Obama’s Afghan policy and regional media

By Farman Nawaz (Unpublished New Report)

Journalists had speculations about Obama’s speech of new Afghan policy even before December. Almost every newspaper had suggested solutions of Afghan problem in its editorials. After president Obama’s speech the regional media had mix reactions about it in its editorials. The concentration in this article is on the print media (English) of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It is tried to select those media groups which also contribute in vernacular press. Mainly the foreign policy of a country is dominant on their respective media but still there were exceptional cases. Every newspaper tried to portray the negative and positive sides of the American new policy towards Afghanistan. The sources are not mentioned with these points so that the readers can give attention to the logic behind these reasons because sometimes the readers get biased to see the source of news.

Afghani media was optimistic about this new policy. Afghan media welcomed this new change of policy. Here are the main points that afghan media emphasized.

  • It is perhaps the clearest and closest heed and care given to the long suffering of Afghan people as the war enters into its ninth year. Even with the presence of 43 nations, Afghan people have been going through racking sufferings- from seeing their loved ones getting slaughtered by Taliban militants to the horrible and appalling explosions, roadside bombings almost on day to day basis- counting on the promises of international community for a better life in the wake of intervention in late 2001.
  • Yet, the concerns of the people have grown as the Taliban have got momentum and now maneuver skillfully in different parts of the country, creating fear that the ruthless militants might take over. More importantly, due to lackluster performance of the government and international community, the Taliban appears to be also winning on another front -that is to say- the battle for hearts and minds. As well, there has been growing concern that Afghanistan might stumble into chaos or fall into the hands of extremists that include Al-Qaeda and other fanatic fringes.
  • Beating back the Taliban from major population centers in Afghanistan is one of the objectives highlighted in president Obama’s speech on Afghanistan. This is clearly promising upbeat for Afghan people who are not feeling safe and secure as soon as they get out of their homes even in the capital of the country.
  • President Obama also said that “a safe haven for those high-level terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear, cannot be tolerated.” This goes in line with Afghan expectations as they continue to endure sufferings posed by the fanatic fringes that find safe havens in tribal areas. The same extremists have inflicted too much on Pakistan. So what is important is the sincere cooperation of Pakistani government and military to dislodge those high-level terrorists that orchestrate attacks inside Afghanistan as well Pakistan.
  • It also became clear that Obama’s administration is not going for any compromise with extremists that attempt to take over, threaten global security and deny education for women.
  • In fact there are clearly new opportunities for Afghanistan and the government to seize to move towards ensuring its security independently. The country is not lost. And there are new focuses and new resources to be rendered available for reconstruction of the country.

Indian media opposed the new policy but their main concern was Pakistan’s backing of the terrorists.

  • Looked at from the vantage point of India, the announcement has as its first and fundamental shortcoming, the fact that Obama is sending two opposing messages to two different audiences and neither message can reconcile with the other. His announcement that by mid-2011, the US will begin pulling out of Afghanistan may make his Democrat party constituency happier, but for Taliban-al-Qaida-Pakistan, it’s the timeline for a new waiting game until the drawdown.
  • According to Indian officials and analysts, Afghani-stan is manageable, Pakistan is the real problem because both al-Qaida and Taliban originate from and are nurtured there.
  • In addition, the Punjabi terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, which have been created by Pakistan are now working in concert with the al-Qaida, which makes the cocktail doubly dangerous. This has not been addressed, even if this may have been discussed. But the gloss in the speech means Pakistan can continue to believe it can run with the hares and hunt with the hounds again.
  • The strategy was disappointing in its absence of fresh thinking. The Pakistani military operations in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan are meant to counter a threat to Pakistan’s internal security from indigenous elements. They are not directed against the external activities of al-Qaida. Nor are they directed towards facilitating the military operations of the NATO forces and the Afghan national army in Afghan territory. The safe havens of organizations, which are seen as an asset and not as a threat to Pakistan, are being shifted from place to place to escape detection and action by the US.
  • The US strategy remains showering incentives on Pakistan to do the right thing, without taking into account the fact that Pakistan has repeatedly refused to do just that. Having said that, it’s important for India to hold the US to its demand from Pakistan that it winds down its terror factory. Obama was clear in naming all of them including LeT in a letter to Pakistan president Asif Zardari earlier this month.
  • The most disquieting aspect of the strategy is what was left unsaid: According to sources privy to the unannounced details, the US is also planning an initiative to arm certain “friendly” shuras or groups against the Taliban inside Afghanistan. This is counter-productive because not only would it serve to undermine the authority of the Kabul government, it could spell another side of the war, where the US would be arming both sides.
  • The planned civilian surge cannot possibly happen in the absence of security, particularly in the population centres that Obama promises to secure. Indian officials say the troop surge is too little to enable them to “clear and hold” crucial areas inside Afghanistan.
  • The 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama is sending to Afghanistan may provide tactical relief to American commanders on the ground but whether this surge will help guarantee victory against terrorism and extremism in America’s war there is an open question.
  • The American campaign against the Taliban and the al-Qaida suffers from four deficits — political attention, military doctrine, Afghan capability, and a Pakistani commitment.
  • Over the past few years, American military doctrine has leaned too heavily on the deployment of overwhelming firepower, deployed from afar, rather than on the granulated application of force. Thereby, U.S. casualties have been low but an unconscionably large number of Afghan civilians have died in what the Pentagon euphemistically calls “collateral damage.” If the Taliban are to be defeated, the U.S. and its allies will have to be far more intelligent in their military methods than they have been so far.
  • The Obama package is supposed to address a part of the third deficit — Afghan national capabilities in the security field — but the kind of emphasis we have seen so far does not inspire much confidence.
  • By far the biggest weakness of the new Af-Pak policy is Mr. Obama’s inability to craft an effective strategy to deal with the Pakistani side of the equation.
  • With very little indication that the Pakistani military is ready to jettison its strategic patronage of terrorist groups, there is the possibility that Rawalpindi might well be tempted to instruct the Taliban to lie low till the appointed hour only to emerge triumphant once U.S. troops begin to leave.

