Staying the course in Afghanistan

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Anders Fogh Rasmussen's Sept. 11 op-ed, "Remembering 9/11 on the battlefield," was a timely reminder that victory in Afghanistan is within our collective reach. Some 2,000 NATO troops and thousands of Afghan soldiers, police and civilians have given their lives to secure the future of Afghanistan against extremism and terrorism.

The costs of premature withdrawal from Afghanistan are far greater than the costs of staying the course until Afghans can stand on their own. But for the counterinsurgency to succeed, the Pakistani military establishment must be persuaded to end its institutional tolerance of and active support for extremism, e.g., the Taliban. The terrorist and criminal groups affiliated with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, not Afghan villagers, are fueling the insurgency. Not until Afghanistan is no longer vulnerable to state-sponsored terrorism that flagrantly violates the U.N. charter will there be permanent peace in Afghanistan and stability throughout the region.

What gives me hope for victory are the Afghan people, more than 70 percent of whom are younger than 25. In urban and rural Afghanistan alike, they have begun standing on their own. They deserve a chance to move beyond the past three decades of imposed conflicts on our nation, with the continued engagement of the United States and NATO.

M. Ashraf Haidari, Washington

The writer is deputy chief of mission and political counselor at the Embassy of Afghanistan.

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In his Sept. 12 op-ed column, "A dubious battle for Afghan hearts and minds," David Ignatius worried that the U.S.-led coalition's goal of turning responsibility over to the Afghan government by July may not be achievable, citing "basic weaknesses in plans for governance and training."

He wrote that "without adjustments," the answer might be that "you can't get there from here," recalling the punch line to the old joke about a Maine farmer's reply to someone asking for directions.

In another old joke about a tourist seeking directions from a Maine farmer, the outsider asks about the best way to get to his destination. "Does it make any difference whether I take this road or that road?" he asks, pointing to a map. "Not to me, it don't," replies the down-easter.

With so much at stake, Americans cannot afford to be indifferent to the question of which road to take in Afghanistan. The two studies cited by Mr. Ignatius suggest that our military operations are not building support for the Afghan government and that attrition is foiling efforts to create a bigger Afghan national army and police. Not only do we face a situation where we might not get to our goal next year, it appears that if asked whether it makes any difference whether Afghanistan is ruled by President Hamid Karzai or the Taliban, more and more Afghans might say, "Not to me, it don't."

Julie Bettenberg, Burke


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