After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and got totally bogged down there was a joke circulating in Moscow,. Why are we still in Afghanistan? Answer. We are still looking for the people who invited us. Zbigniew Brzezinski, architect of US policy in Afghanistan when he was president Jimmy Carter`s national security advisor, was convinced Afganistan would become the Soviet Union Vietnam. In fact Soviet Union`s Vietnam has become America`s Afghanistan.
Winning the war in Afghanistan was never an easy proposition. After the Americans’ decade-long stay in that country, discovery of a way out which is acceptable to the US is almost an impossibility. Nevertheless, the US seems bent upon proving all the negative indicators wrong.
The declared objective at the time of invasion of Afghanistan was overthrow of the Taliban and destruction of Al-Qaeda. Bringing democracy was not part of the stated policy, nor was development despite the long stay ahead.
The real cause for this long-drawn-out war seems to be something other than the stated objectives. If that were not the case, the US troops could have been withdrawn immediately after the Taliban’s removal from authority and Al-Qaeda’s defeat. On the contrary, the US is engaged in a war whose end is not within sight and the course uncertain. Many believe it in reality to be what President Bush once said, which was later covered up as a slip of the tongue—i.e., a “Crusade.” Or, reportedly, as a “clash of civilizations, a clash of religions and a clash of the whole way of life.” Indications from across our western border certainly point in that direction.
While the Taliban have been dislodged from government they certainly are not defeated. Their resilience in fighting the war, and that too against the world’s sole superpower and its allies, has been tremendously effective and has worn out the occupying forces. In turn, in their frustration these forces have resorted to brutalities which can indisputably be called war crimes.
We recently saw a horrifying example of the consistently bestial behaviour of American troops when 17 civilians, including women and children asleep in different houses, were woken up and butchered. There have been innumerable incidents of brutal killings of innocent civilians in the past as well but were invariably swept under the carpet, after some inane US expression of regret, with the collusion of the government in Kabul which appeased relatives of the dead by sending them for Hajj, allocating houses in posh area in Kandahar, or financial compensations.
Such actions expose them thoroughly, bringing to the fore their hatred for Islam and the cultural values of the Afghans. Cutting off fingers of dead Taliban as trophies, urinating on corpses and killing innocent people in night raids in their homes are just a few incidents in a long list of atrocities committed by them. But the abhorrent incident at Bagram airbase when US soldiers burnt copies of the Holy Quran inflamed passions. The violent reaction that followed was but natural. Every Muslim worth the name would have reacted that way, to say nothing of the Afghans who have always upheld Islamic values above everything else. It also led to a security cleared Afghan worker, not a Taliban, losing control of himself and killing two American advisors in the ministry of interior whom he was supposed to protect. It was only after learning the lesson the hard way that the US made it mandatory for troops to undergo a short course to familiarise themselves with the religious and cultural values of the Afghans.
Anti-American feelings over the burning of the Quran had barely cooled when the Kandahar killing of the 17 took place. This butchery has infuriated Afghans so much that they react against foreign troops whenever and wherever they can. The attack by a young Afghan interpreter at an airport in Helmand province last week is a case in point. He tried to run over and kill a top US commander, Maj Gen Mark Gurganus, with his vehicle last week. The general, along with his British deputy and other senior military officers, was at the air strip to greet visiting US secretary of defence, Leon Panetta. The Afghan, it is believed, was not aware of the expected arrival of Panetta. He would have caused a disaster had he crashed his speeding vehicle a few minutes later into the path of Panetta’s landing aircraft.
Such incidents, on the one hand, fuel concern about a surge in attacks on foreign troops and on the other lend support to the resistance of the Taliban whose movement has now turned into a national war for every Afghan, whether he admits that or not.
A decade is a long-enough period of firing on mosques, wedding parties and funeral processions and riding roughshod over not just the bodies of innocent Afghans but also Afghan values and sensibilities. During this period the Americans should have learnt to respect the religious and cultural values of their Afghan allies if they were really serious about winning their hearts and minds.
Another important lesson they should have learnt long ago but do not want to is to find a workable, durable and permanent solution to the problems in Afghanistan. They should have entered into serious negotiations with all the stakeholders by now but the situation that exists is to the contrary. The Taliban have called off the dialogue process for which they had opened an office in Doha, Qatar. With Iran they are not on talking terms and with Pakistan their relations are on the lowest ebb. It is another matter that the government wants to restore them to the previous level, at least, by setting new rules of engagement with the US, while sheltering behind parliamentary action to this end.
In short, the war in Afghanistan has been lost and so is the case with their stay after 2014 in that country. The patience of the Afghan is worn out and their anger mounting high. It will only be prudent for the US to give up on military pursuit of resolving the problem there. It should concentrate on finding a political solution before it becomes a distant reality and they are forced to leave in haste and abandon Afghanistan like other great powers before them.
By Ayaz Wazir (The writer is a former ambassador.)
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