06 May 2012

Keeping Tabs on the Situation in Afghanistan (because somebody oughta be doing it)

Kabul, Afghanistan (image via Wikipedia)
As reported by the The New York Times on 26 April 2012,
Acting at the behest of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, senior American officials told a California congressman last weekend that he was not welcome in Afghanistan because of concerns that his sharp criticism of Mr. Karzai would undermine Washington’s efforts to rebuild trust with the government and restart preliminary peace talks with the Taliban.

The congressman, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, has made little secret of his desire to alter the Obama administration’s policies there radically. He has joined Afghan opposition leaders and former warlords in calling for a revamp of the Afghan government into a decentralized, federal state.
Here’s the kicker: 
Mr. Rohrabacher contends his approach would create a more stable Afghanistan...

Uhhh... isn’t Dana Rohrabacher’s Afghanistan expertise more along the lines of destabilization, as in the overthrow of the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, which collapsed several years after The United States’ covert support of the insurgents helped to bring about the Soviet military withdrawal in 1989? In the wake of the fall of the government, almost all of the Afghan political parties came together under the Peshawar Accords in a peaceful power-sharing agreement that established the Islamic State of Afghanistan, with an appointed transitional government that was to be replaced by general elections. But there was one militant group that opposed the government, which was backed by neighboring Pakistan and succeeded in bombing the hell out of much of Kabul. And then there were the regional militias that were hostile toward each other, which quickly gained backing from Saudi Arabia and Iran. So suddenly, it was an all-out war. The interim government had no police or justice system in place to deal with the horrific lawlessness, chaos, and mayhem that befell Kabul, while the Taliban grew out of the south to overthrow the fledgling democracy in 1996.

Is this the kind of “stability” that Rohrabacher is talking about?

Dana Rohrabacher in Afganistan, 1988
He did not board the plane from Dubai to Afghanistan, but Representative Louie Gohmert took the helm of the congressional delegation that was on its way to meet with the same Afghan opposition leaders that these two Congresspersons and several others had met with in Berlin back in January. I find it rather strange that Rohrabacher’s office claims that he was only added as a “last minute addition” to the delegation when another member cancelled just before the trip. How handy that his schedule happened to be open. On the other hand, as opposed to Wolf Blitzer, who is shocked and outraged, I find the fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally called Rohrabacher to ask him not to go, followed up by a phone call from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, to be promising for US-Afghan relations.

In my article, Give Afghanistan Peace a Chance, I basically accused Rohrabacher and company of taking the opportunity in Berlin to set up arms deals with these former leaders of the Northern Alliance, with whom the Reagan Doctrine architect has ties leading back to the 1980s. But according to Mr. Gohmert, although the opposition leaders had asked for artillery and antitank guns, the delegation “rejected the idea as beyond the scope of their elected roles.” Well, let’s hope that this is really the case, even though it is difficult to not conjure up memories of Charlie Wilson’s War, which is based on the real-life story of a Congressman from Texas who used his position on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense to secretly fund the Afghan Mujahideen.

A cross reference of who is currently on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense against the list of who all went to meet with the opposition in Afghanistan says that this is not exactly a Charlie Wilson type affair. The members of the Congressional delegation were Reps. Louis Gohmert (R, TX), Michael Burgess (R, TX), John Carter (R, TX), Michele Bachmann (R, MN), and Democratic Delegate from Guam, Madeleine Bordallo.  The obvious questions are; why are Texas so darn interested in Afghanistan? (Perhaps they all have a Charlie Wilson complex.) And what business is it of theirs, as representatives of their home districts, to be meeting with the political opposition to the Afghan government that the United States is in the midst of very delicate negotiations with – trying to end the quagmire that this administration inherited? Rohrabacher is the only one who is on a foreign affairs committee at all, being the powerful Chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, while several of the Congresspersons are involved with military and financial oversight. Also, other than Rohrabacher and the token Blue Dog Democrat that they always seem to drag along on these trips to make sure that they can call themselves “bi-partisan,” there is one thing that the rest of these representatives have in common: membership in the Tea Party Caucus.

Hmmm - I smell the stench of domestic oppositional politics, here.

And Yet, There Is Progress

When it comes to the Obama Presidency, my belief is that this is a man who understands that complex problems will only get solved in small steps. The idea that small can still be significant is a difficult concept for many U.S. citizens to comprehend, considering how the culture is all about carrying big sticks and making big splashes and living life in a big way. So this president is vastly underappreciated. And of course, these small steps do not play well into the three-ring circus that is politics in the United States. Thank goodness he nailed Osama bin Laden.

