The highly publicised divisions in the Obama administration and the President's tergiversations could change the atmosphere.
The Taliban, Hizb Islami and the Haqqanis might well conclude that the US no longer has the will to stay the course and thus all that the insurgency needs to do is to hang on a bit longer to see Nato leave under the pressure of Western public opinion. Any perceived lack of resolve on Obama's part could discourage the new national army and police or even tempt elements within them to switch to the Taliban. The controversy over August's presidential election could also help turn the tide in favour of the insurgents.
Washington needs to act urgently on a number of fronts. First, it needs to help end the uncertainty regarding the election results. With the election marred by fraud, Karzai's legitimacy has been called into question. An election run-off between Karzai and his closest rival, the former Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah Zamariani, has been set for 7 November. It is now imperative to ensure that the run-off does not create new divisions, thus undermining the legitimacy of the victor. It would be wise to have the results endorsed, at least implicitly, by a full session of the Loya Jirgah (or shura — the High Assembly). This represents Afghanistan's different ethnic groups, tribes and religious communities. The new constitution recognises the Loya Jirgah as a constituent assembly and the nation's highest legislative organ. Endorsement would bestow on the victor an added layer of traditional legitimacy as opposed to one produced by elections which, after all, remain an imported system of assessing the will of the people.
Former mujahideen commander Abdul-Rasul Sayyaf and Taliban leader Mullah Omar
The same session of the Loya Jirgah could debate and approve a number of constitutional amendments. The presidential system introduced in 2002 does not reflect Afghanistan's diversity. The amendments could reduce presidential powers, create the post of prime minister, install a system of parliamentary democracy and devolve power to the regions. On the way to a new session of the Loya Jirgah, the main losers of the presidential election should be co-opted into an interim government. Such a government would have a better chance of promoting a dialogue with the insurgent groups.
Once a mechanism is created for reconciliation and reform, President Obama should support it by sending the additional troops demanded by General McChrystal. Increasing the number of troops makes sense only in the context of a clear political strategy, the starting point of which must be a genuine and sincere commitment by Nato to achieving victory.
Obama's assertion that he is not looking for "victory" in Afghanistan sounds bizarre to say the least. In war, the only objective that justifies one's sacrifices is victory, imposing one's will on a deadly adversary and creating a new status quo that favours one's interests. If you don't want victory, you don't go to war.
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