28 Oct 2009

America's options in Afghanistan are shrinking

Channel 4 News reporter Lindsey Hilsum examines the shrinking number of options available to the US in Afghanistan.

The problem with Afghanistan is that every prescription has a noxious side-effect; every answer raises more questions.

The Taliban is trying to disrupt the second round of the Afghan elections, hence today’s attack on UN staff in Kabul. Having risked death to vote in the first round, and seeing how the government tried to cheat to stay in power, it seems likely that many Afghans won’t bother to vote on 7 November. Who can blame them?

The Americans say democracy is the answer to Afghanistan’s problems, but democracy works well in places where politicians define themselves by ideology, not in countries like Afghanistan where ethnicity is all.

If the Americans abandon their project to keep the Taliban at bay, it’s hard to see how the weak Afghan government can cling on. Sending in more foreign troops is bad as more people will die, and success – meaning stability and development – is unlikely. But withdrawing is also bad, as Afghanistan would likely fragment further as warlords battled for power and territory, some undoubtedly sheltering al-Qaida again.

A counsel of despair comes from Matthew P Hoh, the US Senior Civilian Representative in Zabul Province. In his letter of resignation last month he wrote, “I fail to see the value or worth in continued US casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war.”

When the US and its allies started this fight eight years ago, many Afghan Talibs and al-Qaida fighters, including Osama bin Laden, moved to Pakistan’s tribal areas. Now the Pakistani military – which once sheltered these people and still has sympathy for them – is battling to clear them from their stronghold in Waziristan. As a result, many may be pushed back into Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, the militants take their revenge in daily bombing – this morning up to 90 were killed in Peshawar.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who’s visiting Islamabad, said, “This is our struggle as well,” but many Pakistanis say they don’t want US aid and support. When President Obama came to office, he said it was impossible to separate the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was right, but good analysis doesn’t always lead to effective action, and America’s options are decreasing daily.

Click here to register with Google Feedburner for daily e-mail alerts from the World News Blog.