Obama’s Afghanistan – Pakistan Policy Reshaping US Relations
President Obama's focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan was evident within the first few days of taking over. The key facets of President Obama's policy on Afghanistan denote a shift in military focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, increase in the deployment of troops to the tune of 20,000 to 30,000 over a period of one to two years, increased pressure and assistance to Pakistan to upgrade the Frontier Corps and undertake operations to suppress Taliban in the country, revised rules of engagement to ensure that there is reduction of civilian casualties and finally increased pressure on allies to do more.
This policy may eventually reshape US relations not just within the region but also with Iran and Russia the key foreign policy challenges faced by the US Administration. There are inveterate linkages between the same and it would be in US short term interest to work towards a rapprochement with Tehran and Moscow. Increasingly the pressures in Afghanistan and Pakistan may force the triumvirate of Obama-Biden-Clinton to take a more conciliatory posture towards its traditional rivals, Russia and Iran. Here's why-
The signals from Afghanistan too are ominous for the Taliban warned President Barack Obama, "We have no problem with Obama," said a spokesman for the rebels Yousuf Ahmadi, "he must learn lessons from [former US president George W. Bush] and before that the Soviets."
Kai Eide UN coordinator in Afghanistan however placed the issue of policy in perspective for Mr Obama and Biden when he said, "My appeal is not grand strategy discussion, my appeal is concrete implementation effort," Eide told the Associated Press in an interview inside the U.N. compound in Kabul.
The US Administration is also preparing the public to expect more American casualties, as Vice President Biden when asked about the same said recently: "I hate to say it, but yes, I think there will be. There will be an up tick." The anticipation of greater violence in Afghanistan is in order as civilian casualties and the missile and drone strikes in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) in Pakistan are causing concern for the US administration. This is also driving up resentment. However it appears that the US has limited choice but to strike at the haven of the Al Qaeda and Taliban in FATA for this alone will neutralize safe sanctuary to terrorists operating in Afghanistan.
Success in Afghanistan would depend upon how much the allies are willing to contribute. The problem is far more complex than in Iraq. The deep rooted nexus of the Taliban is now over a decade old and is therefore effectively entrenched in Afghan tribal society. To break the same would be difficult and therefore will take time.
Deployment of additional US troops in Afghanistan was warranted as there are likely to be some pull outs over the next few years and European countries with an economic recession would not be in a position to make additional commitments apart from the problems of political resistance.
Increase in US marines in the country would be also in line with the increase in the level of overall strength of the US armed forces as envisaged by President Obama. This would to an extent bring relief to the armed forces given the extra pressure on deployments in out of area contingency operations.
The Canadians are likely to pull out in 2011 unless there is another commitment by the Canadian parliament to continue troop deployment in the country. The withdrawal of Canadians and the Dutch troops from the North of the Kandahar province in Uruzgan would be a blow to the NATO/ISAF counter terrorism and insurgency effort in the country for these troops are deployed in some of the hottest spots which are Taliban strongholds and had seen raging militancy in 2006 and 2007. The two contingents have been able to bring about stability and control their area of influence very effectively hence their departure would expose the Australians who are also doing a fine job here to more and more attacks by the Taliban.
Poland on the other hand decided to enlarge the commitment in Afghanistan with 70 pilots from about 30 Air Force units for controlling the major civil- military airport in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The Polish forces in the East are also effectively firmed in and performing well having brought under control large tracts despite the presence of Taliban in greater numbers in their area of deployment. The French despite a draw down from other areas have promised to stay on in Afghanistan which is welcome.
The impact of reduction in spending on defence on the deployments in Afghanistan not just by the United States but also by all other nations need to be considered. A report in the influential London based Weekly, The Economist highlighted that the British armed forces were suffering due to years of underinvestment. While the magazine agrees that Britain does not have the option of pulling out it states, 'If Britain cannot increase defence spending, then it must scale back less urgent projects, such as new fighter jets and aircraft carriers'. This may well be true for other countries. Americans may be able to sustain the deployment with relief from Iraq but for countries with smaller defence forces this may become difficult thereby reducing their commitments to Afghanistan deployments.
But with a failing supply line from Pakistan, the United States would be forced to look for alternatives, for which Tehran and Moscow would provide the answers. While the US may well take this approach merely to ensure that Pakistan takes appropriate action to keep the supply routes open, these would be the beginning of a reshaped policy of d'tente towards Iran and Russia. Of course these are early indications today which may or may not fructify into tangible policy gains in the future.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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