompetence in administering aid programs contribute to this inaction.

Solutions are clear. No one on our side or theirs is in charge. That also applies to the divided military chain of command, although the military has used “work arounds” to reduce this weakness. A high commissioner with real authority is desperately needed and must, if necessary, be forced upon the Karzai government - something that was not done when Lord Paddy Ashdown was proposed and rejected by Kabul for that role early this year.

Second, there needs to be a regional approach for solutions that include Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Third, we need to restructure our aid efforts to make them effective. For example, about a dime of each dollar we spend goes directly to Afghanis.

Finally, we have to get serious when we say that more than military force is needed. Only action, not rhetoric, demonstrates seriousness. My sad conclusion is that a year from now, this plea will still be relevant.

Harlan Ullman is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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