‘Afghanistan is a sovereign state and it is not our prerogative to choose its leader’

 

Michael O’Hanlon is a Senior Fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence and Director of Research for the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings Institution. He is a Visiting Lecturer at Princeton University, Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University, and a Member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. His most recent book is Healing the Wounded Giant: Maintaining Military Preeminence while Cutting the Defense Budget. He has also authored Toughing It Out in Afghanistan (Brookings Institution Press 2010); and <span data-mce-=”” underline;”=””>The Science of War (Princeton University Press 2009). He coauthors Brookings’s Afghanistan Index. He and Bruce Riedel wrote A Plan A- for Afghanistan in the winter 2010/2011 issue of The Washington Quarterly and published a paper on Afghanistan and Pakistan for Brookings’s Campaign 2012 project.

 

He is a strong votary of the US-Afghan security agreement and believes it is a win-win situation for both the parties. In his recent articles, he has slammed President Hamid Karzai for dragging his feet over the agreement. He believes it is about the Afghan and American people, not one individual.

In a freewheeling interview with Afghan Zariza, Mr. O’Hanlon takes some tough questions about the bilateral security agreement, war crimes in Afghanistan, and why he is still hopeful for the future of country, despite umpteen challenges confronting it.
Q. In your recent New York Times Op-ed, you launched a scathing attack on President Hamid Karzai for not signing the bilateral security agreement with the U.S. How is this agreement ‘about the American and Afghan people’, as you write in your article?

A. First, we did not meant it to be scathing, and the New York Times used a title we did not approve of. But we did mean to underscore that President Karzai does not appear to be speaking for most Afghans, given the results of the Loya Jirga, the fact that all Presidential candidates appear to support the bilateral security agreement (BSA) with U.S., and so on.
Q. Over the past few months, airstrikes have resulted in the deaths of several civilians. Can we say the ongoing U.S. raids and strikes have contributed to Karzai’s concerns, especially the way U.S. authorities refused to cooperate with National Directorate of Security (NDS) to investigate the Wardak incident where 18 men disappeared after U.S. raids?

A. I doubt your information is correct on the latter point; normally we take all concerns about civilian casualties extremely seriously.

Q. In a report that was published on September 23, National Directorate of Security (NDS) investigators said they had asked the United States for access to three U.S. Green Berets and four Afghan translators working with them but were rebuffed. “Despite many requests by NDS they have not cooperated. Without their cooperation this process cannot be completed,” said the report. So, doesn’t that mean investigations were halted due to lack of cooperation from U.S. or you don’t trust what NDS said?

A. But, in general, the US/ISAF and NDS/ANSF do cooperate on investigations. There are many times they have done so, and as you know ISAF tries hard to take responsibility if mistakes are made that lead to loss of life. It is worth remembering that this has been the most careful counterinsurgency campaign in history with far greater efforts made to protect civilians than in virtually all previous wars.

Q. At the recent NATO meeting in Brussels, Secretary of State John Kerry said U.S. does not rule out the possibility of exploring other options if President Karzai refuses to sign the deal. Do you think they will dump Karzai and rope in some other person to go ahead with the deal?

A. No, Afghanistan is a sovereign state and it is not our prerogative to choose its leader.
Q. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Afghanistan, the three senior U.S. government officials failed to answer two simple questions about the casualties of U.S troops and the cost of war in Afghanistan. Do you agree something is seriously wrong with the U.S. plan and policy in Afghanistan?

A. This is an unfair way to attack the U.S. officials without even saying why you think they failed to answer the questions. I have lots of criticism of U.S./International policy, however, so I would agree that it is far from perfect.

Q. Rep. Gerry Connolly called it “a stunning development”. “How can you come to a congressional oversight hearing on this subject and not know” he said. And here is what Rep. Dana Rohrabacher had to say: “Maybe this is the grovel administration. This is insanity and it’s time for us to get our butts out of that country, not for their sake, but for our sake.” Why do you think these gentlemen were so angered by the lack of response from officials at the hearing?

A. I am not familiar with the Congressional debate that you mention. I have my differences with administration officials but don’t think of any of them as unprepared or ignorant. So my working assumption is that the two Congressmen were angry and perhaps trying to gain some attention for their remarks – and I probably would not agree with their choice of words.
Q. In your article ‘Plan A-Minus for Afghanistan’, you argue that the strategy of U.S in Afghanistan ‘still has a good chance to succeed’, but you hasten to add that it is ‘not guaranteed to succeed, for reasons having little to do with its own flaws and more to do with the inherent challenge of the problem’. Could you explain this dichotomy?

A. Taliban forces are strong; corruption is rampant; the state is relatively weak, Pakistan is ambivalent at best, and relations with President Karzai are complex. All that said, I still believe in the mission – and the country and people of Afghanistan. On the whole, I am very hopeful.

Q. You coauthor Brookings’s ‘Afghanistan Index’, which is a statistical compilation of economic, public opinion and security data. How far have the international community’s counterinsurgency and nation-building efforts in Afghanistan succeeded?

A. It is mixed, as you know. There has been a great deal of progress on economics, the quality of life and security institutions. But, there are also problems like Taliban, corruption, neighbors etc.

Q. In its November 2013 report on Preliminary Examination Activities, the International Criminal Court has found that the war crimes and crimes against humanity continue to be committed in Afghanistan by US-led foreign troops? Do you agree?

A. No; with the rare exception.
Q. There are reports that U.S. is throwing its weight behind Abdullah Abdullah in the upcoming Presidential elections. How strong are his chances against Ashraf Ghani and Zalmay Rasool, the two men considered close to Karzai?

A. I doubt that you are right. In fact I am fairly confident you are wrong to think the U.S. has a preferred candidate for 2014 Presidential elections.
Q. How do you rate President Karzai’s 12 years at the helm? How has Afghanistan evolved over the years?

A. I think I will leave it at that.

Source: Afghan Zariza (http://afghanzariza.com/2013/12/22/afghanistan-is-a-sovereign-state-and-it-is-not-our-prerogative-to-choose-its-leader)

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About Zafar Mehdi
Maverick journalist, irreverent rebel, travel freak, cricket junkie, reluctant fundamentalist, student of life, dreamer, believer.

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