President Obama confers with US lawmakers today as he weighs a decision on what’s the next step in Afghanistan; Bangladesh considers a plan to fight floods with floods; and a collection of love letters sheds new light on the presidency of Warren G. Harding.
The Taliban has been striking at NATO targets in Afghanistan and foreign aid agencies in Pakistan. America’s top commander in Afghanistan has warned that coalition forces there are going to have to adopt a “dramatically different” strategy to ensure success. The World’s Jeb Sharp reports on the dilemmas facing the Obama administration in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. Tomorrow marks the eight-year anniversary of America’s presence in Afghanistan. President Obama and his closest advisors are fiercely debating what’s next for the U.S. there. The debate has been framed as a choice between a narrow counter-terrorism option and a broader counterinsurgency plan. But as The World’s Jeb Sharp reports, it’s much more complicated than that.
JEB SHARP: Americans are focused on whether more troops should be sent to Afghanistan but the dilemmas facing the administration go beyond Afghanistan itself. Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation says the Obama Administration’s original emphasis on both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan was the correct one.
PETER BERGEN: The insurgency is based in both countries so whether we choose not to look at this thing holistically or not, the Taliban and its allies look at the thing holistically. They’re trying to overthrow the government of Pakistan and they’re trying to overthrow the government of Afghanistan, and they’re also engaged in both sides of the border in planning attacks against international forces.
SHARP: But acknowledging that the two countries can’t be dealt with separately doesn’t make the policy any clearer. What might seem logical for one country can inflame the other. Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution explains why ramping up forces and strengthening Afghanistan makes Pakistan nervous.
STEPHEN COHEN: The reason the Pakistanis are obsessed with Afghanistan is that they desperately worry about encirclement by India. There’s a natural strategic alliance between Afghanistan and India against Pakistan, and the Pakistanis are responding by a policy in Afghanistan which is as much anti-Indian as pro-Pakistani.
SHARP: Cohen thinks it was a mistake to label US policy Afpak or even PakAf because it tends to assume the problem is located along the narrow strip of border between the countries. In his view the problem is much larger.
COHEN: I’m at a loss myself for what to name it, but it is a complex series of issues involving a nuclear weapons state, actually two nuclear states because India’s involved and three if you include China, a failed state Afghanistan, and the rise of militant Islam which targets the United States. It also targets Pakistan and India. So perhaps the best title would be continuation of the struggle against Islamic extremism.
SHARP: Which brings us back to the Obama Administration’s goal of defending Americans against attacks by al Qaeda and its allies. When the U.S. first went into Afghanistan eight years ago, the goal was to disrupt al Qaeda’s network and remove the Taliban from power. But now, despite talk of a narrower focus on al Qaeda, the overall strategy still involves defeating the Taliban and creating a stable Afghanistan. That means not just war fighting but also state building, which is notoriously difficult. Just look at Bosnia says Jon Western, a Professor of International Relations at Mount Holyoke College.
JON WESTERN: We’re now 14 years after the conflict ended in Bosnia and there’s been an enormous international effort to build a series of state institutions, and to establish good governance structures in Bosnia. And today, here we are 14 years later and I think Bosnia is in a real crisis because a lot of the institutions that were constructed are not functioning very well. And I think that just points to the dilemma of state building in general. We knew a lot about what was going on in Bosnia. You know, we know a lot less about Afghanistan.
SHARP: Western acknowledges he doesn’t have the answer for Afghanistan, but talk of expanding the mission makes him nervous.
WESTERN: My instinct says that escalation is probably the wrong thing to do, and probably to go more towards a more minimalist approach. I do struggle with the issue though. I mean, I have friends and former students who are from Afghanistan and, you know, they’re doing their best to make it a go. And I would hate to see everybody just kind of throw up their hands and say well this is Afghanistan, this is, you know, centuries of tribal hatreds. Let’s just be done with it. Because I don’t fully buy into that, but at the same time I realize it’s a really, really difficult endeavor.
SHARP: Unless there’s a dramatic about-face by the Obama Administration that endeavor will continue for some time. That fact, as much as the debate over troop numbers and strategy, is what Americans are now confronting, eight years into a very long war. For The World, I’m Jeb Sharp.
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