Meghan O’Sullivan is the most senior Bush Administration official handling Afghanistan policy. It was learned that O’Sullivan didn’t know what the Durand Line was. This stuns me … If she wasn’t familiar with this basic point. the issue was brought up in a meeting between an Afghan expert and O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan is a deputy national security adviser in the Bush White House.
After Iraq, Afghanistan is the most profound foreign policy mess the Bush Administration faces. Five years after US forces chased the Taliban out of Kabul, the Taliban are resurgent, adopting tactics used by Iraqi rebels. The central government of President Hamid Karzai remains weak and cannot provide security or basic services to its people. Reconstruction has slowed dramatically.
Poppy cultivation has exploded. Tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan are affecting the military campaigns against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. And the consensus among Afghanistan experts is that many Afghans, seeing little direct benefit from the lagging reconstruction efforts, have lost faith in the US-backed government. According to recent Congressional testimony by Barnett Rubin, a New York University professor who has advised the United Nations on Afghanistan, a former Afghan minister recently said, “The conditions in Afghanistan are ripe for fundamentalism.”
Yet George Bush has no senior-level official responsible for policies and actions in Afghanistan. “The situation is worsening,” notes former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. “We have to have someone in government responsible for the whole picture–military, economic assistance and political.
There’s a nexus between each. But there’s not one person in the government designated to be in charge of that nexus. It could be the ambassador. It could be someone else–if they have resources and clout and accountability. But this Administration has not been keen on accountability.”
O’Sullivan is an icon of how the US handles one of the most important foreign policy issues.
She has a US security approach to the issue. she neither has the resources nor the talent to speed up the reconstruction, she is not making the policy but pursuing the “security agenda”. She is neither a neocon nor an ideologue.
She has even earned the suspicion of conservatives for having proposed engaging with Iran and for suggesting–before 9/11–that it is unproductive to brand a state a “rogue regime.” The problem is that O’Sullivan, who is in her mid-30s, is not an expert.
It has been a year and a half since the Bush Administration had a major player covering Afghanistan. That was Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American named ambassador to Afghanistan and a special presidential envoy in 2003. He was well schooled in the nation’s history and culture and its internecine conflicts.
In 2002, as a special envoy, he oversaw the loya jirga that led to the establishment of a government there. He later negotiated with regional Afghan leaders. “He would routinely jump into a car and go over to Karzai’s office to give him marching orders, for good or bad,” says a Congressional aide who witnessed such occasions. A neocon advocate of the Iraq War and a disciple of Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, Khalilzad had direct lines into the White House and the Pentagon. In March 2005 he was named US ambassador to Iraq.
Khalilzad was replaced by Ronald Neumann. Neumann lacked the standing of
Khalilzad. “He tries, but he’s not able to get stuff done,” Rubin says. “He does not have the clout. When I ask him for something difficult, he says, ‘It will never get through the bureaucracy.'”
Until this past March, Maureen Quinn, who had been US ambassador to Qatar, was the State Department’s coordinator for Afghanistan. But she, too, did not wield much influence. After she left the post the Administration appointed no successor. Instead, her duties were split among four State Department officials: Richard Boucher, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, and three of his deputies. But Boucher’s bureau is responsible for thirteen countries, including Pakistan, India and Kazakhstan. The Afghanistan and Central Asia brief was added to his bureau only this past February.
“The coordination issue has been up in the air for some time,” says Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister, “and there is less money now. And the country is facing the consequences.”
In Washington the bottom line in dollars usually represents the bottom line in policy, and US funding for reconstruction and security assistance in Afghanistan has been on the decline. From fiscal year 2005 to the next, it fell from $4.3 billion to $3 billion. The Administration’s request for 2007 funding is $1.2 billion. Of that only about $800 million is tagged for reconstruction and development. “You can’t rebuild a country for $1 billion,” notes a senior Democratic staffer in the Senate. “To me it says we’re just going to hope that things get better without making the necessary commitment.”
