Afghans reject US escalation and demand negotiated solution to the war

IssueMarch 2009
News by Gabriel Carlyle

A recent poll in Afghanistan has found a majority condemning Western airstrikes in the country, and calling for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.

Meanwhile US president Barack Obama continues with his escalation of the Afghan conflict. On 17 February, it was reported that Obama had authorised the deployment of up to 17,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan. According to the BBC poll (see below for more details), this is a highly unpopular move.

73% think that US-led forces in the country should either be decreased in number (44%) or “kept at the current level” (29%). Only 18% of Afghans favour an increase.

There is also going to be an escalation of British troops — on a scale to be announced. According to a Harris/FT poll in mid-January, some 57% of Britons rejected calls for any more British troops to be sent.

The US escalation is likely to endanger the current peace negotiations, according to Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban envoy, who has been invited by Afghan president Hamid Karzai to help organise a national reconciliation process.

Mujahid believes there may be “big problems” for Saudi-led peace efforts “if the Americans carry out this big offensive in the wrong way.” The resulting anger could “help those in the Taliban who do not believe in any kind of negotiations.”

A tougher line

Senior administration officials have told the Washington Post that Obama intends to adopt a tougher line toward Karzai, as part of a new American approach to Afghanistan that will “put more emphasis on waging war than on development”.

The reality, as a senior American contractor working in Afghanistan told the Guardian, is that the “[d]evelopment was an afterthought” in the 2001 invasion.

More than 40% of aid reportedly goes back to donor countries in corporate profits — an estimated $6bn since the start of reconstruction seven years ago. Profit margins for foreign contractors are sometimes as high as 50%.

US military spending on security in Afghanistan runs at about $100m a day; average expenditure on development by all donor countries put together is less than $7m a day. President Obama intends to downgrade development.

Negotiations wanted

The recent poll in Afghanistan, conducted by the BBC and other international broadcasters, found that though there is majority support (60%) for the US-led coalition presence in the country, an overwhelming majority oppose the coalition’s use of airstrikes, and want a negotiated settlement involving the Taliban.

77% said that the use of airstrikes by US or the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commanded by NATO was “unacceptable because it endangers too many innocent civilians.”

68% said that they blamed US/NATO/ISAF forces (41%) or “both sides” (27%) for the deaths caused by such strikes. Only 28% blamed “anti-government forces”.

The number of Afghans seeing attacks on US-led forces has doubled since 2006 to 25%. More Afghans (36%) now blame the country’s troubles on the US and its allies than mainly blame them on the Taliban (27%).

Despite this, a clear majority (58%) see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country. Even so, 64% think the government in Kabul “should negotiate a settlement with Afghan Taliban”. Interestingly, 71% of these folk “think the government should negotiate only if the Taliban first stop fighting”.

Topics: Afghanistan