Come January, President-elect Barack Obama will confront the most difficult foreign policy crisis of his administration with the region-wide-war developing in Afghanistan. If he is to succeed, the new president must immediately change the tone of U.S. engagement. He can do this by first establishing a revised set of rules by which the United States must play, stressing the rule of international law and respect for civil and human rights. The president must then initiate these rules by announcing that the first priority of U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan is the preservation of human life. In other words, stop killing Afghanis.
1. Stop killing Afghanis. Since September 11, 2001, the United States has behaved as if it is at war with the Afghani people. Killing innocent Afghans is more than just ineffective; it defies the world’s sense of justice and morality while turning the Afghani people and the Islamic world even further against the United States.
2. Stop humiliating Afghan men and desecrating their homes. The U.S. military’s search-and-destroy tactics in rural Afghani villages have turned the countryside en masse against the U.S. presence.
3. Call in people with a better understanding of the problem from a diversity of the Afghani political perspective. Washington’s think tanks continue to mimic a failed British imperial policy that favors Pakistan and was, as long ago as 1870 referred to as “a folly and a crime.”
4. Help Afghanis in a way they can see and appreciate. Redirect the focus of U.S. government policy to serving basic needs like roads, irrigation systems and a viable secular education program. Activate and involve Afghani leadership at the local level. Empowering Afghanistan’s women will bring about Afghanistan’s economic recovery faster.
5. Declare the “global war on terror,” the “Long War” and the “global struggle against violent extremism” to be over. Wars are failed policy by other means. By definition, making war is failure—the making of failure on failure.
6. Address the conceptual blurring of goals. The long-term conflict between Pakistan and India underlies every security issue in the region. Make normalization of relations a priority by promoting a regional dialogue, which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran. The United States must free itself of its pre–World War II mind-set that transforms all diplomacy into a Munich-style appeasement.
7. Address the issue of illegal narcotics where it counts. Afghani heroin now accounts for 93% of the world’s supply. A proposal by the Senlis Council, would see the conversion of Afghani opium into medicine, benefiting the Afghani farmer and removing it from the international black market.
8. Numerous “experts” recommend finding a place for the Taliban in a new Afghani government. Such recommendations ignore the reality that the Taliban are not indigenously Afghani and were created to destroy Afghanistan’s independence. Instead, conduct negotiations with the state sponsors of this Taliban terror, Pakistan’s army and its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) while helping the Afghani people keep the warlords out of their government.
9. Set the record straight on American involvement in Afghanistan. The U.S. supported the Afghan drug trafficker and terrorist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for ten years. Now he wants to be in the government. The United States cannot afford alliances with extremists like Hekmatyar whose campaign of terror continues to target moderate Afghanis.
10. Finally, reopen the national debate on U.S. identity that was silenced on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Resumption of this debate was overruled by the creation of the Cold War and the national security state in 1947 and edited out of the script by the events of 9/11.
The United States is in a fight for its life, not because of what happened on that day, but by the way the country responded to it. That response was at once wildly exaggerated, dangerously reckless, and, in the end, ineffective.
Enlist the people from within the institutions of government, academia and the public who understand this. Choose from those who have the courage to reflect on the mistakes of the past and ask, “Why did we fail Afghanistan? What can we do to succeed?”
Every president of the United States since Dwight D. Eisenhower has overlooked Afghanistan’s importance in favor of Pakistan’s self-interest. That process has resulted in denying Afghanistan’s people a just, modern and independent society in favor of an unjust, backward, and medieval one.
If Barack Obama wants to create a successful policy in Central Asia, he must give priority to what is good for Afghanistan.
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are authors of "Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story," which will be published in January by City Lights Books, www.citylights.com