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Lisbon Summit: An Endorsement of U.S Role in Afghanistan

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By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan

In the Lisbon Summit-2010, held on November 19-20, the NATO partners have agreed to pull their troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, starting from 2011. However, according to a senior U.S official, United States has yet not decided to end its combat operations in Afghanistan. As per the meaningful statement of this official, “The issue of changing the combat mission is an independent national decision which will be made by all 28 nations of NATO. In the case of the United States, we simply have not taken that decision yet." Indeed, the European countries including Britain, the maximum troop’s contributor in Afghanistan, were facing severe criticism ever since they deployed their troops in the hostile land of Afghanistan.

The people of these countries have continuously been asking their leadership as to what benefits they are accruing from this overseas fatigue of their soldiers, some of whom were killed even while fighting with the militants. They also question their rulers as to why the taxpayer’s money is un-necessarily poured into Afghanistan, which otherwise should have been utilized for the welfare of own people. The decision made at Lisbon Summit is indeed a compulsion, forced upon their leadership by the people of the European nations. In forcing their will, they were convinced that Afghan people are the master of their destiny; therefore, forcing any decision upon them would be a violation of the international law.  

As analysed by ‘The Telegraph’ correspondent Mr. James Kirkup, there were clear differences over the pullout plan and engagement thereafter between the European leaders and U.S. The differences were more pronounced in case of the United States and Britain. Britain, which has 7000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, has lost 345 combat soldiers since 2001, with 100 of them lost their lives in 2010 alone. British Prime Minister insisted that, in any case, it would pull out its troops before the next general elections. He categorically pointed out that, “This is a firm deadline which we will meet. We have already paid a very high price; we go on paying that price. It is only right that we are clear with the British public that there is an endpoint.”

 Contrarily, the U.S side kept following a different line. Its senior officials said that, “Nato transition plan did not guarantee an end to American combat operations. U.S forces could go on fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan even after transition. As the transition and ceasing combat operations are not one and the same.” This was not the end, U.S President Barack Obama clearly told the participants that, “One thing I am pretty confident, that we will still be doing after 2014 is maintaining a counter-terrorism capability. It’s going to be pretty important to us to continue to have platforms to execute those counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan.” The statement gives a clear indication that U.S has no plans to leave Afghanistan and this region of black gold. After all, the question arises, as to why U.S should leave Afghanistan. Did U.S invade that country for bringing stability or really for hunting the Osama Bin Laden? 

U.S has lot of stakes in the region surrounding Afghanistan and Afghanistan is just an excuse. The region surrounding the Afghanistan has strategic and economic significance for this sole super power, if it really intends maintaining that status in future too. U.S wants its NATO partners to stay there as far as there are difficulties of combating the Taliban and warlords and to show the world that this is a combined effort of trans-Atlantic alliance. Afterwards, it intends reaping the fruits by itself, without any partner. This is exactly like Iraq, where it got assistance from its European partners, but now it is harvesting the crops all by itself. U.S has pulled out its combat forces from that country, but maintaining a substantial troops and contractors for controlling the oil exports, an essential commodity in the modern time. Besides, the post Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm), it has stationed small pockets of its forces in all strategically located states of Middle East, with the headquarters of Central Command in Doha, Qatar. In this way, the super power gets three benefits. First; it is almost controlling the oil exports of the region and manipulate it, the way it desires. Secondly, it denies the excess of other global powers like Russia, China, and even European countries to gain a foothold in the region. Thirdly, it provides security to its strategic ally, the Jewish state of Israel.

Similarly, while being in Afghanistan, the U.S has strategic role to play for maintaining its global domination. To be in Afghanistan, U.S must have some excuses. So far, U.S has kept alive its own-trained leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. There must be a continuation of the armed struggle of the Taliban and the warlords, the Afghan insurgency as they call it.  There must be a weak, extremely unpopular and puppet leader like Hamid Karzai, holding the Afghan Palace at the Kabul. In the presence of these irresolute Afghan predicaments, U.S would have the legitimacy to stay on and promote its long-term strategic objectives. At the strategic level, US would be able to contain the resurgent Russia, which has started knocking the U.S doors once again, after the cold war ended in 1990. The former super power has successfully dislodged the U.S backed head of the states in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.  It is once again embarking on the agenda of alliance if not integration with its former states in Central Asia, Baltic, Caspian, as well as some of the European countries. China is another rising power and a peer competitor of the U.S in the global politics. U.S would like to have a check on this global giant if it has to remain as a super power. It would try to block the Chinese entry in the Caspian and the Central Asian region, while in the proximity of these states. It has already provided many incentives to these oil and gas rich countries of the region for ultimate domination and hold on the regional resources. Oil and gas pipelines are being laid and are planned more from this region to European Union. Apart from these, U.S presence in the region would take care of Iranian nuclear programme. Definitely, Pakistani nuclear programme cannot be an exception. 

During the summit, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, also signed a long-term security partnership with the NATO and thanked them for the sacrifices they made for the stability of Afghanistan. However, as told later, the Afghan President, “also informed them of the concerns of the Afghan people with regard to civilian casualties, with regard to detentions, with regard to, at times, Nato's posture.” Afghanistan indeed, was only a small agenda point of the Summit. Primarily, the Lisbon Summit reviewed its achievements since the last Summit of the NATO partners held in Washington in 1999. This time, the members have adopted a new, “Strategic Concept,” which would address the alliance’s modern challenges like; terrorism and cyber attacks. They also agreed, to establish a mutual Missile defence system for Europe and United States. As a face-saving, the alliance also invited the Russian Federation to be part of this Missile Defence System in Europe. The Russian Federation has always opposed the missile defence system for Europe by U.S.

In summary, the Lisbon Summit has reiterated the global role of EU, and to be more specific the United States through their military alliance, the NATO. The NATO would now have the mandate to invade militarily, anywhere, even out of EU boundaries, once there would be security threats to any of its member. Indirectly, it was a message to Russia and China after agreeing on the missile shield for the Europe and U.S. Besides, together with its partners, U.S has clearly told the regional actors and Taliban that even 2014 is not the deadline for the withdrawal from Afghanistan by NATO and particularly United States. Indeed, the Lisbon Summit has given a new dynamism to U.S for an enhanced role in Afghanistan and the region surrounding it. It indeed stamped the U.S global agenda of power projection in the 21st century too.


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  1. The author is correct in reading the trend that the US is not going to leave the region alone anytime soon.
    To be able to exercise control on the region, 12000 Kms away,  the US would need economic, diplomatic and logistic support from like minded countries.  Here India would come handy.
    The recent agreements with the Russians on Missile shield and logistics for supplies to Afghanistan indicate that  India is already working behind the scene to engineer an opening between the US and Russia, just as Pakistan did for China in the 70s.
    And the longer the Americans would stay put in Afghanistan, the longer will the Pakistani Army's Strategic depth program in Afghanistan be delayed.
    In this scenario, the Pakistani army's continued policy of using the Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, LET, JEM etc as the bargaining chips would have the predictable consequences in Pakistan.
     

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