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By withdrawing, the Netherlands would be supporting Afghanistan

21 December 2009

By withdrawing, the Netherlands would be supporting Afghanistan

US President Barak Obama has elected to greatly increase troop strength, step up combat and then gradually withdraw from Afghanistan. Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop regards Obama’s failure to talk about an ‘exit strategy’ as a sensible decision. Yet an exit strategy is precisely what is needed in this hopeless war.

By Agnes Kant and Harry van Bommel

Eight years of war have made Afghanistan more insecure, more corrupt and more divided than ever. The American President has to some extent succeeded in presenting his proposal as a withdrawal plan, which for domestic reasons he needs to do. Waging war in times of crisis is not only a source of terror for the Afghan and Pakistani peoples, but also a severe test for the US population. NATO allies and others have to be put to work to persuade them to swallow the bitter medicine of this war. The Netherlands too has made great sacrifices, with dozens of Dutch soldiers having died.

The aims of the new operation are to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan and prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the government. In addition, the Afghan army and police must be strengthened to make it possible, in the near future, to hand them responsibility for their own security. Because the big problem in reconstructing Afghan institutions is corruption, this is an operation which stands no chance of success. Foreign troops are paying protection money to local militias and this gives these militias a vested interest in perpetuating the conflict. In this way the international community is indirectly financing its own enemies. Now that Obama has decided that many more troops must be sent to Afghanistan, it is not hard to see why he has come knocking on the door of NATO allies. These allies, including the Netherlands, have, however, been unable to exercise any influence on the strategy and are forced to sit and watch helplessly as the US carries out attacks in Pakistan using uncrewed aircraft, drones. The open border means that in Afghanistan every militarily-based approach is swimming against the tide. How is it possible that not only NATO but other partners in this enduring war are allowing themselves to be dragged along without any discussion?

In our country also, discussion has centred for the most part on the question as to whether the armed forces are up to the task, and, most importantly, whether the US strategy in Afghanistan can succeed. Instead of these questions, however, the Netherlands would be better coming to terms with Obama’s assessment of the ‘Dutch Approach’. To the extent that this exists at all, it consists of selling what is in reality a battle mission as a mission of reconstruction. This has worked in the Netherlands.
The conclusion can only be that the Netherlands must, as soon as possible, renounce all support for the American agenda. All military forces must be withdrawn. With the prospect of a total withdrawal, international negotiations, involving all of the important actors from throughout South Asia, would have a chance. Should an agreement be reached, it would then make sense to invest in Afghanistan, because whatever you build would not immediately be blown up, but also because the people of the country could see what they have to gain through peace. In short, Afghanistan an only be supported by bringing the war to an end.

This article first appeared in the Dutch regional daily newspaper, the Brabants Dagblad.

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