Derrick Ashong
Photo: A. Khoshnam
They say it's lonely at the top. Every once in a while, I watch someone who has reached "the mountaintop" and I can see why.

I listened to President Barack Obama's speech on Afghanistan, and I thought to myself, "Here's a guy who has figured out the perfect way to alienate his allies and aggravate his enemies."

The policy is pretty straightforward: Send more troops to war and tell friend and foe alike approximately when they're coming home.

My Twitter followers were afire with 140-character commentary during the speech, and my Facebook friends have been raising a ruckus ever since (although Tiger Woods has been getting a lot more traction on my Facebook wall, which means either I'm blogging about the wrong issue or my peeps should definitely not be running the country). In a nutshell, the lefties are mad that the president is escalating rather than ending the war (which is exactly what he said he'd do when they voted for him...), and the right-wingers are salty because he's given a timeline for beginning a troop withdrawal. (What? An end to war? Blasphemy!)

I've got to admit, I have a general preference for spending less on blowing things up overseas and more on building things here at home. At a time when Americans are struggling with the highest unemployment rate in decades—a product of the worst economic downturn since pre-WWII—I think it's reasonable to expect the U.S. government to put a heavy priority on investing in "US."

Unfortunately, as much as I'd love to channel all those resources to domestic priorities, one of the realities of governance is you have to be able to effectively do multiple important things at once—sort of like motherhood (or so my mom keeps telling me).

With that in mind, I'm going to give you the quick and dirty on why I am supporting President Obama's decision to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan and why I think you should too. Now, before some of you start a-hollerin', this is definitely not because I support everything the president does. I totally disagreed with him on that one thing, and there was also this other matter that came up during the whatchamacallit last time...

But political biases and peacenik preferences aside, I think this is, in fact, the right course of action, and not because I believe Afghanistan will be a paragon of democracy anytime soon. This conflict is, in fact, largely about Pakistan. And while this begs an obvious question ("Why then are we at war in Afghanistan and not Pakistan?"), the answer is equally simple ("It's complicated.").

First, Pakistan is a sovereign nation with a functioning albeit flawed government, which is more than can be said for Afghanistan. The Pakistani government, spurred by escalating pressure from our government and increasing discontent among its own people, is currently engaged in an offensive against militant extremists within their nation. It is crucial for the United States and allies to secure Afghanistan because if we don't, the Taliban and its posse of related radicals will flow easily across the porous mountain border between the two nations, making it impossible for Pakistan to effectively stem the growing influence of militants within their nation.

Why is this important? I'd say the reasons are at the very least tripartite:
  1. Pakistan is a nuclear state and arguably the most fragile of that growing list.
  2. Pakistan's leading nuclear scientist has been accused of selling nuclear secrets to such "good-neighbor nations" as Libya, Iran and North Korea.
  3. The Pakistani intelligence service is widely believed to have supported, armed and trained militants in Kashmir.
The world seems to be all a tizzy about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. A much more frightening possibility is that of a destabilized Pakistan.

Two years ago, militants assassinated the country's most popular politician, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and in recent years the country has vacillated between military and civilian rule. Earlier this year, the Taliban effectively took over control of the once pristine Swat Valley, imposing a suite of extreme interpretations of Islamic law, including a "complete ban on female education." A video of a public flogging of a 17-year-old girl sparked outrage in a Pakistani civil society that, until recently, had not appeared to perceive the Taliban to be a mortal threat to their own way of life. In May, the Pakistani military launched an offensive in Swat that as of September had displaced more than 3 million people.

In summary, we have an internal war raging for control of a nuclear state, disaffected scientists selling nuclear secrets to the highest bidder, an intelligence service that actively supports terrorists and 3 million displaced people walking around looking for a place to call home. This is the challenge of Pakistan.

This is the reason we are in Afghanistan. Because if we don't find a way to effectively remove the capacity of the Taliban to threaten the stability of either country, we could be looking at a much harder problem than the one we are facing now.

Derrick N. Ashong, or DNA as he is sometimes known, is a Ghana, West Africa, native and has dedicated his life to building bridges between the fields of business, media, technology, youth culture, pop culture and politics. Ashong has lectured on five continents on the use of media as a tool for human development, including recent talks at the London School of Economics, King's College (Cambridge), the Reconciliation Forum in Washington, D.C., the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and before UK Parliament on the subject of "The Obama Generation." He is a member of the internationally recognized Next Generation Leadership Forum and a participant in the Arts & Entertainment task force of the U.S.-Islamic World Forum. Ashong is a Harvard graduate and resides in Los Angeles where he is the leader of the band Soulfège.

What do you think about Derrick's commentary? Share your opinion below.

The opinions expressed by contributors are strictly their own.



Next Story