Accessibility links

New Afghan Strategy Elicits Hope, Anxiety


The Obama administration's new proposal for strengthening the Afghan government, training more security forces and ending the country's grinding insurgency is a key focus at meetings this week in Europe. But while the plan has broad political support in the United States, Afghans have some reservations.

When the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban government, international interest and the vast resources of Western nations persuaded many that their country was poised for swift improvement. In the years since, as the Iraq war drained resources and attention from Afghanistan, momentum has stalled.

Parliament member Daoud Sultanzoi told VOA that President Obama's new plan has rekindled hopes for improvement.

"Mr. Obama and his administration have created very high expectations in the world, especially in light of the fact [that] the previous administration steadily lost credibility and appeal in this part of the world," said Sultanzoi.

Many Afghans agree with the Obama plan's assessment that improving security is the key to building a stronger, more capable government.

But plans to nearly double the number of U.S. troops to about 60,000 this summer have many concerned that violence, already at record highs, will worsen before the situation improves.

Some Afghans such as Hedayatullah, a driver who works in Kabul, say bringing in more foreigners could further strain relations between the international forces and locals.

He says in the past seven years as more foreign troops came, more Afghans died. He says local people are rising up against them and so the best hope is to increase the number of Afghan police and soldiers.

Other Afghans support bringing in more foreign troops, as long as they are focused on protecting civilians.

Parliament member Shukria Barikzai says the additional forces must demonstrate they are doing everything they can to avoid unnecessary killings and improve security.

"The most important one for us as Afghans is which kind of security is NATO going to provide for Afghans. What we need is human security," said Barikazai. "It should be a bunch of humanitarian aid assistance, physical security and in politics, supporting institutions, rather than individuals, for Afghanistan."

Afghanistan's political structure faces an important test in upcoming presidential elections this August.

For critics of President Hamid Karzai, such as parliament member Sultanzoi, the credibility of the elections will be a crucial, early barometer of how the new international strategy is faring.

"If we do not have a good election, if the election is stolen by Mr. Karzai, then no matter how much force and how much money the United States and our allies spend in Afghanistan, the results will be very minimal."

Beyond the elections, the additional foreign troops and the expanding corps of Afghan police and soldiers are expected to factor into peace talks with Taliban factions.

Proposals for holding reconciliation talks are popular in Afghanistan and President Karzai has even said he is open to speaking with former Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

But Afghan analyst Farooq Bashar says right now, the government is negotiating from a position of weakness.

"Why are we right now considering bringing the Taliban to the peace negotiation process? They show that they do have the power, they have the energy, they have the capacity to create problems not only for Afghanistan, but also for Pakistan and possibly the world," said Bashar.

He added that if foreign troops and the expanded ranks of Afghan security forces can counter the Taliban's growing influence, it will strengthen the government's negotiating position, dramatically improving the chances for a peaceful end to a conflict.

XS
SM
MD
LG