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EDITORIAL: US seeking to calm Asia’s nerves

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: US seeking to calm Asia’s nerves

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The tale of uncertainty and dislocation continues to envelop the Middle East, and the impending withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan is likely to make governments in Asia on the whole very nervous indeed about its future.
Next month will mark two milestones in America’s sometimes torturous relations with Asia. One is the beginning of the end of the nearly decade-long struggle in Afghanistan, the longest war in United States history, as President Barack Obama announces the first withdrawals of about 97 000 troops.
Recent reports suggest that Washington is now prepared for talks with the Taliban. It seems the United States administration has finally come to the conclusion that the political process rather than a military solution should be given serious thought, and talking it out with the irascible Taliban is the only sensible option left.
The decision on the part of the State Department to engage the Taliban must have required some soul searching. Its success is going to be difficult to gauge, especially in the absence of a firm word from the Taliban leadership. The lone ray of hope is the fact that its reclusive leadership, on the run for years, hasn’t rebuffed the entreaty.
It is widely believed that a series of secret meetings between the Americans and the Pakistani military leadership, in the wake of last month’s assault that killed Osama bin Laden, has led to a softening posture through which the Taliban are reportedly being pressured to play a political role in the larger interests of peace and reconciliation.
Fortunately, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates has reassured America’s Asian friends and allies that regional disengagement is not being contemplated. At the recent Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore, he outlined America’s ideas for continuing cooperation in, and with, Asia.
Gates promised to increase the number of American warships deployed to Singapore as part of the US-Singapore Strategic Framework Agreement, increase the number of United States Navy calls in Asian ports, hold more joint naval exercises and improve multilateral military cooperation. The shift seems to be from ground troops to naval power.
What appears to be obvious is that America at long last realises talks are now necessary even with “terrorists”. But the many unanswered questions might make it difficult for American, Afghan and Pakistani leaders to garner public support for the reconciliation process.