President Barack Obama needs to give Iran assurances that the U.S. will not use Afghanistan to undermine the Iranian government, in exchange for assistance in the region, according to noted author Ahmed Rashid.
“You need Iran on every front, whatever you are talking about. Whether it is military, Taliban, terrorism or economics,” Rashid told a noon-time gathering at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco today. “I think Iran is looking for that kind of minimum security for itself and Afghanistan. I think this is a big issue. It will obviously be opposed by the conservatives in the United States, but it needs to be done.”
Rashid, the author of the best-selling book, Taliban, which became the leading publication on the subject after 9/11, is promoting his current work, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, which chronicles the missteps and possible ramifications of further instability in the region.
One way the U.S. can begin to soothe the region, according to Rashid, is by reaching out diplomatically to the Iranians. "Obama needs to make private or public assurances to the Iranians that they will not use Afghan soil to undermine Iran like the Bush administration did or to seek regime change in Tehran through Afghanistan," said Rashid, adding that the U.S. must also assure all players in the region that it is not seeking permanent military bases in the future. “I don’t believe the Americans want to stay in Afghanistan just as much as they want to stay in Iraq and that is precisely why Obama was voted in to get out of Iraq,” he said.
Rashid also said the other regional powers, Russia and China, must be allowed to join the conversation because of interests in their border security, economic issues and the presence of Islamic extremism in both countries.
The issue of how President Obama will be able to sell the re-introduction of war in Afghanistan to the American people will be a complicated endeavor, yet Rashid believes it to be paramount to the success of any involvement in Central Asia.
“It’s going to be very difficult to sell a commitment to Afghanistan, but I think it is absolutely critical," he said, "It’s critical for your own homeland security. It’s critical for Europe -- for the fact that al Qaeda has spread there. It’s critical also because of the nuclear factor: Pakistan is a nuclear power and no one can afford for Pakistan to meltdown. And, finally, it’s really critical to stop the expansion of al Qaeda before these local jihadi groups become more organized and more of a part of this global jihad."
Rashid found little to argue with in the president's announcement last month of the addition of 17,000 troops into Afghanistan while looking at it in a practical sense. “You cannot talk to the Taliban from a position of weakness, and right now the U.S. is losing the war in Afghanistan," he said. "You have the president, who himself said the U.S. is not winning, which is a polite way of saying that the U.S. is losing.”
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