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A To-Do List for Afghanistan

By Turki al-Faisal
Friday, October 9, 2009 12:00 AM

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- As President Obama considers what to do about Afghanistan, it is important that he hear perspectives from all sides concerned about that critical region. In Riyadh, it is clear that the Taliban is weak in Afghanistan. Their record in government is well remembered by Afghans, including large numbers of Pashtuns, all of whom suffered greatly at the hands of Mohammad Omar's Taliban cohorts.

The Taliban is not a cohesive or uniform political party with a chain of command and a political manifesto. Rather, any disaffected, rebellious or aggrieved Afghan who overtly opposes the government by military means and otherwise has come to be identified as a member of the Taliban.

Osama bin Laden has become not only the symbol of opposition to world order in general and to the United States in particular, but he is looked upon by disaffected youths -- and not just Muslims -- as an indomitable, untouchable Robin Hood. Even if he no longer organizes and executes terrorist acts, the fact that he survives reinforces that appeal every day and adds to his charisma. Bringing him to account is a necessity, whether by capture or by death.

So, what should the Obama administration do?

- Overcome the misguided handling of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was initially shunned and denigrated by the administration, forcing him to reach out to unsavory politicos and "warlords" to win the recent elections. If there were a viable opposition to Karzai, then you could undermine him. But there is not.

Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main opponent in the election, is a Tajik, and he will not be accepted to lead the country by either the Pashtuns or the Uzbeks, the two largest components of Afghanistan's tribal structure. Abdullah's "Westerly ways" further undermined his credibility among nationalists. Once the commission investigating the recent election fraud declares its conclusions, the United States should move on and concentrate on setting benchmarks for Karzai, especially on development projects.

- Change the media theme from attacking the Taliban and calling them the terrorists to concentrating on al-Qaeda and "foreign terrorists." By removing the stigma of terrorism from the Taliban, you can pursue meaningful negotiations with them. Mohammad Omar has never enjoyed the full support of Pashtuns. He is a lowly figure in tribal terms, and he is blamed by many of them for the calamity that has befallen Afghanistan. Reaching out to tribal leaders is what will move negotiations.

- Fix the Durand Line. As long as this border drawn by the British is not fixed, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be at loggerheads and always suspicious of one another. A joint development project for the border area, announced by both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and supported by the United States and the world community, will direct people's eyes to the future rather than the past.

- Convene a meeting of the security-intelligence departments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia to devise ways of eliminating al-Qaeda's leadership. China, Russia and Saudi Arabia have a long-standing vendetta with al-Qaeda and will contribute intelligence and other resources to rid the world of this cancer.

- Push India and Pakistan to fix Kashmir. That is doable, once both countries see a determined effort by the United States in that direction. Both countries are beholden to the United States -- Pakistan for the military and financial support it receives and India for the nuclear energy agreement it has signed with Washington.

- Take on the heroin trade. The challenge can be met by a program that America used in the 1960s in Turkey, where opium poppies were extensively grown and processed into heroin. The United States bought the entire crop from the farmers directly and allowed them to plant alternative crops for their livelihood. There is no more heroin trade in Turkey.

Resolution, reflection and determination are the key characteristics of Obama's personality. He should stick with them. As in all difficult issues, when people see these qualities on display, most of them will be persuaded to follow.

When the Pashtuns, among whom bin Laden hides, see the determination to get him, they will calculate differently from when they see that nobody cares. When Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari see resolution in Obama's demands for benchmarks and for settling the border dispute between their countries, they will adhere. When India and Pakistan feel the strength of an American push on Kashmir, they will come along.

When Russia, China and Saudi Arabia sense a seriousness of purpose on eliminating the al-Qaeda leadership, they will gladly provide whatever support they can. When the U.S. financial commitments on development are met, the people of Afghanistan will regain their confidence in America's word.

And when President Obama's advisers or interlocutors tell him that he can't do this or that, he should just say to them: Yes, we can.

Prince Turki al-Faisal was the longtime director general of Saudi Arabia's intelligence service, the Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah. He was also the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

© 2009 Global Viewpoint

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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