Monday, October 19, 2009

Why Afghanistan?

Because it’s there…well, because of what's near there.

Pakistan, a corrupt, poverty-stricken, failed state that always seems to be at odds with the world’s largest democracy, India – also a nuclear power. Not countries with nuclear power but, instead, nations with nuclear weapons. Pakistan is a nation barely propped up by the United States which has taken Osama bin Laden and his comrades-in-arms at their word: get Pakistan to get nukes.

To be sure, bugging out of Afghanistan would only invite problems in that nation that eventually would be visited upon us again. The vacuum that nature – and unstable nations – abhors would be filled…quickly. And lest we forget, it was the vacuum left behind by the former invading/occupying Soviet Union that served as an incubator for the Taliban and its virulent cousin, al Qaeda.

Landlocked and not of any particularly great value when it comes to resources, the Central Asia nation shares borders with Pakistan, the friendly Iranians, China and the “stans” of the former USSR (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan). While we prop-up the Pakistanis and provide “aid” to some of the “stans,” it’s generally considered a neighborhood where you don’t want to go at night. Or in the day, for that matter.

Since we all know by now that the vast collection of tribal areas drawn into a fairly meaningless map, beginning with its founding in 1747, has become known as the “graveyard of empires” (namely the Russians and British), we won’t delve into its history too deeply. Of course, besides any interest Americans have held since “Charlie Wilson’s War” hit the big screen has been primarily limited to thinking that since 9/11, bin Laden is living there near its outer boundaries.

But things have changed.

With the war in Iraq essentially won (or at least turned tepid) with the Petreus Surge, our attentions – and soon another surge – focus on this dusty outpost of mankind too many time zones (and several eons of human development) away. Seemingly, each week is filled with reports of new American boys coming home from Afghanistan in American body bags. As President Barack Obama said, Afghanistan is “a war of necessity.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean our military there are bulletproof or that the job is an easier one than Iraq was.

Logistically, it will be tougher. Yes, we do have NATO on our side in this conflict, but the roles of our “allies” in the effort are often under-resourced and limited in such a way that it actually helps the terrorists, insurgents and Talibani more than it does us in many instances.

We should, if at all possible, find a way to restore Afghanistan to some semblance of what it once was. What it thought it could be. And we should not rest until the opposition is ruthlessly and finally crushed. Let us finish them – and the job –while we are in-country. But we’ve got to find ways to move the terrorists away from the Pakistani frontier and preserve what shreds of order and stability might exist in Pakistan.

Back to the original point of all this: Pakistan.

Since 1947, when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned and India and Pakistan became independent of Great Britain, the two have not been the best of friends. The worst clash between the two nations came in 1947–48, 1965, and 1971. At the root of the ongoing tension have primarily been attributed to hostilities between Hindus and Muslims and – as well as the “disposition of self-governing princely states.” (India, by the way, also is a nuclear power and isn’t afraid to protect itself just as it did in the previous wars.)

So Pakistan - a country always seeming to be justthisclose to dissolving into utter anarchy and then becoming another militant extremist Muslim state – has the bomb. And there’s the rub. You see, Pakistan having nukes by itself is bad enough – given all the bad blood it’s had with India all these years. But throw in the definite possibility that some nut job group of mullahs or Taliban/al Qaeda types with fingers on the trigger (or even giving away fissile material to other terrorists), and you can see why the Afghanistan problem can’t be allowed to spread.

Of course, Pakistan continues to be rocked on an almost daily basis by terror attacks that are designed to upset already tenuous circumstances there: inflict fear in/on the populace, demoralize military and police, encourage other low-lifers, and sow the seeds for a future conflict and/or takeover. That can’t be allowed to happen.

The good news is that the president has approved a significant increase in troops being sent to the area. "This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," Obama said in a written statement. "The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border."

Let me say this: bravo, Mr. President. This is not a time to dither and play politics. The stakes of the game we're in are too large to wager on elections, special interests or even misplaced pressures from allies (and, possibly, the Nobel Prize Prize committee).

As bloody, tragic and horrible as the conflict there already is – and it will get worse – we do need to dedicate ourselves to finishing this effort…the right way. This isn’t about WMDs that “might” be there. This isn’t about anything having to do with oil. This isn’t about a proxy war with competing nations. This is about making sure a group of people who have promised to use nuclear weapons and who are capable of wanton, mass killings are stopped dead in their tracks before they get a chance to even think about their plans again.

Dead in their tracks.

No comments: