Thursday, June 7, 2012

Secretary Panetta, Afghanistan needs a peace settlement, not more war

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan, where US policy has been mostly military.?Washington continues to view Afghanistan through the lens of war when it most needs peace ? a negotiated settlement with insurgents and neighboring states like India and Pakistan.

By David Cortright / June 7, 2012

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (right) speaks with Afghanistan Defence Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak during a joint news conference in Kabul June 7. Op-ed contributor David Cortright says 'many of the obstacles to a negotiated peace agreement could be reduced if the US were to apply to peace even a portion of the resources it now devotes to war.'

Jim Watson/Reuters


If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, to paraphrase psychologist Abraham Maslow. United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan today, where America?s policy toolkit has been mostly military. More than 90 percent of expenditures related to Afghanistan are channeled through the Pentagon, and so Washington looks mostly for military solutions to the problems there.

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Why do policymakers in the United States continue to view Afghanistan through the lens of war when what the country needs most is a focus on peace?

At the recent NATO summit in Chicago, the US military allies confirmed that they will withdraw most of their troops by 2014, but the US plans to maintain a residual military force to train and support Afghan security forces as they battle the insurgency. This will ?Afghanize? the war, lowering US casualties and costs but maintaining military operations to kill and arrest insurgents.

The problem is that counterinsurgency policies have not been able to defeat the Taliban over the past decade, and it is doubtful that they will be more successful with fewer troops in the years ahead. Armed conflict is likely to continue with no end in sight, and could lead to renewed civil war. If this were to occur, civilian suffering would increase, and gains in social development and women?s rights would almost certainly be lost.

Most modern wars end through negotiated peace agreements not military victory. If a peace accord could be reached in Afghanistan this would bring security and stability to the country and reduce the appeal of armed militancy in the region. Research shows that peace processes are most successful when they are comprehensive and inclusive, with strong international backing. The chances of success also improve when agreements are monitored and policed by third party peacekeeping forces.

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