Asia Scope

An op-ed

An op-ed penned by three US senators in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend neatly encapsulates the problems facing US policymakers in maintaining support for the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan. Indeed the senators, including John McCain, call for an escalation, arguing that although sending more troops is no guarantee of success, failure to send them is a guarantee of failure.

But such demands, which come on the back of reports like this one outlining the Taliban’s apparent rise in Kandahar, run counter to some of the commentary coming out of the region.

I spoke with UNESCO Peace Chair Madhav Nalapat over the weekend for his take on what is going on in Afghanistan, and he was pretty gloomy about NATO’s prospects. He says the continuing troop presence is merely exacerbating anger among locals and that the US should largely withdraw as soon as possible and restrict itself to tasks like training local police.

He also argued that the current focus on the fairness of elections is a Western/NGO obsession not shared by many Afghans, who he says just want effective government. He cites the example of his own country, India, where he says many would trade fairness for competence. I don’t necessarily agree with all of this analysis – even though turnout was apparently low, millions of Afghans still cared enough about the polls to risk their lives voting last month. But he does highlight one of the real problems the US needs to address in Afghanistan, and that is the apparent sense that there’s a sort of Fortress Kabul been created, but that outside the city the central government is forgetting about the people and it’s every man for himself.

But if the US does decide to ramp up its contribution, and even if it can avoid a corresponding increase in civilian casualties, winning the hearts and minds of Afghan’s isn’t always as straightforward as some might think/hope it is, as highlighted in this fascinating insight  from David Wood over at Politics Daily on the problems with American ‘generosity’.