Solidarity with Malala

It may turn out to be one of those decisive turning points, an act of unspeakable brutality that sparks a wave of public revulsion and unleashes forces of decency against violence and fanaticism.

The savage shooting of 14-year old Malala Yousafzai by a Taliban militant in Pakistan last week was meant to intimidate girls and all those who would dare to speak for freedom and the right to be educated. Instead it has had the opposite effect, prompting widespread revulsion and protest against the Pakistani Taliban.

The attack was specifically targeted at a brave girl whose ‘crime’ was to demand the right to go to school and to condemn extremism and violence in her native region of Swat. In recognition of her courage and commitment to peace Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Razi Guilani last December awarded her the government’s National Malala Peace Prize.

On October 10 a bearded man approached her school bus in the town of Mingora as it was preparing to take students home after morning classes. The gunman shot her at close range firing bullets into her head and leg and also injuring two classmates. The Tehreek-a-Taliban Pakistan later took responsibility for the crime and said she was guilty of ‘being pro-Western’ and ‘promoting secularism.’ Malala is currently recovering from her wounds in a UK hospital.

The shooting has generated nearly universal public indignation. All across Pakistan religious leaders, political officials, newspaper editors and bloggers joined in condemning the shooting. Schools in Pakistan were closed after the shooting in a one-day strike to show solidarity with Malala. Demonstrations in her support have occurred all over the world.

The massive public outcry against Malala’s shooting is a hopeful sign. It illustrates the power of public opinion and mobilized civil society as a force against the scourge of violent extremism.

Let us all stand in solidarity with Malala and with the millions of people in Pakistan and Afghanistan and around the world who want freedom and the right to aspire to a better future. They are our best allies in the struggle against terrorism and violence.

Give Peace a Chance in Afghanistan

The New York Times reported last week that U.S. officials are abandoning hopes of a peace settlement in Afghanistan. If true this spells disaster for the Afghan people and defeat for the American war effort.

It’s hard to know which is more tragic—the apparent U.S. decision to reject the strategy of peace, or the naïve and unrealistic basis upon which that strategy was initially based. U.S. officials believed that the military surge of 2009-2010 would batter the Taliban into accepting a ‘reconciliation’ process that essentially meant surrendering to the Kabul regime. That strategy was doomed from the outset and obviously has not worked. Insurgent forces remain strong and continue to exert influence and cause insecurity in many parts of the country.

The apparent strategy now is to let the Afghan government and the insurgents fight it out among themselves. The hope is that the Kabul regime will somehow prevail. That strategy seems equally doomed to failure. If the Kabul government could not defeat the insurgents with the backing of nearly 100,000 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of additional foreign forces, how will it succeed when most of those forces are gone?

The Pentagon is planning to keep ten to twenty thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to help prop up the Kabul regime, but it is unlikely such an approach will succeed when a much more robust force has failed. How long will Congress and the public support keeping U.S. troops in harm’s way for what is obviously an impossible mission?

The likelihood of the Kabul regime and the insurgents reaching a peace agreement on their own is very low. Research on peace agreements in other countries at war shows that the success of negotiation depends upon multinational support, usually led by the UN.

Rather than consigning Afghanistan to continuous war, the U.S. and its allies should pursue a multilateral peace strategy. Work to achieve a ceasefire, appoint a UN-led team of senior mediators to support negotiations both nationally and in Afghanistan’s fractious geopolitical neighborhood, and pledge financial and political support for the resulting negotiated agreement. That may be the only way to save the Afghan people from a grim fate and salvage at least some positive outcome from the long U.S. intervention.

The Folly of the Iraq War, Redux

Iraq is back in the news. American officials are distressed that the Baghdad government is not being cooperative in serving U.S. interests in the region. They also worry about spillover effects from the war in Syria. Some of the rebels battling the Syrian government are taking refuge and recruiting supporters in Iraq’s Anbar province, giving new life to the Al Qaida-related militancy in the area that first arose in response to the U.S. occupation.

The Iraqi government is allowing Iran to supply weapons to Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus. This is a violation of UN sanctions that require states to cooperate in preventing Iranian arms exports. Planes and trucks with Iranian weapons are reportedly traversing Iraq on a daily basis.

The main beneficiary of the U.S. war in Iraq has been Iran. Tehran now has a strong ally next door rather than the feared enemy it once had in Saddam Hussein. Iraq is helping Iran prop up the Assad dictatorship in Syria. The Baghdad regime is receiving billions of dollars of American-made weapons free of charge, but it is not willing to provide the quid pro quo of supporting U.S. policy in the region.

All of this raises again the question of why the U.S. went to war in Iraq and what was accomplished. The Iraqi state has conducted relatively open elections, which is an improvement over the tyranny of Saddam, but it is still repressive and can hardly be considered democratic. Ethnic political divisions exacerbated by the U.S.-led invasion are preventing cooperation among Iraqi political factions. A low-grade Sunni insurgency continues to challenge the pro-Iranian Shia-dominated state.  The Sunni vice president has been indicted for murder and has fled the country.

Was it for this that more than 4,000 Americans died and tens of thousands were maimed? That tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed? Is this why we drained hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury? Let those who would seek to justify the war try to answer these questions.