Letter of Afghanistan Experts to Pres Obama 12-10
To the President of the United States:
An Open Letter to President Obama:
We have been engaged and working inside Afghanistan, some of us for decades, as academics, experts and members of non-governmental organizations. Today we are deeply worried about the current course of the war and the lack of credible scenarios for the future. The cost of the war is now over $120 billion per year for the United States alone. This is unsustainable in the long run. In addition, human losses are increasing. Over 680 soldiers from the international coalition -- along with hundreds of Afghans -- have died this year in Afghanistan, and the year is not yet over. We appeal to you to use the unparalleled resources and influence which the United States now brings to bear in Afghanistan to achieve that longed-for peace.
Despite these huge costs, the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has made progress across the country. It is now very difficult to work outside the cities or even move around Afghanistan by road. The insurgents have built momentum, exploiting the shortcomings of the Afghan government and the mistakes of the coalition. The Taliban today are now a national movement with a serious presence in the north and the west of the country. Foreign bases are completely isolated from their local environment and unable to protect the population. Foreign forces have by now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Red Army.
Politically, the settlement resulting from the 2001 intervention is unsustainable because the constituencies of whom the Taliban are the most violent expression are not represented, and because the highly centralized constitution goes against the grain of Afghan tradition, for example in specifying national elections in fourteen of the next twenty years.
The operations in the south of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and in Helmand provinces are not going well. What was supposed to be a population-centred strategy is now a full-scale military campaign causing civilian casualties and destruction of property. Night raids have become the main weapon to eliminate suspected Taliban, but much of the Afghan population sees these methods as illegitimate. Due to the violence of the military operations, we are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Pashtun countryside, with a direct effect on the sustainability of the war. These measures, beyond their debatable military results, foster grievance. With Pakistan's active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution. Drone strikes in Pakistan have a marginal effect on the insurgency but are destabilizing Pakistan. The losses of the insurgency are compensated by new recruits who are often more radical than their predecessors.
The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure. Military action may produce local and temporary improvements in security, but those improvements are neither going to last nor be replicable in the vast areas not garrisoned by Western forces without a political settlement.
The 2014 deadline to put the Afghan National Army in command of security is not realistic. Considering the quick disappearance of the state structure at a district level, it is difficult to envision a strong army standing alone without any other state institutions around. Like it or not, the Taliban are a long-term part of the Afghan political landscape, and we need to try and negotiate with them in order to reach a diplomatic settlement. The Taliban's leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them. In fact, the Taliban are primarily concerned about the future of Afghanistan and not -- contrary to what some may think -- a broader global Islamic jihad. Their links with Al-Qaeda -- which is not, in any case, in Afghanistan any more -- are weak. We need to at least try to seriously explore the possibility of a political settlement in which the Taliban are part of the Afghan political system. The negotiations with the insurgents could be extended to all groups in Afghanistan and regional powers.
The current contacts between the Karzai government and the Taliban are not enough. The United States must take the initiative to start negotiations with the insurgents and frame the discussion in such a way that American security interests are taken into account. In addition, from the point of view of Afghanistan's most vulnerable populations -- women and ethnic minorities, for instance -- as well as with respect to the limited but real gains made since 2001, it is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban will likely be stronger next year. This is why we ask you to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan. A ceasefire and the return of the insurgency leadership in Afghanistan could be part of a de-escalation process leading to a coalition government. Without any chance for a military victory, the current policy will put the United States in a very difficult position.
For a process of political negotiation to have a chance of addressing the significant core grievances and political inequalities it must occur on multiple levels -- among the countries that neighbour Afghanistan as well as down to the provincial and sub-district. These various tables around which negotiations need to be held are important to reinforce the message -- and the reality -- that discussions about Afghanistan's political future must include all parties and not just be a quick-fix deal with members of the insurgency.
We believe that mediation can help achieve a settlement which brings peace to Afghanistan, enables the Taliban to become a responsible actor in the Afghan political order, ensures that Afghanistan cannot be used as a base for international terrorism, protects the Afghan people's hard-won freedoms, helps stabilize the region, renders the large scale presence of international troops in Afghanistan unnecessary and provides the basis of an enduring relationship between Afghanistan and the international community. All the political and diplomatic ingenuity that the United States can muster will be required to achieve this positive outcome. It is time to implement an alternative strategy that would allow the United States to exit Afghanistan while safeguarding its legitimate security interests.
Mariam Abou Zahab
Researcher and humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan in the 1980s-early 1990s
Political Science Faculty, York University, Toronto, Canada
Anthropologist (University of Michigan) and author of Talking to the Enemy
Researcher in CNRS and former Director of Institut Francais d'Etudes sur l'Asie Centrale, IFEAC
Political and Security Analyst
Former head of Medecins Sans Frontieres
Colonel (retired) Rene Cagnat
Scholar on Central Asia (IRIS)
Rupert Talbot Chetwynd
Author of Yesterday's Enemy -- Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?
Secretary, International Committee for Solidarity with the Afghan Resistance(established 1980)
Senior Fellow, American Security Project
Associate Professor, Dept of History, Stanford University and co-editor of The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan
Robert Abdul Hayy Darr
Author of The Spy of the Heart and humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan during the 1980s and early 1990s.
US Navy Afghanistan veteran and journalist
Visiting Scholar (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) and author of Revolution Unending
Professor, Musée de l'Homme, Paris; author of several books about Afghanistan; humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan, 1980-2010.
David B. Edwards
Anthropologist (Williams College) and author of Before Taliban
Author of An Unexpected Light
Assistant Professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University
Journalist and writer
Associate Professor of National Security Strategy, National War College (USA)
Military analyst and author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net
Journalist, author and filmmaker (Generation Kunduz: the war of the others)
Author of Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop and editor of Decoding the New Taliban
Freelance consultant, Just Peace International
Photographer, author of Afghanistan 1980-1989 and Afghanistan Diary 1992-2000
Prof. Dr. Eva Gross
Senior Research Fellow, Institute for European Studies, Vrije Universiteit (Brussels)
Shah Mahmoud Hanifi
Associate Professor, James Madison University
Senior Researcher, The Liaison Office (TLO), Afghanistan
Muhammad Ajmal Khan Karimi
Kabul-based freelance journalist and research analyst
Visiting Research Fellow, Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA)
Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations
Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban
Musa Khan Jalalzai
Analyst and author of Taliban and Post-Taliban Afghanistan
Former Head of Analysis and Policy Planning, UNAMA
Colonel Robert C. Jones
U.S. Army Special Forces (Ret.), Director of Strategic Understanding, Center for Advanced Defense Studies (USA)
Dr. Leonard Lewisohn
Senior Lecturer in Persian, University of Exeter (UK)
Professor, War Studies Department of King's College London and author of Pakistan: A Hard Country
Anthropologist, Boston University, and author of Generosity and Jealousy
Author of Mountains of our Minds – Afghanistan
Reporter for 'Express 24/7' (Pakistan)
Sociologist, Senior Research Officer, TLO, Kabul
Research Director, Transnational Studies/Development Studies at The Graduate Institute, Geneva
Kabul-based Freelance Journalist
Japan Assistant to ACAF
Journalist and author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos
Afghanistan consultant and author of The Flight of the Afghan Doves
Fellow, New York University Center on Law and Security, and author of Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World
Research Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University
Prof. Justin Rudelson
Senior Lecturer, Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures, Dartmouth College and author of Lonely Planet Central Asia Phrasebook and Oasis Identities: Uyghur Nationalism along China's Silk Road
Consultant and Professor of Peacebuilding, Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, Eastern Mennonite University (USA)
Consultant and media advisor
Abdulkader H. Sinno
Associate Professor, Indiana University and author of Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond
Alex Strick van Linschoten
Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban
Senior Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway
Co-Director, Integrity Watch Afghanistan
Independent Analyst & Columnist for The News
* * *
If you are an author, analyst or researcher with experience and time spent working in Afghanistan and wish to add your name/signature to this letter, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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