By Musa Khan Jalalzai
The frustration being felt by the US due to the unwinnable war in Afghanistan was clearly evident in the speech by Mr Robert Gates in Brussels in which he threatened to leave the NATO alliance as its member states were not willing to provide sufficient funds and troops for Afghanistan. The US defence secretary criticised NATO for what he said were shortages of military spending and political will. The recent restrictions of European governments placed on their military participation in the Afghanistan war have put Washington in an ordeal.
Mr Gates warned that the US was exhausted by a decade of war and its own mounting budget deficits, and simply might not see NATO as worth supporting any longer. The US Commander in Afghanistan, General Petraeus, has always been a hurdle in the troops’ rapid exit and was last year heard to claim that July 2011 would be a milestone. Before NATO’s Libya operation, NATO General Secretary Rasmussen had already warned about shrinking military expenditures to Europeans at a security conference.
The day-to-day increasingly successful attacks by Taliban insurgents compelled the US president to prefer an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. Last Monday, in a White House meeting, President Obama proposed an immediate withdrawal. The focus of Mr Gates’ meeting with the Afghan authorities was on the same issue. Gates made no secret of his frustration in Afghanistan. Military experts understated that the main reason behind US frustration might be the return of civil war, extremist Taliban or the inability of the Afghan forces to maintain stability after the NATO and US withdrawal from the country.
- There is a requirement that given the huge stake in the ill-reputed war against terror and the so-called counter insurgency efforts, sufficient public policy space is created so-called counter terrorism strategy can be employed and sink with domestic aspiration and opinion rather than in strong opposition. The US has to reconsider this policy because it would have terrible implication for the US and Pakistan in future. Afghanistan needs a regional solution, without the support of regional countries like, Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia States it is very difficult to bring long term peace and stability in this war revaged country.
The US’s new defence secretary says that if his country loses Afghanistan, it will become another safe haven for al Qaeda and their militant allies. However, Vice President Joe Biden wants a large pullout, perhaps taking out all 30,000 of the troops sent in over the last 18 months. The Obama government is spending a lot in Afghanistan and a majority of US citizens are demanding the withdrawal of the 100,000 US troops from Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan, which is being conducted under NATO auspices, is a prime example of US frustration at European inability to provide the required resources.
The Afghan president also showed much frustration while meeting Pakistani leaders in Islamabad last week. The reasons behind his frustration were clear and understandable. In Karzai’s view, the possibilities of ethnic cleansing or the return of the Taliban may again destabilise his country.
The issues of ethnic violence, sectarianism, regionalism and regional political influence were never touched during the last 10 years of the NATO presence in Afghanistan. President Karzai discussed the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in a friendly mood in Islamabad and thanked Pakistan for its long-term hospitality to the Afghans. “Afghans will never forget the generous hospitality of their Pakistani brethren,” Karzai said. The main focus of his visit was to seek Pakistan’s cooperation in bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table, which has been the basic objective of the Afghan government and its allies for any future settlement in Afghanistan. The issue of security transition was more important. Karzai told his Pakistani friends that the recent terror attacks carried out by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan were very irksome for him.
In Karzai’s view, if his administration cannot maintain peace in the northern parts of the country, how would they be able to control the troubled south? Ethnic violence in the northern provinces still needs government attention. The numbers in the Afghan National Army currently stand at around 170,000 troops while the number in the warlords’ private militias is 135,000. There are two competing rogue armies in the country. Immediately after the withdrawal of NATO and US troops from Afghanistan, the country will become the battleground of these two armies.
Warlords do not accept the instruction and command of the Afghan National Army and they do not help the state in maintaining stability in the country. Both the state army and private rogue armies have been involved in ethnic and sectarian violence in the recent past. The warlords’ private armies have better military training than the Afghan National Army. Moreover, members of private armies were trained in Australia, Canada, Pakistan, Iran and other states in the thousands, while the Afghan Army received only short military training courses that cannot meet the requirements and standards of a professional military force.
- Stabilization in Afghanistan is a big challenge which needs lots of effort from international community. The security and stability of Pakistan is directly linked with the Stability of Afghanistan.
The recent report by the US inspector general for Afghanistan is even more alarming. According to his report, one-fourth of the recruits in the Afghan Army are absent from duty at any given time. They do not want to inform their seniors. This high rate of desertion will be one of the biggest challenges faced by the Afghan National Army after the US and NATO withdrawal from the country. Friendly relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are often shrouded in distrust and mutual recriminations over the violence plaguing both the states.
Pakistan understands that without peace and stability in Afghanistan, terror incidents cannot be controlled in Pakistan. “We are fighting our own war; we support the people and the government of Afghanistan. We support them and we cannot expect peace in the region without peace in Afghanistan,” President Zardari said. Karzai said that the relationship between the “twin” countries had improved.
The US’s immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan has been long awaited by other states like China and Russia. President Zardari recently visited Russia and China and received Moscow’s appreciation for the role his country is playing in Afghanistan. Russia deployed over 3,000 troops on the Tajikistan border with Afghanistan. Russia fears that the US withdrawal will lead to civil war in the country or extremist fighters moving into the Central Asian region. Pakistan’s time tested friend, China, has also commended Pakistan’s record in combating terrorism. The quick or immediate withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan has developed a perception among Afghans that the US is again leaving Afghans marooned. A recent study in the US has warned that faster withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan will cause economic collapse as there is no proper revenue generation in the country. Afghans may suffer from severe economic depression unless proper planning begins.
The writer is the author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and Punjabi Taliban. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org