"United States cannot kill, jail or occupy all of its adversaries."
Bill Clinton 2003
After years of unsuccessfully trying to kill or jail all of the Taliban and occupy Afghanistan at great cost to the US taxpayers, and after failing to persuade Pakistan to attack and kill all of the Taliban, President Obama is finally seeing what Bill Clinton saw more than eight years ago: The Obama administration is hinting at doing less killing and more talking. The balance of power in the White House is clearly shifting from the hawks at the CIA and the Pentagon to the diplomats at the State Department in Washington. Here are some of the signs of this long-delayed policy shift:
1. The US is welcoming the opening of the Taliban embassy in Qatar to begin formal negotiations to end the Afghan conflict. After resisting it first, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also given it a lukewarm reception, according to NY Times.
2. The names of the Taliban leaders, including that of Mullah Omar, have been removed from the FBI's Most Wanted terrorists list. A UN panel removed 10 Taliban along with 35 Al-Qaeda members and affiliates from its sanctions terror list.
3. Vice President Biden has said publicly that the Taliban is not "our enemy". He added that the U.S. is supportive of a reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban even if it's questionable whether a reconciliation is possible.
4. The US drone strikes have seen longest pause since the November border incident that resulted in the tragic killings of 24 Pakistani soldiers by the US military, and the US-Pakistan relations plunging to a new low. The US supply routes to Afghanistan through Pakistan are still closed, raising doubts about the future of continued NATO presence in the region.
5. The State Department is talking about restoring full cooperation with Pakistan as early as possible in 2012. “We desire a closer, more productive relationship with Pakistan both militarily and as well as politically. And we’re constantly working to build that closer cooperation,” the State Department spokesperson said recently.
Pakistanis have consistently pressed the US for a long time to end its Afghan policy of "fight and talk", and to focus more on talking and less on fighting. Instead of seriously listening to the Pakistani advice, the Obama administration, supported by the western media, has been accusing Pakistan of playing a double game, and urging it to declare war with all of the Taliban.
It's not clear what the final trigger was for the change of heart in Washington. Could it be the highly symbolic killing of Osama Bin Laden in May, 2011 that quenched the thirst for revenge for 911 attacks? Or the rapid deterioration of relations with Islamabad, a key ally in the US war in Afghanistan? Or a belated recognition of the futility of war after spending hundreds of billions of dollars with no end in sight? Is it the continuing economic slump in the United States forcing deep budget cuts at the Pentagon? It could be any or all of these reasons for the policy shift in US history's longest war.
An earlier shift in US policy toward reconciliation would have saved thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of lives of innocent victims in both Afghanistan and Pakistan; but the shift is still welcome. It's better late than never.
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