Pakistani media strongly opposed the new afghan policy. Following are the some basic points discussed in various Pakistani newspapers.

  • US President Barack Obama’s much-awaited announcement of his new Afghan strategy has evoked alarm and disappointment in equal measure.
  • The thrust of his message is that the US cannot fight an unending war in Afghanistan and therefore must seek an honourable exit.
  • The West as a whole then, led by the US, seems inclined once again to turn its face away from benighted Afghanistan.
  • Additional troops will train an Afghan army and police force capable of holding its own against the tough Taliban. Based on the track record in this respect of the last eight years, this seems unattainable.
  • The Pakistani military establishment, which has been working towards some such outcome since 9/11 by attacking al Qaeda and saving the Afghan Taliban for a rainy day (one has just arrived, courtesy Obama), must be laughing all the way to the bank, followed closely by the Afghan Taliban. All Mullah Omar and his fighters now have to do is wait out the US and Nato, and Karzai’s regime will fall to them like an overripe plum.
  • The antediluvian regime of the extremists would once again be foisted by force of arms and with the backing of the Pakistani military establishment on the long-suffering Afghan people.
  • Such a rejuvenated regime that hosts al Qaeda once again would threaten US and Western interests globally. It may prove too wild a horse for our military establishment to ride, let alone control.
  • Even more worryingly, the restored Taliban rulers in Kabul may find the temptation irresistible to fish in the troubled waters Pakistan finds itself in by backing the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. After all, in comparison with ruined Afghanistan, control over a nuclear-armed Pakistan may be too mouth-watering to ignore.
  • Afghanistan is about to be left to its own devices once again.
  • America is to send an extra 30,000 troops to fight a war that some military analysts see as unwinnable in conventional terms against an enemy that has never suffered a decisive defeat by force of arms.
  • The extra forces that will be deployed are not expected to defeat the Taliban but only try to reverse their momentum and create a space for the Afghan forces to take over.
  • The totally unnecessary reference to Pakistani nukes and its control was in bad taste and could have been avoided. It was like rubbing salt on open wounds. This is not how hearts and minds can be won.
  • The Taliban will now sit on the sidelines, waiting for the US will and determination to exhaust, because as the Taliban are fond of saying… ‘You may have the watches, but we have the time’.
  • It is but certain that Washington and Obama will have to revisit this strategy a few months down the line.
  • Can Afghanistan be ‘saved’ after eight years of a war that by all accounts is going very badly, when the US is thinking both of hunkering down and exiting?
  • “The three core elements of our strategy [are]: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan”. But experience suggests that the war zone in Afghanistan does not lend itself to a ‘civilian surge’ in quick order.
  • Nothing in Tuesday’s speech explained how the US intends to resolve that conundrum and at the moment the second prong of the new strategy seems little more than a triumph of hope over experience.

Regional media concentrated on the different aspects of the policy but there are some common points like a wish for the defeat of terrorists and peace in the region. But still there are some questions which are not raised by the regional media. For example in the new policy there is space for negotiations with Taliban but what will be the effects of this on regional powers? Why America brought its new policy at the time when Taliban are almost defeated by the Pakistan Army and people has rejected these extremists and there was a hope for new liberal Pakistan to emerge? Why Saudi Arabia is playing a major part in these negotiations with Taliban because Saudi Arabia did not play its role when Taliban were capturing Kabul in mid of 90’s and when America attacked Afghanistan in the beginning of 21st centaury? The media is not explaining the reasons of exit strategy of America. When occupying forces exit any area so three are three reasons. The occupied nation may rebel against the imperialist power or the policy of imperialist power is changed or the objectives are achieved and a puppet government is installed. In case of Afghanistan the third option can be applied if Taliban are adjusted somehow in Kabul government. Obama administration has made it sure that American interests will not be at stake if Taliban are again empowered.


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