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      Monday
      Dec192011

      The Next Three Years: Ending the Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

      Obama has set 2014 as the timetable for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, a date endorsed by NATO forces as well. While far short of peace movement demands, the date already is being blurred and subverted by Obama’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who said last week that the American troops could stay longer if invited by the Afghan government. (New York Times, December 11, 2011) Coming immediately after President Hamid Karzai’s appeal at the Bonn conference for another ten years of military and economic support, there is potent opposition to Obama at very high levels.

      Karzai is asking for another decade of American military involvement and, in spite of the 2014 deadline set by Obama and NATO ministers, the American military is openly lobbying for an extension through a Status of Forces Agreement which would allow counter-terrorism missions, long-term  bases, immunity for US troops, and the continuation of night raids, now  occurring at the rate of 19 per night. (New York Times, December 4, 2011)

      If Crocker and Karzai can drum up support to override Obama’s timetable, the US war in Afghanistan will last twenty years, unless a reinvigorated peace movement combined with strong Democratic opposition can keep Obama on course. There are signs that Obama and his closest advisers want to speed up the transition from an American combat role, which may explain the open opposition from Crocker and Karzai. 

      Dying for Karzai is becoming hopelessly unpopular, however, as hopes for Afghanistan sharply decline and the US economic crisis deepens.

      • The current cost of Afghanistan for taxpayers is $500 billion, and that’s only the direct cost. For Iraq, the full costs exceed three trillion;
      • American deaths in Afghanistan were 1,844 as of December 13, up from 625 when President Obama took office in January 2009;
      • The false promise of women’s rights in Afghanistan is revealed again by the recent banning of a documentary film about a young Afghan women forced to marry their rapists; (New York Times, December 2, 2011) 
      • So-called humanitarian aid groups worry about a US withdrawal, despite only 20 percent of budgeted relief aid actually being spent. Foreign aid is equal to Afghanistan’s total gross domestic product, which the World Bank says cannot be sustained;
      • American military leaders complain that if secret night raids, which have doubled since 2010, are eliminated, “the United States may as well go home.” (New York Times, December 4, 2011)

      The December 5 US/ISAF conference on Afghanistan in Bonn ended somewhere between failure and fiasco, according to all accounts. There is no strategy for “success”, which makes dying for Karzai an immoral and humiliating mission for many American troops.

      It is almost certain that legislators like Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Jim McGovern will carry legislation in 2012 demanding a more rapid Afghan withdrawal and cuts in war funding, a position likely to be echoed by NATO delegations to the Chicago summit on Afghanistan this May.

      The key to ending US drone attacks over Pakistan is a political settlement in Afghanistan, a prospect which seems remote at present, though the process is shrouded in secrecy. The key difference between the Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan crises is that the US built, funded, armed and advised a Shiite-led regime, which could dominate the Sunni and Kurdish communities in Iraq, while no such arrangement is, will materialize in Afghanistan or Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the de facto civil war continues to simmer between the Pashtun South, where the Taliban is strongest, and the northern communities comprised of the old Northern Alliance. In Pakistan, the generals are unlikely to abandon their alliance with the Afghan Taliban, the current civilian government is deeply unpopular, and a vigorous peace movement is being led by the most popular figure in the country, the cricket star Imran Kahn.

      So what is to be done? A strategy note

      In the coming year, peace groups will have to build linkages around domestic economic and environmental issues with the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and insurgent movements including Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street. For the peace movement, the purpose is to build a stronger coalition than between longtime pacifist and religious communities. And domestic movements will have to be convinced that their goals are unattainable without ending the trillion dollar wars abroad. Democrats will have to decide that winning elections requires a platform commitment to rapidly end these wars. And the peace movement will have to build a mandate for peace into the 2012 election.

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