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West messed up Afghan mission: US Marine Corps expert

If you thought the director of Middle Eastern studies for the U.S. Marine Corps University would have nothing bad to say about how and why the war in Afghanistan is being waged, think again. Dr. Amin Tarzi, speaking to UBC journalism students last Friday, said NATO nations stumbled into war with “no idea what they were doing” and now risk failure without better focus and coordination. Canada, he said, has some lessons to teach American strategists.

“NATO needs to change its tactics or go out of business,” Tarzi said. “Our politicians have no idea what is going on in Afghanistan, they have no clue – they go there for photo-ops.”

There is a “disconnect” in the communication between political leaders and the military, he said. “But without the politicians we cannot do it. Military cannot be politicians.”

Tarzi acknowledged that Canadians, like citizens of other NATO countries losing soldiers’ lives in the conflict, are experiencing “fatigue among ‘the good’. You have to be, as Canadians, extremely proud of what your country is doing over there. Your country is actually building bridges, building dams, talking to people.”

Tarzi said he prefers Canada's triple-D policy of diplomacy, development and defense over the approach of the U.S. and said Canada isn't getting the support it deserves from bigger NATO countries who are “sitting on the sidelines.”

But Tarzi warned pulling out of Afghanistan now would only “enable” the Taliban.

Needed first is a new diplomatic understanding with Pakistan. Right now Pakistan supports Taliban incursions into Afghanistan, Tarzi said. A big reason is that Afghanistan doesn’t recognize the border between the two countries, which was drawn by the British, and until border security can be assured, Pakistan’s government will find it useful to “keep the water boiling” through the Taliban. But if Pakistan could be reassured and brought more firmly onto the side of the West, the conflict in Afghanistan could end in success in two to three years, Tarzi offered.

“The Pakistanis understand that the Taliban are a threat to them,” he said, but “they're afraid of Afghan nationalistic tendencies claiming half of Pakistan. We need diplomacy here.”

Tarzi said that because the borders are impossible to secure and peace comes from economic security, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border should remain open, while providing solid reassurance to Pakistan that it need not worry about losing territory.

Tarzi said too much North American media coverage and high-level thinking is clouded by a conviction that Afghanistan is ready and willing to be Westernized. “We cannot be seen as assaulting their traditions,” he said. “Afghans, they see someone with blue eyes and blonde hair, they think, ‘not again!’” Western nations should help build hospitals, schools, even madrassas and mosques – but should avoid taking credit doing so. Otherwise, Afghans won’t trust and use those new institutions. “Let us not our hand been seen in it,” Tarzi said.

The U.S. Consulate in Vancouver arranged for Tarzi, a former Afghanistan analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, to visit various groups in Vancouver. In his remarks to UBC students, Tarzi said the views he expressed were purely his own, and that he wasn’t speaking for the U.S. government or military.

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