The decline in funding coincides with the worsening situation. The Afghan wound is bleeding worst and worst, yet the serum is getting cut off.
On the policy side the administration is seeking an alternative to nation building. Senate majority leader Bill Frist recently said that the Taliban and their allies ought to be brought into the government.
This practically means the end of Afghanistan. Fortunately his office later claimed he had meant to refer only to tribal Afghans possibly sympathetic to the Taliban.
But Karzai proceeded and offered, several times, the Fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar peace talks.
Instead, the one-eyed leader with a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head has repeated his threat to prosecute Karzai in an Islamic court for the “massacre” of Afghans.
“There can be no talks with the Afghan puppet government in the presence of foreign occupying forces. Hamid Karzai and his colleagues should first free themselves from the slavery of foreign infidels and then invite us for negotiations.” Tayyab Agha said by satellite phone from a secret place.
Mullah Omar is now the strongest he has ever been and negotiating with terrorists when they are strong is not easy. Opine anti-terrorism experts like Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, director of the DST, France’s lead counter-terrorism agency, have detected ‘a new flow’ of militants heading to Afghanistan, according to a report in the Los Angles Times.
The expert view is that these militants see a ‘clearer battleground and a wealth of targets’ in Afghanistan these days five years after the Taliban was
thrown out of the country in a war that signalled the beginning of a long global battle.
not only is there no one at the helm of the under funded policy; the Bush Administration has been unable to forge a consistent approach to the critical issue of Pakistan and the Taliban. In June Ambassador Neumann sidestepped a question about whether Pakistan was supporting the Taliban. In August Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the US Central Command, said that he “absolutely does not believe” that Pakistan has been colluding with the Taliban. But in
September Marine Gen. James Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, which has just assumed command of the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, told a senate committee that it was “generally accepted” that the Taliban maintain
their headquarters in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province.
This naturally suggests that Pakistan–or elements within its government–is assisting the Taliban. (On October 7 Pakistani police arrested more than forty Taliban suspects, but said they had nabbed no significant Taliban.)
How should the Bush Administration deal with the thorny matter of Pakistan and the Taliban?
As a sign of confession the administration remained silent, in spite President Karzai and Nato commanders apprehension and concerns, after the controversial armistice between Taliban and Pakistan in North Waziristan.
The Afghanistan desks at the State Department and the National Security Council ponder this and other issues daily, but nongovernmental Afghanistan watchers say they see few, if any, signs that senior Administration officials are fully grappling with this dicey subject and the other challenges of Afghanistan.
the policy decision is falling in the hands of the three- and four-star American generals on the ground. Since the diplomats recycle through and have no experience in the area. “Everyone in the region assumes that the United States is not serious about succeeding in Afghanistan.” Says Rubin.
former career foreign service officer who was ambassador to Pakistan, notes,
“In 2004 I saw a huge surge of interest in the White House, with the President
getting directly involved. Now I see less interest. I feel less hopeful.
People coming back from Afghanistan are not optimistic.” Richard Lugar, Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently said at a hearing that the problems in Afghanistan have “become so daunting that there is a feeling, not of confusion or frustration, but of almost general despair.”
As part of the despair moves Karzai has written to influential ethnic Pashtun politicians in Pakistan asking for their support to stem a growing Taliban insurgency. The letters was sent to Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, leader of the opposition in Pakistan’s National Assembly. Fazal-ur-Rehman is the father of Taliban and a leading pro-Taliban cleric.
In September George W. Bush brought Karzai and Musharraf to Washington for a dinner together. With the two bickering in dueling CNN interviews over the Taliban matter, Bush remarked, “It will be interesting for me to watch the body language of these two leaders to determine how tense things are.” (Referring to that comment, Armitage exclaims, “I didn’t believe it. This is not a high school football game.”) There was no immediate indication Bush achieved much during the meal. But the day before, the President told Karzai, “I know there are some in your country who wonder whether or not America has got the will to do the hard work necessary to help you succeed. We have got that will.”
Perhaps. But no one to do the work.