Afghanistan: Talk About Offensive
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is in Washington this week meeting with the Obama administration and Congress about the status of the war. Despite the platitudes coming from both sides, the conflict is intractable and there is no military solution. President Karzai is well aware of this, which is why he is organizing a peace gathering (called a jirga) in Afghanistan starting on May 20 to set the ground rules for negotiating a settlement with the Taliban and other armed insurgents. After much pressure by Afghan women, 200 of them have won the right to be represented at the 1,200-person peace jirga. Since the jirga will be a national reflection on reconciliation, women are anxious to be integrally involved so that their rights will not be bargained away in any talks with the Taliban. Setting up an equitable and effective peace process is a delicate dance that requires the full commitment and energy of all parties, including the U.S. government. Instead, the Obama administration is focusing on a new military offensive. The looming June counter-insurgency plan led by General McChrystal against Kandahar with at least 23,000 NATO and Afghan troops will undoubtedly lead to the death of more innocent Afghans and our soldiers, and escalate resentment and blowback against us, as we saw in the attempted Times Square bombing. Even the Pentagon has growing doubts about the McChrystal war plan in Afghanistan. Just look at what happened in Marjah, where February's offensive left locals feeling more negative about NATO forces than before the operation. The New York Times reported that two months after the Marjah offensive, “Afghan officials acknowledge that the Taliban have in some ways retaken the momentum there, including killing or beating locals allied with the central government and its American backers.” Agence France Press reported that “Pockets of resistance remain amid intense danger posed by innumerable crude bombs and mines planted by retreating fighters. The Red Cross has said these bombs -- cheap and easy to make, and sown across a large area -- have led to an increase in the number of civilian deaths and injuries in Marjah.” Tribal leaders and the public in Kandahar, fearing the consequences for their families, are already strongly opposed to the forthcoming attack. Unlike Marjah, Kandahar is one of Afghanistan’s largest cities and the potential for massive civilian casualties is frightening. If we want to prevent a horrific spilling of blood reminiscent of devastating U.S. attack on Fallujah in Iraq, we must make a radical shift in course—and do it immediately. President Obama, the Commander-in-Chief, should call off the Kandahar offensive and instead work with President Karzai on peace talks. Since both Afghan and U.S. women have legitimate concerns that a peace process would reverse gains that women have made since the overthrow of the Taliban, the reconciliation process must ensure Afghan women a prominent place at the table so that they can advocate for the protection of their rights. To demonstrate the U.S. commitment to a peace process, Congress should stop funding the war and should demand that Obama set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Congress has been asked by the Administration to approve a $33 billion supplemental request. The money is supposed to pay for the 30,000 additional troops President Obama ordered to Afghanistan in December and are now starting to arrive for the Kandahar offensive. Congress should take a stand for peace by refusing to fund the war. Congressional representatives should also co-sponsor the McGovern-Feingold bill (HR 5015, S.3197) requiring the President to provide a plan and timetable for "the safe, orderly and expeditious redeployment of US troops from Afghanistan." There are presently 82 co-sponsors of this bill. If over 100 representatives sign on, the bill will hopefully generate a long overdue Congressional debate about the need to end this war. After 9 years of U.S. occupation, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Afghans need jobs, not war. The American people are suffering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We need jobs, not war. With just a fraction of the over $270 billion that U.S. taxpayers have spent on this war, we could be creating millions of jobs for both Americans and Afghans. President Karzai’s visit is a propitious occasion for demanding a new direction. If we allow the Kandahar offensive to go off as planned, we are signing the death sentence for more innocent Afghans who just happened to “be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Afghans have suffered from decades of war; let’s give them a chance to live in peace. For Americans fearful of terrorist attacks, we need better intelligence gathering and police work, not attacks overseas that give more would-be terrorists more reason to hate us. And with our present economic distress, let’s tell our elected officials that instead of pouring billions into endless wars, it’s time to invest in productive jobs that improve the lives of our communities. Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace (www.codepink.org) and Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org).