Less splashy but more significantly, Obama is carefully reaching a political settlement to the War in Afghanistan. The secret negotiations between the United States and the Taliban fell through after they were disclosed by the media, angering Karzai because he was kept in the dark about them, and then all that craziness with members of the U.S. military going on rampages and otherwise disrespecting the Afghanis – in a very big way – which only inflamed the ire of the Taliban.

After the Panjwai massacre, tensions were running high, and there was a spate of Taliban suicide attacks against Western embassies and the parliament building in Kabul as well as government buildings in other provinces. The message seems to be clear: the Taliban opposes the Karzai government and the Western powers that are supporting it.

But what is also difficult for Western minds to comprehend is that this is Afghanistan, where things are not clear at all. A post titled Our Brothers on the blog, Kabul Perspective, does indeed offer some insightful perspective on how many Afghanis feel about their Commander in Chief:

When our President calls militants — who our forces are trained to fight — “brothers” in public, the definition of enemy gets blurred. And this cracks the very foundation of our security institutions.
Yet, the article is about how the Taliban attacks elicited a response by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) that has revived confidence in their ability to perform after the U.S. and NATO withdraw the troops in 2014, expressing the “need to rally mass awareness campaign of support for our security forces,” despite the fact that Karzai does not seem to trust them, himself.
Tajik Girls

Just a day before ANSF Special Forces and police showed their stuff by gunning down 36 Taliban militants in mid-April, the High Peace Council unanimously selected Salahuddin Rabbani, son of the slain former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, as that body’s new chairman. The elder Rabbini was a Tajik who was well-respected by members of all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups. The younger Rabbini’s appointment was praised by Karzai as a “move that will further forge national unity and an appropriate decision to prevent outside interferences in Afghan internal affairs.” And so the battle to reconcile all of the groups, through security forces and police fighting the militants in the streets as well as through diplomatic channels and the building of trusting relations continues.

The trick seems to be to find a balance between accepting foreign aid and preventing outside interferences.

To this end, this, my friends, is a beautiful document:

THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 1, 2012 Fact Sheet: The U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement In May 2010, in Washington, DC, President Obama and President Karzai committed our two countries to negotiate and conclude a strategic partnership that would provide a framework for our future relationship. On May 1, 2012, President Obama and President Karzai signed the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America. The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) is a legally binding executive agreement, undertaken between two sovereign nations. The President’s goal in negotiating such an agreement has been to define with the Afghan Government what's on the other side of Transition and the completed drawdown of U.S. forces. The agreement the President signed today will detail how the partnership between the United States and Afghanistan will be normalized as we look beyond a responsible end to the war. Through this Agreement, we seek to cement an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity, and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating Al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates.

The Agreement signed today affirms that cooperation between Afghanistan and the United States is based on mutual respect and shared interests. In this Agreement, we commit ourselves to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Afghanistan. The Agreement is not only a signal of the United States’ long-term commitment to Afghanistan, but it enshrines our commitments to one another and a common vision for our relationship and Afghanistan’s future. U.S. commitments to support Afghanistan’s social and economic development, security, institutions and regional cooperation are matched by Afghan commitments to strengthen accountability, transparency, oversight, and to protect the human rights of all Afghans – men and women. In addition to recognizing the progress that has been made together over the past 10 years, the Strategic Partnership Agreement includes mutual commitments in the areas of: · Protecting and Promoting Shared Democratic Values · Advancing Long-Term Security · Reinforcing Regional Security and Cooperation · Social and Economic Development · Strengthening Afghan Institutions and Governance When it comes to an enduring U.S. presence, President Obama has been clear: we do not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan. Instead, the Strategic Partnership Agreement commits Afghanistan to provide U.S. personnel access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014 and beyond. The Agreement provides for the possibility of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014, for the purposes of training Afghan Forces and targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda, and commits the United States and Afghanistan to initiate negotiations on a Bilateral Security Agreement to supersede our current Status of Forces Agreement. The United States will also designate Afghanistan a “Major Non-NATO Ally” to provide a long-term framework for security and defense cooperation. To be clear, the Strategic Partnership Agreement itself does not commit the United States to any specific troop levels or levels of funding in the future, as those are decisions [that] will be made in consultation with the U.S. Congress. It does, however, commit the United States to seek funding from Congress on an annual basis to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of Afghan National Security Forces, as well as for social and economic assistance. Finally, the Strategic Partnership establishes implementing arrangements and mechanisms to ensure that we are effectively carrying out the commitments we’ve made to one another. To ensure the Strategic Partnership is effectively implemented, the Afghanistan-United States Bilateral Commission will be established, chaired by Foreign Ministers or their designees.
Main Sources:

The New York Times. 26 April 2012

Deccan Herald. 24 April, 2012

CNN, BLITZER’S BLOG. 25 April, 2012

Kabul Perspective. 25 April, 2012

McClatchy News. 1 May, 2012

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