- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009


On New Year’s Eve, the Taliban scored a major tactical military as well as political victory through killing members of the security force of Abdul Salam, the commander of Musa Qala, a city in southern Afghanistan long contested by insurgent and NATO forces. The daring raid has captured attention and headlines.

A killing squad of approximately 30 fighters attacked Mullah Salam’s house. They lost two men, and the Taliban claims as many as 32 members of the security force were killed. The government states the total lost is 20. The killers missed Salam, who was away working at his office.

Just over a year ago, Salam defected from the Taliban to support the national government. Kabul and Washington officials made the most of this major prize. He was quickly installed in the current position and given prominent media visibility.

The resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan is important news. A very dramatic massive prison break on June 13 in Kandahar, a southern Afghanistan province previously considered secure, freed about 1,000 people, among them an estimated 400 hard-core insurgents. The prison gates were blown open by a suicide bomber in a large, well-coordinated operation.

Partly in response, that same month the Group of Eight foreign ministers meeting in Japan made a strategic move of great significance. The G-8, which includes the world’s most advanced industrial economies, decided to devote massive financial resources to combating the narcotics traffic and poverty in Afghanistan, focused on areas where “narcotics trafficking and extremism are endemic.”

A new G-8 coordinating body will oversee approximately $4 billion in aid, concentrated in tribal areas bordering Pakistan, where al Qaeda and the Taliban are particularly strong. Assistance will include police and military training as well as expanded anti-drug efforts. The thrust, however, is economic, not military.

In seeking effective policies, history as usual is instructive. In particular, useful lessons are provided by that durable duo of international relations, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. During the Nixon administration, Turkey was a principal source of world heroin production. President Nixon creatively used product licensing to encourage Turkish farmers to sell crops to pharmaceutical companies for legal medicinal purposes.

Drug lords moved some production to other locations, including Afghanistan, but the mammoth, established drug route from Turkey to Marseilles, France, and then the United States - dramatized in the film “The French Connection” - was disrupted, and our important ally Turkey was strengthened. Why not apply this practical approach to Afghanistan?

Iran is committed to assisting Afghanistan, a reflection of Tehran’s hostility to drug trafficking. Afghan President Hamid Karzai emphasizes that Tehran connection. Why not try openly to coordinate G-8 and Iran assistance efforts, and in so doing perhaps easing the nuclear tensions with the fundamentalist Islamic state? Currently, the nuclear standoff threatens very tenuous anti-drug cooperation.

One course absolutely to be avoided is simply introducing more troops and firepower in an effort to “pacify” Afghanistan. That will only further strengthen the insurgency. The Soviets learned that lesson in very hard terms during a decade of occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The British likewise had costly experiences in Afghanistan throughout the 19th century, including obliteration of one entire army.

Eventually, London achieved reasonable cooperation with Afghan warlords, but only after a very long-term effort that involved astute diplomacy and economic incentives along with military moves.

Washington should try to emulate that combination of carrots, sticks - and patience. The incoming Obama administration has United Nations and G-8 as well as NATO support in Afghanistan, and should make the most of these collective resources.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin.

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