Bhabani Sen Gupta is an award-winning Bengali novelist, a former foreign policy consultant to Indian Prime Minister Inder Gujral in the late nineties, an advocate of non-nuclear proliferation policy in India, and a socio-political commentator (see www.freshquest2009.blogspot.com).
Over the past several months, it has been my honor to assist Mr. Sen Gupta in updating his socio-political narrative “Pakistan’s Truth” (1996), a humanistic story of the two “estranged neighbors,” India and Pakistan, who must learn to co-exist. Through our correspondence, we have also shared and discussed our thoughts and concerns on the unfolding events in Afghanistan and the sub-continent. Here I offer the key points of agreement that have emerged.
President Obama cannot be allowed to join Johnson, Carter, Clinton and Bush in the great American failure in Asia. He has a historical role to play in building a humane face of American capitalism, enriching its social content, making American society less unequal and rekindling its nearly lost appeal to the peoples of Asia, Latin America and Africa.
America fought and lost three wars in Asia after World War II — in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq; winning none of them. I suspect that the deeply entrenched power brokers in Washington, London, Paris and elsewhere want Obama to go down in history as just one more lost hero of the West’s imperial past.
Obama has to be persuaded that American troops, weapons and money are not enough to win the war in Afghanistan because they cannot and will not be able to stay there for more than a few years. The Afghans will never submit to foreign domination. Obama does not seem to understand how deeply mired his troops already are in the dirt and dust of the rocky battle zones, and how distant he and his advisers are from the minds and emotions of the sturdy humans who inhabit the land of a thousand suns.
Obama did not get to the White House to win George Bush’s war in Afghanistan. He has resolved to wind down Bush’s war in Iraq, so must he wind down the war in Afghanistan which has been going on for eight years with still no possibility of victory. He does not understand how vastly unpopular America is in Pakistan and Afghanistan and that he cannot buy these people with money or rhetoric. He does not seem to fathom the message behind the Afghan presidential and legislative elections, the true meaning of the victory of Hamid Karzai despite open and active rejection by the United States.
There were of course strong elements of rigging, but Karzai received so many votes primarily because he stood up to the imperial domain of America. Obama will be playing to his enemy, at home and overseas, if he sticks to his misplaced definition of Bush’s Afghan war as a “war of necessity.” His claim has already been contested by the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas, according to whom the Afghan war is a war of American choice, not of American necessity. Obama can ill-afford to get swallowed in a quagmire in Afghanistan as George Bush did in Iraq.
The war is also very unpopular in the United Kingdom, the second largest contingent of the U.S.-led military fighting in Afghanistan, causing concern for Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown who recently paid a surprise visit to British soldiers. The British media is also becoming more and more vocal in expressing their concern.
The Af-Pak commitment of Obama has already begun to be exploited by the Pakistan government and the military to their own advantage rather than that of the United States. Islamabad knows that the U.S. cannot fight the war in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s active cooperation, without free passage through the vast rugged expanse between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Prolongation of the U.S. war in Afghanistan will get the Americans hopelessly involved in the quicksand of Pak-Afghan politics. The U.S. can hardly afford to suffer a clear setback in Afghanistan after its withdrawal from Iraq without victory.
As in Iraq so in Afghanistan the absence of a clear victory for America will only mean American defeat. It is therefore urgently necessary for Obama to mount a diplomatic initiative to end the war while military operations continue. Washington does not appear to have the strength of a solo diplomatic initiative. Its clout in Afghanistan is low, in Pakistan less than high.
But Obama can certainly take a multilateral initiative by asking the UN Secretary General to seek a regional solution to the Afghan conflict. The UN may be asked to define the basic requirements of settlement, and invite Afghanistan’s close neighbors — Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India, China, as well as the United States and Britain to seek a regional way out of the war, and conclude an agreement that would be underwritten by the UN Security Council. The settlement will be a win-win one for all the concerned powers, especially for Afghanistan and Pakistan. It should not be too difficult to spin out this diplomatic initiative.
Mr Obama’s special envoy to resolve the Afghan conflict, Richard Holbrooke, is himself fully capable of exploring the diplomatic possibilities. The central strategic aim of diplomacy needs to be to firmly establish the traditional neutrality of Afghanistan in the context of regional conflict in South Asia. Only by engaging Afghanistan and the other neighboring nations in this network can any stability be brought back to this area.
This may be our only way to bring peace to the region. It’s a practical, doable solution that all socially responsible peace activists can support.
PsySR member Latika Mangrulkar is a social worker, educator, writer, and storyteller. Latika can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.