The London Independent reported Saturday that "NATO has agreed on its long-awaited road map for the future of Afghanistan."[1]  --  Kim Sengupta reported that the plan includes keeping Western troops in Afghanistan "for several decades" and "that a degree of corruption will necessarily have to be tolerated as long as it does not threaten the security of NATO forces."  --  The Washington Post avoided such explicit language in its report on the NATO summit, saying only that the process of turning things over to Afghan authorities will be "gradual."[2]  --  COMMENT: The fight against terrorism and the interest of Western elites in Afghan governance is little more than the screen behind which hegemonic Euro-American elites are pursuing hardcore geopolitical interests focused on the energy reserves in the Middle East and the Caspian Basin.  --  In polite society in the United States today, it is considered in poor taste to allude to this.  --  As Harold Pinter said in his 2005 Nobel Prize speech, "[I]t is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives.  What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed. . . . What has happened to our moral sensibility?  Did we ever have any?  What do these words mean?  Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days -- conscience?  A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others?  Is all this dead?"  --  Pinter concluded his speech with these words:  "unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.  --  If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us -- the dignity of man." ...





By Kim Sengupta

** Troops will remain in place 'for decades' after handover to support local forces **

Independent (London)
April 24, 2010

NATO has agreed on its long-awaited road map for the future of Afghanistan amid warnings that the process risks tolerating corruption and the power of the warlords for the sake of security.

The Alliance's summit in the Estonian capital ended last night without the details of the framework for a handover of security to President Hamid Karzai's forces being made public.  The Independent has learned, however, that an area will be deemed ready for transfer if serious violence has been in abeyance for a period of time, if there is access to power by different ethnic and tribal elements and if the conditions are present for development projects taking place in relative safety.

According to senior diplomatic sources, clusters of provinces, rather than individual ones, will be transferred to "provide critical mass" able to withstand the Taliban.  The decisions on the locations for handover and the timeframe involved will be made at a NATO conference later this year after talks between Western and Afghan government officials.

The start of the handover will not, however, mean that troops can start to withdraw, NATO officials stressed.  British troops in particular will have to wait before pulling out as the areas in the south where they are based -- the main battleground with the Taliban -- will be among the last to be transferred to Afghan control.  Gordon Brown had stated that the handover process will start this year, allowing U.K. forces to begin returning home.

The NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, warned:  "The future of this mission is clear and visible:  more Afghan capability and more Afghan leadership . . . But it will not be a pullout.  It will not be a run for the exit . . . Our soldiers will move into a more supportive role.  So it will be a gradual process.  This is conditions-based and not calendar-driven.''

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:  "We believe that with sufficient training and mentoring, the Afghans themselves are perfectly capable of defending themselves against insurgents.  Does this mean it will be smooth sailing?  I don't think so, just look at Iraq.  A lot of progress has been made there but there are still problems with terrorism."

Mrs. Clinton said she appreciated that there was a shortfall of staff to train the Afghan security forces.  However, she added:  "We have a gap that we're still working to fill.  I'm convinced we'll get that filled.  For me, the glass is way more than half full."

Although Afghan forces will take the lead, Western troops will be available to provide firepower and back-up if the insurgents appear to be making a comeback.  If an area which has been handed back shows signs of suffering from endemic corruption or depredations of warlords the local people could protest through shuras -- public meetings -- said NATO officials.  Mr. Rasmusson, however, has said the handover process would be "irreversible" and a senior Western diplomat acknolwedged that a degree of corruption will necessarily have to be tolerated as long as it does not threaten the security of NATO forces.  "It is not for us to detemine whether a particular district's governance is working or not, it is whether there is a threat to the area to a point that the insurgency threatens to take over," he said.

The diplomat pointed out that the policy of transfers remained uncertain.  "Unless we are saying that we will stay and colonize the country we can't say everything is irreversible for ever and we will probably need to remain in support for several decades."

NATO officials also said that the Afghan side in the talks to decide which provinces or districts were suitable for transfer would be represented by officials of the Karzai government at national and local levels and there would be no input from independent groups on the matter.

Some Afghan observers pointed out that NATO's seemingly relaxed attitude about corruption was in marked contrast to the public condemnation by the U.S. and British governments of the corruption in President Karzai's government and his link to warlords such General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim.

Syed Ali Laghmani, a political analyst based in Kabul, said:  "There is a big danger that areas will be given over to strongmen because they can deliver security for the right side and keep out the Taliban.  If the West does not make sure that people do not suffer from corruption in these districts then there will be a lot of trouble in the future.''



By Mary Beth Sheridan

Washington Post

April 24, 2010

TALLINN, Estonia -- NATO members adopted a framework Friday for turning over security in Afghanistan to that country's government, and senior officials said they want to begin the transition this year.

The process would be gradual, with foreign troops remaining in a support role as Afghan forces start to take the lead, officials said.  But, if it succeeds, the handover could enable President Obama to fulfill his promise to start withdrawing U.S. troops next year.

"As of today, we have a road map which will lead towards a transition to Afghan leadership starting this year, at which point our publics will start to see the progress for which they quite rightly have been asking," Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after a two-day meeting here with NATO foreign ministers.

Officials said the framework has been reviewed with the Afghan government, which is expected to give its formal approval at an international conference in Kabul in July.

The NATO agreement formalizes among the allies a part of Obama's Afghanistan strategy that has been in place since December, when he announced that he would deploy 30,000 troops this year and begin to withdraw them in mid-2011.  As the strategy was being formulated during White House meetings in the fall, plans were made to identify provinces and districts with little or no insurgent presence as candidates to be turned over to Afghan government security control before the end of this year.

The final selection, expected to be announced at a NATO summit in November, will allow U.S. and NATO forces to observe the performance of Afghan forces in relatively benign environments.  Assuming the process proceeds as planned, it will provide a visible measure of progress to report in a major administration assessment of the strategy due in December.

The framework adopted Friday sets out some of the conditions for turning over security responsibilities in the selected regions to the Afghan government, including the number and performance of Afghan forces and the local political situation, officials said.

"It will not be a pullout.  It will not be a run for the exits," Rasmussen said.  "What will happen is, we will hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans, and our soldiers will move into more of a supportive role."

The approach mirrors the strategy used in Iraq, where the United States gradually turned over responsibility to the government on a province-by-province basis.  That process was significantly delayed, however, when security worsened in many of Iraq's 18 provinces rather than improving as anticipated.

Rasmussen's comments reflected guarded optimism at the meeting about the Afghanistan effort and a desire to show progress to people in many countries that have turned against the war.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters that she was encouraged by the "new level of understanding and commitment from our international partners," who contributed 10,000 troops and trainers to augment the U.S. surge.

Clinton said she was confident that NATO would receive the 450 military and police trainers it is seeking to boost the transition.

Mark Sedwill, the top NATO civilian representative in Afghanistan, told reporters that "the ambition and the resources are finally aligned" in Afghanistan, after years of inadequate investment.

In addition, he said, officials have realized how important it is to resolve the political tensions that fuel the insurgency.  He described an "electrifying moment" in Marja, the site of a recent military operation, when NATO officials realized that residents had turned to the Taliban after local power brokers essentially converted the local police into their own militia.

As NATO forces target Kandahar, the site of their next major operation, he said, "we're going to try to get the politics right."

--Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.