Obama at crossroads on Afghanistan —and anti-war movement?
There is ironic timing to Barack Obama's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. Hours after getting the nod from the Nobel committee, he convened his war council in the White House Situation Room for talks on his military strategy in Afghanistan. (AFP, Oct. 9) Gen. Stanley McChrystal, US commander in Afghanistan, has sent alternative proposals with requests for more troops ranging from 40,000 to 60,000. (WSJ, Oct. 9) Obama is said to have ruled out de-escalating the Afghan war to a counter-terrorism effort aimed at al-Qaeda rather than the Taliban. (AlJazeera, Oct. 7) Other reports indicate Obama is willing to consider a role for the Taliban in Afghan's security forces as the price of peace. (The Telegraph, Oct. 9)
The Peace Prize also comes amid controversy over a a new $1.5 billion aid package for Pakistan. The Pakistani armed forces have raised "serious concern" over the package, which it fears will allow Washington to interfere in government policy. Conditions that come with the Kerry-Lugar Bill, passed by Congress late last month, require monitoring and certification of Pakistan's action against terrorism and efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, and to determine that the military is not interfering in the political process. (The Telegraph, Oct. 27)
On Oct. 10, insurgents attacked Pakistan Army's General Headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi with rifles and grenades. (PTI, Oct. 10) On Oct. 9, Pakistani insurgents torched six NATO supply trucks bound for Afghanistan at a terminal near Peshawar—as they did in January and December. (AlJazeera, Oct. 9) Later that day, a blast at a market in Peshawar left 48 dead. (NYT, Oct. 9) One day earlier, US military authorities acknowledged that American and Afghan forces accidentally killed a child during a raid on a Taliban compound in eastern Afghanistan's Logar province. (AP, Oct. 8)
Also Oct. 8, a suicide car bomber attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul, killing 17 by-standers. Three members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, who were guarding the compound, were wounded. The Taliban reportedly claimed responsibility, and Western diplomats pointed to Jalaluddin Haqqani, a pro-Taliban warlord whose Pakistan-based forces are battling US troops in eastern Afghanistan. (FT, Oct. 8) A car bomb also killed 40 at the Indian embassy in Kabul last July.
In an embarrassing blow for US forces Oct. 3, insurgents attacked two base camps in the Kamdesh District of Nuristan province, leading to a pitched battle that left eight Americans and four Afghans dead. (NYT, Oct. 5)
Anti-war movement divided?
As the US-led war in Afghanistan began its ninth year this week, 61 were arrested at the White House Oct. 5 in a protest organized by the War Resisters League. Hundreds marched to the White House in a solemn procession, carrying large photographs of war victims, led by a banner that read: "Mourn the dead, heal the wounded, end the wars." Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004, welcomed the group on the sidewalk in front of the White House. (AllVoices, Oct. 6)
Meanwhile, the anti-war group Code Pink appears to be softening its stance against the war in Afghanistan over concerns that a troop withdrawal could harm women's rights in the country. "We would leave with the same parameters of an exit strategy but we might perhaps be more flexible about a timeline," Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin told the Christian Science Monitor. "That's where we have opened ourselves ... to some other possibilities. We have been feeling a sense of fear of the people of the return of the Taliban. So many people are saying that, 'If the US troops left the country, would collapse. We'd go into civil war.' A palpable sense of fear that is making us start to reconsider that."
The apparent shift in policy comes in the wake of a week-long trip to Afghanistan by Code Pink members, where activists said they were surprised to find widespread support among women's rights activists for maintaining the US and NATO presence in the country. "In the current situation of terrorism, we cannot say troops should be withdrawn," said Shinkai Karokhail, an Afghan member of parliament and a women's rights activist, at a meeting of international rights groups. "International troop presence here is a guarantee for my safety." (Raw Story, Oct. 7)