Monday, March 17, 2008

The Afghan War: Is it Dangerously Escalating?

With America's Iraq front relatively quiet, the world's attention is beginning to turn to the forgotten war in Afghanistan grabbing the spotlight. Some of the recent headlines proclaim as follows:

Monday, March 17, 2008
A suicide bomber in southern Afghanistan killed seven people, including three civilians and three NATO soldiers, as the Afghan military and the ...
Source: Bloomberg

Monday, March 17, 2008
Despite New Highways, Afghans Drive at Own Risk.
Afghan drivers say the road, and other highways like it, are more like the Wild West.
Source: NPR

Monday, March 17, 2008
Missile Strikes Kill 20 In Pakistan;
Parliament Convenes amid Tensions with Musharraf;
110 Arrested in Connection with Bombing of FBI Agents
Source: Informed Comment

Monday, March 17, 2008
Air strike kills 9 militants following bombing in Pakistan, U.S. says
Source: Reuters

Sunday, March 16, 2008
Missiles from an unmanned drone flattened a suspected militant safehouse Sunday in Pakistan's tribal area along the Afghan border, killing 20.
Source: Associated Press

Thursday, March 13, 2008
Taleban Calling the Shots: In a country that is nearly wholly reliant on wireless communications (for lack of any land-line infrastructure), the main mobile networks (all privately run) have begun switching off service at night after attacks on 10 cell towers, the latest on Tuesday night. Score this round for the Taliban.
Source: Foreign Policy Passport

May 13, 2007
Scores of civilian deaths over the past months from the heavy U.S. and allied reliance on airstrikes to battle Taliban insurgents are threatening popular support for the Afghan government and creating severe strains within the NATO alliance.
Source: International Herald Tribune

Most observers, including this scribe, see these headlines as a sign of dangerous escalation of the war in Afghanistan with growing likelihood of expanding into Pakistan and affecting the entire region. Not only are the Taliban resurgent in Afghanistan, they are boldly attacking with impunity inside Pakistan under the new energetic leadership of Baitullah Mehsud.

There are parallels here between the Afghan war and the war in Indochina which began in Vietnam but grew to engulf the entire region including Cambodia and Laos. In Indochina, the US became frustrated with the lack of progress against the Viet Cong and blamed the existence of Viet Cong sanctuaries in the neighboring countries. This was followed by the US invasion of both Laos and Cambodia, resulting in more than a million deaths in carpet bombing. A similar situation is developing here, if you substitute the Viet Cong by the Taleban. The growing US frustration against the Taleban is creating a dangerous situation with the US mounting more and more cross-border attacks into the tribal region of Pakistan.

In spite of their differences with the Bush policies in Iraq, the leading US presidential candidates seem to be in agreement with attacks on insurgent targets in Pakistan, paving the way for a possible "Gulf of Tonkin" type resolution in the US Congress. This situation makes it very likely that the war in Afghanistan will become a regional war outlasting several US administrations, just like the Indochina war did in the 1960s and the early 1970s. With the presence of three nuclear powers in this region, this time the regional war could be catastrophic for the entire region and the world. In such a situation, the US may not be able to pull out like it did in Vietnam. The US policy makers would be well advised to tread with care as they contemplate their policies and actions to deal with the Afghan insurgency.

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