10 January, 2011
By Khalid Iqbal
It is not an active fighting season in Afghanistan because of the cold weather. But fighting would pick up to its tempo somewhere in the spring. Then there will not be much time for the drawdown to begin. The open-ended statements made during the Lisbon Summit have since continued to add confusion to the withdrawal methodology, its attached conditionalities, and varied attendant interpretations by the US, NATO and other stakeholders.
Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, in an interview with NBC’s programme Meet the Press, has recently called for “permanent US military bases in Afghanistan”, as part of the move that would also give a signal to Pakistan that the Taliban are never going to come back. “We have had air bases all over the world and a couple of air bases in Afghanistan would allow the Afghan security forces an edge against the Taliban in perpetuity,” said the Senator. There are many like Graham offloading their pearls of wisdom wherever and whenever convenient. Likewise, the Adviser to three US Presidents, Bruce Riedel, has recently stated to BBC that 2011 is the year for Obama to break linkage between Islamabad and Taliban. Such neo-strategists are busy diluting the focus from withdrawal, thus making the Afghan scenario difficult to plot and predict.
Meanwhile, last week the members of an Afghan peace council, led by the former President Burhanuddin Rabbani have held talks with leaders in Pakistan to resolve the drawn out and costly war. The delegation from Karzai’s High Peace Council wanted to seek help from Pakistan and keep its leaders abreast of the developments. Since Pakistan has influence over the Afghan Taliban and anti-government elements who are Afghans, it can be productive in the peace process. Hence, the US policy in Pakistan is now stuck in a Catch-22. Without Pakistan, there is no solution to the Afghan war.
Although the Washington urges Pakistan’s military to engage against the Taliban, the US needs Islamabad to help bring them into an Afghan coalition government much earlier than 2014. A decade-long stalemated war has set-in perpetual war weariness among the Afghan, American and Pakistani people. A commoner is turning more and more indifferent to the war. For direct sufferers in combat zones, it means more deaths, more displacements and more misery. As for Obama, some progress is desperately needed to win the second term; at least a major flip must be avoided at all cost.
Gaps between the military and intelligence assessments of essential operational parameters are perplexing, as if they are the conclusions drawn up by the antagonists. The US intelligence appreciations tend to tally with the success claims by the Taliban. While US military officials boast of significant gains, they caution that it won’t be possible to fully gauge the impact of surge until fighting picks up again in spring.
During recent years, the mainstay of US military operation in Pakistan has been the missiles launched from drones, operated by the CIA and the US Department of Defence. So far, the results have been hopeless. Most of the Taliban leaders claimed to have been killed by the drone attacks have resurfaced again to refute such claims. The collateral damage in the form of innocent life and infrastructure has been high. Moreover, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no system of compensating the civilian losses of life and property in Pakistan.
There is a need to seriously explore the possibility of a political process through which the Taliban are inducted into the Afghan settlement process. The US claims that it is prepared to include the Taliban in a power-sharing arrangement with Karzai provided they agree to the indefinite presence of the occupation forces on the Afghan soil. But the Taliban are not willing to accept this. They have completely rejected the notion that Washington should decide who will rule Afghanistan. In fact, they see no reason to negotiate with Karzai because they view him as an American puppet. The Taliban are willing, and have said so, to negotiate directly with the Americans with certain conditions. They want a firm deadline for the withdrawal of all the foreign troops.
The inevitable US defeat in Afghanistan has enormous implications not only for the region, but also for global politics itself. America’s military surge in Afghanistan is going nowhere; it received another blow with the death of Richard Holbrooke. He honed his murderous skills in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta where a genocidal policy was unleashed in the 1960s, whicht led to the deaths of millions of Vietnamese. However, ultimately failed to pacify the Viet Cong. A similar spree of extrajudicial killings has been launched in Afghanistan, no doubt with the same disastrous results.
The real problem in Afghanistan is the lies spun about the reason for the continued presence of US-NATO troops. It has nothing to do with Al-Qaeda, because there is hardly any Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Talking about the presence of 40 odd Al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan, does not justify the presence of 150,000 foreign troops and an equal number of mercenaries at a cost of, say, $1 trillion.
So not only are the Taliban active in 97 percent of the country, but they also have the support of the people. A clear majority of the Afghans want foreign troops out of the country, and no army has ever defeated a peoples’ insurgency unless the majority is slaughtered.
Several factors work against the US and NATO victory. The Afghans are born fighters and have never tolerated foreign presence on their soil.
They are not about to change their habit because of the Americans. Afghanistan is not a target rich country. There is nothing of value that the Americans can bomb to scare the Afghans into submission. It is dirt-poor and the Afghans have lived in their mud houses for centuries. America’s bombing of the mud villages has been one of the most powerful recruiting tools for the Taliban. Like the Soviet Union before it, the US economy is also in terminal decline. The Americans waged earlier wars for profit. However, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost trillions of dollars. Time has come when the US should focus on a one-point agenda – the withdrawal of troops.