Can Obama get Afghanistan right in second term?
November 13th, 2012
04:18 PM ET

Can Obama get Afghanistan right in second term?

By Javid Ahmad, Special CNN

Editor’s note: Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is a program coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own.

The war in Afghanistan was largely ignored in the lead up to the U.S. presidential election. But with a second term now confirmed for President Barack Obama, Kabul is once again vying for Washington’s attention.

Over the next two years, Afghanistan faces three important transitions – political, security, and economic – of which the viability of all are dependent upon U.S. financial commitment. A bilateral security agreement is currently being negotiated between Washington and Kabul, and this will supersede the current status of forces agreement and guarantee a lighter military footprint for the foreseeable future to assist the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and pursue counterterrorism objectives. And, while Afghanistan’s donor-drunk economy will continue to rely on open-ended financial support from foreign donors for some years, the country’s political transition seems to be on track, with the next presidential vote set for April 5, 2014.

But in the immediate future, the key challenge for Washington is to revitalize the stalled peace talks with the Taliban, discussions that could help put an end to the ongoing deadly confrontations. If withdrawing responsibly in 2014 is indeed high on President Obama’s agenda, then he has little choice but to prioritize and accelerate the peace talks, negotiate a ceasefire between all sides, and reach a settlement that ensures that the Taliban lay down their weapons. If Washington is not serious about pursuing such talks, it should be talking about possible contingencies should post-2014 plans not go as hoped.

The current U.S. exit strategy is largely premised on propping up the ANSF to take the lead on security responsibility and effectively protect Afghanistan’s borders, but this is looking increasingly uncertain. The United States has spent more than $50 billion on raising a 352,000-strong Afghan army and police force over the past decade, slowly turning a quasi-military force into a modern military.

But there is no functional plan in place that stipulates the size, structure, and cost of the ANSF over the long-term. A report released last month by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned that “The Afghan government will likely be incapable of fully sustaining the ANSF facilities after the transition in 2014,” citing “deficient budgeting, procurement, and supply systems.” Afghan forces are reportedly handed security responsibilities of bases and outposts by U.S. troops, but lack the necessary equipment such as helicopters, night-vision goggles, and heavy weaponry to defend these positions against insurgents. If Washington cannot ensure the ANSF’s ability to hold its positions, its exit strategy will most likely fail.

More from CNN: Ignore Afghan war at your peril

But the key challenge ahead for the Obama administration is to address the insurgent safe havens across the border in Pakistan. In dealing with sanctuaries and insurgent support networks, President Obama needs something that was all too rare during his first term – tough talk with Islamabad. This means making it clear to Pakistan’s security apparatus that America will remain in the region for as long as is necessary to complete the job, that Washington will not play by Pakistan’s rules, and – just as importantly – that Islamabad should stop hedging its bets by supporting or tolerating the Taliban.

Days before the U.S. election, a 21-nation BBC World Service poll showed overwhelming international support for Obama. Twenty out of 21 countries surveyed supported Obama with one notable exception: Pakistan. Around 60 percent of those surveyed in Pakistan expressed no confidence in Obama. While Islamabad has few incentives to revisit its Afghanistan policy, reinforcing American statements with more sticks and fewer carrots should not only alter Pakistan’s strategic calculus, but will also go a long way towards salvaging U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, to further support its efforts, Washington should consider brokering a regional non-interference pact between Afghanistan and its neighbors, especially Pakistan.

President Obama will travel to Cambodia to attend the East Asia Summit this month with a symbolic stop in Myanmar – a first for a U.S. president. A stop in Kabul is not on the schedule right now, but an unannounced visit would send an important signal to all stakeholders that bringing stability to Afghanistan is still a key priority. The Obama administration has four years of experience working to tackle the multiple challenges confronting Afghanistan and the region. The question is whether it has learned the necessary lessons of what works – and what doesn’t.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Taliban

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Muin

    Afghans need to start to see value in each other and needs to start thinking about taking advantage of their natural resources. They do have resources. You'd think NGO's communicate this to civil society but NGO's are often too obsessed about converting people from their religion to something else that these basic foundations of civil society never gets communicated to people.

    November 14, 2012 at 12:26 am | Reply
  2. Marine5484

    Can Obama get to be fair toward Afghanistan? He can, but wil he? First of all, we need to get the Karzai regime and the Taliban to the negotiating table and then give up our own ambitions about exploiting Afghanistan's underground mineral resources. Most of all, let's stop this needless bloodshed!!!!!!!!

    November 14, 2012 at 7:24 am | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    The run-up to the 2014 withdrawal could be bumpy if the so-called "green-on-blue" killings of the ISAF by their Afghan allies accelerate.

    November 14, 2012 at 8:17 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Obama is wary of the "blood and treasure" the 12 years had cost. Public opinion in the US could turn against any significant long-term presence in Afghanistan.

      November 14, 2012 at 8:18 am | Reply
      • Silverado

        Public opinion in the US is simple: Keep the muzzies in the muzzie-land. The best way to keep muzzies in muzzie-land is to occupy the muzzie-land and whoop their behinds.

        November 15, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  4. Hahahahhahaha

    Hey the guy on the left stole my curtains!!!!!!!!! Hahahahahahahaha

    November 14, 2012 at 10:36 am | Reply
    • sally

      Dude. Disrespectful and Simply Arrogant. Did I mention that is not funny/Immature? Your like a triple NON threat! :)

      November 14, 2012 at 11:32 am | Reply
      • Hahahahhahaha

        So explain why he's wearing my curtains..........um.............sally!!!!!!!!!!! Hahahahahahahahaahah

        November 15, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  5. Jon

    Obama (and congress) didnt do anything about the problems in Afghanistan the last 4 years. Why would the same people do anything different now? Bring the soldiers home and forget about it.

    November 14, 2012 at 11:45 am | Reply
    • General Sherman

      Well put, Jon. I agree that we need to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible just like the Russians did back in 1989!

      November 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
      • General Grant

        I disagree, General. The whole point is to keep the terrorists..the jihadists..occupied on their own boarders so they dont come to ours.

        November 15, 2012 at 8:17 am |
      • General Sherman

        I noticed General Grant, that when the Russians left Afghanistan in 1989, none of the Muheddinajad followed them back to the U.S.S.R. which was far closer to that country than ours is. If the Taliban do take over in Afghanistan, they'll never have the strength nor the will to attack us at any time. You need to lose your groundless fears and quit believing what all these right-wing, warmongering fanatics say!

        November 15, 2012 at 9:00 am |
      • Silverado

        Russians did so much fornica_ting of your people before leaving, General Sherman. See those pictures on National Geographic cover – muzzies with blue eyes? Do you have some Russian in you, General Sherman?

        November 15, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  6. Silverado

    Keep them terrorist busy looking over their shoulders in their own country. If they look up, drone them. For 10 years these terrorists have been getting their behinds kicked and their leadership decimated. Keep them busy for another 10 years.

    November 15, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Reply
  7. Киев СТО,станция техобслуживания

    Thank you for some other fantastic post. Where else may anybody get that kind of info in such an ideal method of writing? I've a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.

    February 18, 2013 at 5:08 am | Reply
  8. In Home Personal Training

    The question is whether it has learned the necessary lessons of what works – and what doesn’t. We don't need another vitnam! The second we leave all hell breaks lose.

    April 17, 2014 at 7:42 am | Reply

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