March 29, 2009

THE ROAD TO KANDAHAR IS PAVED WITH SKULLS:

Graveyard Myths (PETER BERGEN, 3/28/09, NY Times)

The Soviet experience in Afghanistan weighed heavily on the minds of Bush administration policymakers, who kept a “light footprint” lest Afghans rebuff American and allied soldiers as hated occupiers. But as it turned out, the Afghans were widely enthusiastic about being liberated from the Taliban. In an ABC/BBC poll conducted in 2005, a full four years after the fall of the Taliban, 8 in 10 Afghans expressed a favorable opinion of the United States — an extraordinary proportion in a Muslim nation — and the same number supported the American-led overthrow of the Taliban in their country.

And just last month, in a new poll by ABC and the BBC, 58 percent of Afghans named the Taliban as the greatest threat to their nation. Only 8 percent said it was the United States. And while only 47 percent of Afghans still had a favorable opinion of America, the Taliban fared far worse, with just 7 percent approval.

What Afghans want is for international forces to do what they should have been doing all along — provide them the security they need to get on with making a living. That means building up the Afghan Army and police, which are only about one-fourth the size of the security services in Iraq. This will not come cheap, but the cost of putting an Afghan soldier in the field is only one-seventieth that of sending an American. President Obama, who will travel to Europe for NATO’s 60th anniversary in early April, can ask those European countries that are reluctant to send additional troops to Afghanistan to instead contribute to a permanent fund to help pay for the expanded Afghan security services.

The United States should also focus on projects that will bring both security and economic benefits to Afghans. A key task is to secure the all-important road between Kabul and Kandahar, a once-pleasant freeway that has become a nightmarish gantlet of potential Taliban ambushes.

Afghanistan’s vast opium/heroin industry finances the Taliban and feeds rampant government corruption. The American Drug Enforcement Administration should make public the names of the top Afghan drug lords, including government officials, so that they can no longer act with impunity. And because Afghanistan’s court system is still incapable of handling major drug cases, Kabul should sign a treaty with Washington that would allow key heroin traffickers to be tried in the United States.

Measures like these would help return Afghanistan to something like the state it was before the Soviets invaded in 1979: a relatively peaceful country slowly building itself into something more than a purely agricultural economy.


Color us dubious that the will exists for the sort of punitive invasion Mr. Bergen invokes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 29, 2009 6:51 AM
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