Afghanistan: Ending the game
Symbolic and intangible objectives like democratization, women empowerment etc have long been forgotten. Tangible ones like end of corruption, building up of strong security forces etc have gone astray. Sham electoral process has left a deep scar of betrayal. Reconfiguring of Afghan state structures has all along been an open ended dream. Existing constitution does not suit the traditional loose confederation style arrangement; it may last only as long as Afghanistan is under occupation.
It appears that America has abandoned its all stated, good sounding, objectives and is working hard to create a ‘Mission Accomplished’ aura by May this year, when NATO summit is to convene in Chicago. However, with the collapse of Istanbul, Bonn and Doha initiatives, as well as fast eroding will of NATO, this objective may not be easily achievable. Last week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai officially invited Taliban leaders to talk directly with Afghan government in the Afghan-led peace process; the bid was publically supported by the Prime Minister of Pakistan as well. This indicates lack of trust by these two countries in the US-Taliban talks.
Defence secretary Leon Panetta had stated last month that the US troops in Afghanistan would start to finish combat missions in mid-2013; one year prior to earlier deadline. French President Sarkozy has also announced his decision to end the combat mission of French troops in Afghanistan by the end of next year, this came in response to an incident in Kapisa province, on 20 January, in which four French soldiers were killed by an Afghan man, dressed in Afghan National Army uniform. Several other NATO members have also indicated that they would withdraw troops from Afghanistan ahead of previous schedule. This shows an unprecedented eagerness to end the decade-long war. This change of mind has not come about because of any sense of accomplishment; rather it is born out of the frustration that nothing worthwhile is achievable by prolonging the occupation.
Pakistan factor has all along been overplayed. Armed forces of Pakistan have been under pressure to ‘Do More’. Pakistani military was asked to overstretch itself and engage the targets which Americans could not dare to do themselves. Regional approach of involving adjoining neighbours for a durable solution was looked down upon in the favour of accommodating expansionist designs of distant neighbours with a vested interest of employing these irrelevant actors in proxy role. Pakistan has been portrayed in various shades jockeying between an indispensible facilitator to stubborn spoiler. Judgments passed on the role of Pakistan have often been subjective and harsh. Construct of Afghan National Army has been another irrelevant venture that has given birth to a conglomerate of feuding armed gangs having strong ethno-sectarian allegiance rather than national orientation and motivation. Sustenance of Afghan security forces needs an annual cash flow of around US$ 5 billion; it is not clear who would underwrite this liability. Drugs have mushroomed as an industry; consumers of its products live in distant lands, huge profits generated by this industry have created vested interests and powerful mafias which are difficult to deconstruct. Reverting back to non-war economy is another challenge, Afghanistan’s gross GDP in $26 billion as compared to around $ 113.7 billion war expenditure. Like drug mafia, beneficiaries of war related transactions are also too strong to dismantle easily.
Afghanistan continues to be volatile. Recent opening of fire and gunning down of two US senior advisors inside the fortified Afghan Interior ministry compound has not come as a surprise to Afghanistan watchers. Incident coincided with the widespread demonstrations in Afghan cities to protest the Quran burning at a garbage pit at the American air base in Bagram. “Shooting inside the Interior ministry which is responsible for ensuring law and order in the country, speaks of Taliban penetration into security entities,” said political analyst Rahman Ughlo. The man who killed two American advisors is an employee of the Interior Ministry. However, a Taliban outfit was prompt to claim responsibility for the assault. Protestors have expressed their resentments by shouting slogans and calling for punishment of those responsible for the irreverence act; this call has also been endorsed by President Karzai.
Instead of taking charge of the situation and restoring the law and order, the US government reacted in an erratic way by recalling all US nationals serving with the Afghan government bodies in and around the capital, which was shortly followed by Britain. The US commander of NATO/ ISAF General John R. Allen recalled his forces from Afghan military installations and ministries. “For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul,” Allen said in a statement. This shows the lack of will on the part of occupation forces to bear responsibility of the outcome of their rash acts. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the violence will not mean faster troop withdrawal. Administration spokesmen were at pains to answer the core question of whether to keep fighting a war that has lost support not only in the United States but also among the people the US has pledged to protect. The perception that Afghans are ungrateful for the US sacrifice and are turning on their American saviours further complicates the matter. Administration officials said they believe Afghan President Karzai’s fragile government could collapse and the Taliban would regain power if the US were to walk away
“No doubt, shooting inside the Interior ministry reduces the confidence towards security apparatus and reduces the trust of the coalition forces and international agencies towards the administration and recalling NATO advisors from the ministries is a proof to the fact,” said a Kabul-based security analyst Wahid Mujda. Attack inside the Interior ministry just months after attack inside the Defence ministry is a clear indication of the penetration of militants’ influence into the government bodies which makes it possible for them to target anyone anytime.
There is a need to go back to drawing boards and workout out as to how to restore status quo ante’ in Afghanistan. It is inviolable right of the Afghans to live the way they want to. International community owes restoration of this right of coercion free self determination to Afghans. Despite the decade long carnage, all ethnic and sectarian groups are unanimous about territorial integrity of Afghanistan; comity of nations must seize the opportunity and expand on this silver lining.
—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.