James Forsyth James Forsyth

Obama: The US is not winning in Afghanistan

Barack Obama’s sit-down interview with The New York Times, the first he has granted the paper since becoming president, contains this exchange:

Q. Mr. President, we need to turn it to foreign policy. I know we have a review going on right now about Afghanistan policy, but right now can you tell us, are we winning in Afghanistan?

A. No.

Obama goes on to talk about what needs to be done in Afghanistan before saying this:

“At the heart of a new Afghanistan policy is going to be a smarter Pakistan policy. As long as you’ve got safe havens in these border regions that the Pakistani government can’t control or reach, in effective ways, we’re going to continue to see vulnerability on the Afghan side of the border. And so it’s very important for us to reach out to the Pakistani government, and work with them more effectively.”

I don’t think anyone would disagree with this analysis. But, equally, I’ve never heard a convincing argument for how the Pakistani government can be persuaded to actually secure the tribal areas.  The US government has been trying to persuade them to do this for seven years without much success. Obama is right to identify the Pakistan part of the problem but just identifying the problem is not a solution.

In other Afghan news, Hamid Karzai has agreed to postpone the presidential poll until August. This is a welcome development as it means that the election is more likely to be credible. The best scenario, though, would be for Karzai to stand down at the end of his term in May and hand over to the Chief Justice.

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