President-elect Barack Obama does seem to understand that greater attention needs to be paid to the non-military dimensions of the policy that the United States has pursued in Afghanistan. He has indicated that he is not averse to the nascent attempts to establish contacts with moderate elements of the Taliban and is said to be inclined to include Iran in the ambit of the peace-making efforts in the region. His focus is likely to incorporate an emphasis on boosting socio-e conomic development efforts in the war-torn country. Few would dispute that all these steps are not just necessary but long overdue. Even the Bush administration, which has for too long been overly dependent on strong-arm methods, appears to be waking up to reality since it has ordered an intensive inter-departmental reappraisal of available intelligence in order to generate a range of options for its successor. But while all this is to the good, there is a risk that the “Obama effect” on international affairs could derail the process of evolving a more nuanced approach. Over the past year and more, U.S. military commanders in charge of this theatre have tried to persuade NATO allies to contribute more troops to the Afghan operations. These efforts have not met with much success because the allies were fearful of being roped into supporting roles for the Bush administration’s belligerence. However, with Mr. Obama soon to take office, there are indications that the allies might relent.
If there is a substantial increase in the number of U.S. and NATO troops on the ground, tactical options such as raids on Taliban and Al Qaeda hide-outs across the Durand Line, would become more feasible. The question is whether at that point in time Mr. Obama will be able to resist resorting to the “bad cop” part of the Afghan strategy he outlined during the course of the election campaign. NATO-member states and other allies are highly unlikely to contribute more troops unless there is clear agreement on the rules of engagement. It is inconceivable that any of them, including the United Kingdom, would allow its troops to be used for military operations inside Pakistan’s territory. The allies would prefer to be involved only in programmes to train Kabul’s security forces although some might agree to participate in counter-insurgency operations. However, their presence would provide scope for the U.S. military to consider more adventurist options. The international community has a responsibility to clearly define the limits of intervention in this context so that Mr. Obama is warned against succumbing to pressure for an adventurist strategy well before he finalises his Afghan policy.
6 months ago