Will the Panjwai incident speed the Afghan transition?

By Jin Liangxiang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, March 20, 2012
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Dr Jin Liangxiang is a research fellow at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and columnist with China.org.cn.

Dr Jin Liangxiang is a research fellow at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and columnist with China.org.cn.

On March 11, a deranged US soldier brutally murdered 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children, in Panjwai, Kandahar. This incident, in addition to the burning of the Quran and the defiling of Taliban corpses by US soldiers in January, will complicate and potentially accelerate the process of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has been set for the end of 2014.

The incident will likely prompt American leaders to recalculate the costs of its overseas military presence. Hundreds of millions of ordinary Afghan people that have no connection to terrorism have lost their lives since the US-led war in Afghanistan started following the September 11, 2001 attacks. The incident in Panjwai, just like many other so-called unintentional attacks, will simply add more names to the list of the deceased.

In the international media, US leaders have expressed shock and sympathy about the Panjwai incident. US President Barack Obama said he regarded the vicious killings of Afghan children as great a tragedy as if they were American children. Although the incident will soon pass out of the mainstream media lens, it will remain in the hearts of the Afghan people for a long time to come.

Undoubtedly, this attack on innocent civilians, including children, will be a major blow to America's national image and projection of soft power in Muslim world and the world in general. The US will have more domestic and international pressure to accelerate its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

We have every reason to condemn these killings. But Americans and others in the international community have reasons to feel sympathy for American soldiers. If they were not fighting the US-sponsored War on Terrorism, these soldiers would likely be living peaceful lives at home or on US bases. Many statistics show that a very high proportion of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome and a number of other mental disabilities. Many vets who manage to make it home end up becoming staunch opposers of the war effort.

Americans have realized more and more that their military presence in Afghanistan is part of the problem instead of the solution. The West has always thought of itself as the saviors or liberators of the Afghan people. But the facts have indicated that Western-style democracy is not necessarily compatible with the local cultures of the people targeted for regime change. Furthermore, the locals do not accept the use of force to enforce that particular form of government on their society.

While the Panjwai incident may threaten to alter the US timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US must withdraw in a responsible way. In that sense, the US should stick to its original timetable to withdraw its troops.

Analysts believe that a handover to Afghan security forces won't be easy, since the Taliban still controls two-thirds of the land of Afghanistan, and its sphere of influence will almost certainly grow in the near future. The poor capabilities of Karzai's security forces further enhance concerns.

The Panjwai incident will further add to the complexity of the situation since it will automatically increase the Taliban's influence. Within hours of the incident, the Taliban issued a decree calling on local residents to pour into the streets and attack NATO bases. The Taliban also stopped its negotiations with the US. In the short term, the Taliban will likely have more bargaining power as it tries to win over more popular support from the Afghan people.

American soldiers, who only carry out orders from above, might be innocent. However, their presence in Afghanistan has become increasingly insufferable for local dwellers, especially due to incidents like Panjwai. The recent tragedy and the Anti-American sentiment it fuels further promotes the growth of and popular support for anti-Western radicals in the region.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/jinliangxiang.htm

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.


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