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Ahmed Rashid: US can succeed where USSR failed

January 29, 2009 1 comment

In a lengthy essay in The National, an Abu Dhabi-based English-language daily, Afghan author Ahmed Rashid writes that the U.S., despite failures during the Bush administration, can still find victory in Afghanistan.

Rashid has an interesting point of view: As he narrates at the start of the essay, he was in Kandahar in 1979 when the Soviets began shelling. But he says the Soviet apparatus was far too backward and positively antique to effectively meet the challenges it faced in Afghanistan.

Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw US troops from Iraq while stepping up the American commitment in Afghanistan. He has yet to fully flesh out the policy he will pursue, but seems to understand that what is required is a “comprehensive surge” that goes beyond new troops and new tactics to increase and coordinate development and reconstruction, provide security to the Afghan people and embark on a diplomatic initiative to bring Afghanistan’s multiple meddling neighbours together to stabilise the country and end the sanctuary the Taliban still enjoy in Pakistan. Obama has appointed a special envoy to the region, the seasoned senior diplomat Richard Holbrooke, and has begun to get tough with the Karzai government over corruption and the drugs trade.

The Bush administration lacked an overarching strategy for Afghanistan and its neighbours, and Obama does not want to repeat that mistake. He has already announced orders to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and he will soon make a historic speech in a Muslim capital, where he is likely to repudiate Bush’s “global war on terror” and announce a policy of talking to militant groups, including the Taliban, while continuing the pursuit of global jihadists. Bush left regional diplomacy largely in the hands of the Pentagon, while Obama will restore the role of the State Department. Several senior administration officials have acknowledged that they cannot “shoot their way to victory” in Afghanistan.

—David Graham, Trinity ’09 and editor

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