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Afghanistan and Pakistan: Can terrorism be eradicated?

One of the most difficult problems facing U.S. President-elect Barack Obama,
when he takes office next January, is how to deal with the terrorist threat from
inside Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama has said that he will send more forces to Afghanistan and indicated
during his campaign that he would not hesitate to use them if necessary to
attack terrorist targets in Pakistan.

Will a surge in Afghanistan lead to the sort of improvements in security that
the U.S. troop surge in Iraq seems to have achieved? It may help, but the view
of the military on the spot seems to be that the insurgency cannot be simply
and speedily defeated by a military victory. The mountainous terrain of
Afghanistan provides innumerable places for guerrilla forces to hide.
Moreover the Taliban can force the local tribes to cooperate with them by
threats and Draconian measures against elements opposed to their return to

The Afghan government in Kabul under President Hamid Karzai is weak and
lacks an effective civil service to enforce its decisions. The president is
regarded as ineffectual but there is no obvious successor in waiting. The
Afghan Army has been strengthened, but its loyalty and that of the Afghan
police force, where corruption is said to be endemic, is questionable.

In the provinces the warlords still hold considerable sway and are reluctant to
take orders from Kabul.

The allied forces lack coherence and NATO countries have been generally
unwilling, with a few exceptions, to increase their commitments to
Afghanistan and to allow their forces to serve in the most dangerous areas.
Karzai rejected the appointment of Lord Ashdown as coordinator of the allied
effort in his country apparently fearing that Ashdown's determined efforts
might undermine his authority.

The situation in Afghanistan is complicated by the fact that an increasing part
of the world's supply of opium is grown in Afghanistan. Some progress has
been made in some areas in weaning farmers off the growing of opium
poppies, but the price that opium fetches in world markets means that the

temptation to grow poppies is too great for many of Afghanistan's poverty
stricken peasants.

Some have suggested that the best answer to the problem would be for the
Western powers to buy up the opium crops and either use them for the
legitimate supply of pain killers or destroy the crops. The problem with this
proposal seems to be that it would encourage rather than discourage the
growing of opium poppies.

As in all insurgencies, the battle is not one that can be won by armed men and
weapons. It is, as the popular saying goes, one for the hearts and minds of the
local people. This means not just bringing them greater security or even
providing them with basic necessities such as water, electricity and improved
communications, important though these are. They have to be persuaded that
the alternatives to Taliban rule are better. This means improved schools and
medical services as well as facilities for leisure.

But none of these measures will work unless greater care is taken to prevent
incidents in which innocent women and children are killed and injured when
attacks are made on Taliban targets. These incidents provide valuable
propaganda for the insurgents.

It seems inevitable that there will need at some stage to be talks and probably
negotiations with Taliban leaders. But neither the Afghan government nor the
allies seem to think that the time is yet ripe for discussions.

The temptation on both sides is to continue to argue for delay. No one wants to
be accused of being weak and starting premature talks, which have to be
concluded without agreement.

The problem posed by the ability of the Taliban to find refuge in the wild areas
on the Pakistan side of the frontier is a serious complicating factor. U.S.
attacks on such terrorist camps inevitably antagonize Pakistan opinion, which
is already strongly anti-American despite the fact that the Pakistan economy is
highly dependent on American assistance.

The reputation of the present government of Pakistan is low, corruption is rife
and democratic institutions at best fragile. The Pakistan intelligence services
are reputed to have close links with the Taliban. They see India and Indian
control of the larger part of Kashmir as the main threat to Pakistan. The

problems posed by Pakistan are complicated not only by the fact that Pakistan
has developed nuclear weapons but also by the history of Pakistan's nuclear
contacts with such regimes as those in Iran and North Korea. The Kashmir
issue has festered for over half a century bedeviling relations between India
and Pakistan.

There is not much that Japan can do directly to help to find a solution, but the
Japanese government should declare its renewed support for American efforts
to bring peace to Afghanistan and should be willing to increase its assistance
to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It will be very difficult for the new U.S. president to find solutions to the
problems that the world faces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but we must hope
that new thinking and new personalities on the American side may enable

Hugh ,a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from
1980 to 1984.