Even in his last State of the Union speech, George W. Bush failed to see the reality in Iraq and Afghanistan. He argued that over the past year Iraq has seen declining violence. He described Afghanistan as “a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school.”
Barring gullible Americans, who think Sydney is a European city, there are no takers for Bush’s misguiding assessments of the two countries, wilfully ravaged by Republican hawks. Mr President tried to paint an unduly rosy picture and omitted key factors that jeopardise stability in both States.
Now when Bush has to leave after some months, it is time for the Americans to think how hard it may be for their new president to make Iraq and Afghanistan normal.
The situation is far from satisfactory in Afghanistan. Taliban are getting bolder by the day. Last week, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded mosque in Helmand, killing its influential deputy governor. Later the militia claimed the official had been their prime target. Such attacks, happening almost on a daily basis, have filled the atmosphere with fear. Nato is constantly on its toes chasing the ultras in a treacherous terrain.
America’s own experts are saying now that the country is on the verge of becoming a failed state unless urgent steps are taken to tackle worsening security. And UK charity Oxfam has warned of the risk of a humanitarian disaster unless Western countries make a “major change of direction” in their strategy.
A report from the Atlantic Council of the United States cautions that the Taliban control of the sparsely populated parts is “increasing”, while civil reforms, reconstruction, and development work has not “gained traction” across the country, especially in the south. The report further says: “To add insult to injury, of every dollar of aid spent on Afghanistan, less than 10 per cent goes directly to Afghans, further compounding reform and reconstruction problems.”
Deep-seated corruption in the administration, demoralised, inadequately trained, lazy and underpaid Afghan soldiers prefer the combat to be done by foreign troops. Being a Pentagon lackey, Hamid Karzai remains hugely unpopular and cannot imagine mixing up with his own people for the fear of assassination.
And as if this was not enough, more and more top US diplomats are straying off Bush’s foreign policy as the administration wanes, leaving Condoleezza Rice struggling to keep them in check. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to the UN, hammered another nail in the coffin of Washington’s failed policies when he told students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs: “Iran is stronger today because of the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
The 2003 ouster of Saddam removed a key rival of Iran. After the fall of a Sunni-dominated government in Baghdad, the Iranians have friendly ties with the Shias now in power. Zalamay rightly feels that the balance in the region has disintegrated or weakened.
And a systematic destruction of Afghanistan helped Iran big time. Tehran almost went to war with the Taliban in the late 1990s. After the vile blitz and the subsequent ouster of the Islamic fighters in 2001, Iran’s relations with Afghanistan improved, their trade grew and Iran helped build roads and power lines in Afghanistan. But the Bush administration wants the world to believe that Iran is now arming the Taliban to make life difficult for the US.
Afghanistan is doomed if it is continues to be treated like a hot potato. Since it has no oil, every member of the ‘coalition of the willing’ (or sinning?) is pulling out. Germany has snubbed America after receiving a “stern and direct” letter from Robert Gates asking (read ordering) Berlin for thousands of more troops. The Germans justifiably resented pressure tactics of Bushians.
Nato has been struggling to persuade members not to worsen matters by withdrawing.
A few days ago, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper threatened to call home his country’s 2,500 troops from around Kandahar, a major hot spot, unless they receive reinforcements. Following a rise in casualties, the Dutch and British governments are also facing domestic pressure to reduce their military presence in Afghanistan.
Iraq continues to bleed. February 1 twin suicide attacks in Baghdad, carried out by two women, which killed a hundred men and women, proved yet again that the Iraqis in their own cities are as safe as Kikuyus are in Nairobi these days.
When Al Qaeda slows down a bit as part of its strategy, the US commanders start staging victory dances. When the country’s capital is so unsafe, what would be the level of security in other major Iraqi cities? No marks for guessing!
A recent BBC documentary on what the British have left behind in Basra is a tell-tale picture of the jungle rule. Non-Shias are being told to leave or face the bullet. Women have more restrictions. Shia militias are on the prowl and those who don’t follow sectarian laws are harassed and hounded out of the city.
In the words of Kurt Campbell, chief executive of the Centre for a New American Security think-tank, “There has been little fundamental progress towards political reconciliation that the president trumpeted.”
The amount of truth in Bush’s claim about progress in Iraq and Afghanistan is as much as was in his claim about a nexus between Saddam and Al Qaeda and about WMDs in Iraq which Saddam could give Al Qaeda and which Al Qaeda could use against the Americans.
[The writer can be reached at email@example.com]