The new US policymakers led by President Obama must now shelve the messy canvas that was left for them by George W Bush. That canvas is in shreds and beyond repair. In order to redeem the image of the great American nation in the eyes of the world the Obama’s administration will have to carve a new legacy for themselves distinctly different from the Bush legacy.
First, A resolution must come forth from all the stakeholders—i.e., the USA, the UN Security Council, NATO, the UK, other major EU and NATO countries, and from Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India—that they all resolve to bring peace to southwest Asia by replacing military activity with developmental activity. A unilateral ceasefire should be announced by US and NATO Forces saying that military operations, henceforth, will only be undertaken in self-defence. Simultaneously, the offer of peace talks must be made to the Taliban.
Secondly, The USA must also announce unilaterally that after the preliminary rounds of peace talks it shall relocate its forces in a non-combat posture as a prelude to an eventual and complete military evacuation within a foreseeable time frame.
Thirdly, the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan must be treated as a window of opportunity and it should be conducted by the Afghan people themselves, with the help of observers and expert teams from Islamic countries chosen by the Afghans, for the sake of neutrality. The US, although militarily present in Afghanistan, should voluntarily adopt the role of a non-interfering observer after having made it clear that violence will not be tolerated. The US should let it be the fairest of elections. Let anyone who the people of Afghanistan genuinely want to elect win those elections. Let even the Taliban put up their candidate(s) and let them all contest freely. Whatever government then comes into existence in Afghanistan must take up nation building activity of that war- ravaged nation in right earnest.
Fourthly, the US should order all Indian presence out of Afghanistan as this is seen by Pakistanis as an outright hostile act against Pakistan. It cannot be said in any other way because the US and NATO facilitation of the Indian intelligence agencies to operate against Pakistan’s interests from outposts in Afghanistan can only be seen as detrimental to Pakistan’s integrity. Ask a man on the street anywhere in Pakistan’s remotest corner and he will wonder why the government of Pakistan is not protesting to the US in terms loud enough to be heard. Being an ally in what is called by the Americans themselves “a common war” the US has no alternative but to put a stop to Indian activities in Afghanistan forthwith in order to win the friendship of the Pakistani nation. Let Afghanistan become sovereign again and then decide for itself how much Indian presence they would want in Afghanistan. The Indians should also know that if they accept any military role in Afghanistan they will get a taste of unconventional warfare that they will not be able to sustain for even a few weeks. Occupied Kashmir violence will be so dwarfed that the Indians will be wonder struck if they ever choose to accept any military role in Afghanistan.
Lastly, if it wants Pakistan to be on its side as an ally, the US should immediately stop badmouthing the Pakistani military establishment. The allegations against the ISI and the Pakistani army are unwarranted. Who has suffered more casualties in hostilities at the hands of the Taliban, the Pakistani army or the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan?
Pakistan has already done enough at the cost of its own national fabric being torn to shreds. It is now time for peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the entire region for which long strides will have to be taken by the new US administration headed by Barack Obama so that southwest Asia can bury violence forever and start a new era of peace, progress, prosperity and harmony within the region and with the world at large. If such steps are not forthcoming and the only words the world continues to hear are surge, drone attacks, and do-more, then I am afraid this region, along with USA, is headed towards a complete disaster.
It is in the long-term interest of the USA itself to seek peace rather than continue to destabilize the region through a heavy military presence in a combat role. It is also not going to be long before the cash starved US public starts calling for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; a call no US administration will be able to ignore. This region will then be lost to the USA for many decades to come.
The above exit strategy will have enormous dividends for all the stakeholders—i.e., the USA, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Contrarily, indefinite US military occupation of Afghanistan will create a devastating turmoil in the region. Resultantly, the US will lose its present foothold in Afghanistan and Pakistan just like it lost its foothold in post-1979 Iran. Without a doubt, it is now time for the USA to spread a new canvas and paint afresh a picture of peace which has goodwill, development, fraternity, tranquility and inter-faith harmony painted clearly if it wants its influence and diplomatic presence in this region to remain.