An exit-strategy from Afghanistan is an imperative for Obama. Karzai has come up with such a solution at the recently concluded conference in London. Analysts have argued regarding its viability. Whatever happens, it appears that the Taliban would emerge as the ‘real gainer’.
When the ‘wise heads’ sat for a meeting beside the Thames on 28 January to decide on the future of the ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan, most probably it was the American President who was more eager to know the outcome rather than Osama bin Laden or Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil or Mullah Muhammad Omar.
President Obama is trapped in a vicious circle. He inherited the ‘tormenting legacy’ of George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ which he was unable to get rid of due to the calls of ‘nationalism’. To make things complicated, he has now to counter the growing anti-war current which is taking shape in his own country as well as in other parts of the globe. His NATO allies are still limping along with him, albeit reluctantly. Moreover, he is feeling the heat of the lack of finances.
And in this ‘war on terror’, he is having a ‘not so reliable’ ally called Pakistan who he has to continually feed in the form of dollars, technology and assurances of controlling the Indian role in South Asia. Furthermore, his NATO partners too are reeling under economic pressure and public opinion.
Amidst this scenario, Obama needs a so-called ‘exit strategy’ and that too a robust one which grants him an ‘untainted image’. He needs an ‘exit policy’ which should neither mar ‘Nobel Obama’ nor downgrade ‘National Obama’. But then the whole burden of failing to capture bin Laden cannot squarely fall on his shoulders.
Obama has only a period of one and a half years more to come up with a magical solution or at least invent the clues to that solution. One reason for this time constraint is that his first year as President was full of rhetoric, big (read empty) promises, learning lessons of the Afghan terrain and surely the Nobel euphoria. Hence, for him time just evaporated.
Another reason is that by the middle of 2011, the ‘re-election cycle’ for the next Presidency emerges. So, he has to show results, and if not possible in normal modes, then engineer them.
In this venture, Karzai is America’s favourite stooge. Externally suave, internally pliable and carrying a façade of majority public opinion due to the vote share in the last two Presidential elections. In the recently concluded London conference, he came up with a ‘not so novel’ idea of ‘bribing’ the middle and low level cadres of the Taliban militia. He also proposed to convene a Loya Jirga or Grand Council in order to resolve the eight year old war through discussions and persuasions.
On the face of it, the plan appears fine. It has been implemented to a successful degree in Saudi Arabia. The Indian policy makers also regularly use it in Kashmir. And where ‘finance’ is one of the driving forces of the insurgency, using money to ‘wean’ away the ‘peripheral’ Taliban cadres is a welcome idea. But then, even if the programme turns out to be a success, one needs to look at the various possibilities as its aftermath.
Can the ‘loyalty’ of the Talibans really be bought? Would ideology not play any role here? Would Karzai’s lack of credibility not stand in the way of wooing the Talibans? How will the Talibans be re-integrated? Many of them may be injected in the Afghan National Army. And if that happens, then it may make the ground more fertile for the ‘hardcore Talibans to usurp authority once the US-NATO army leaves the soil.