Dr Huma Baqai
The Pentagon chief says Taliban were “surging” in Afghanistan. The Taliban had a good year last year; they are trying to have a good one this year. Right now I believe the enemy is surging. The new policy that is to be presented to Donald Trump “very soon” would include options to enhance US military presence in Afghanistan. In essence, the crux of the counter strategy to the Taliban surge is US military surge. How is sending more troops to Afghanistan a viable strategy. Especially in the face of the fact that over the past 15 years US has gained nothing on the ground with much larger contingents.
This actually translates into a US lack of strategy for Afghanistan. If president Barack Obama had a politicised strategy of troop withdrawal followed by a troop surge which ultimately accomplished nothing for Afghanistan. President Trump has no strategy. American policy commentators now openly admit that from October 2001, until today the US approach to Afghanistan has been a confused mess.
This is just an eyewash in the absence of having any real way forward or worst still cui bono have taken over. They are present both in Afghanistan and the US. The American security establishment does not want US military to be stigmatized as a failure. Thus carrying on with a policy that has not delivered. The failure can have a political, social and economic cost. For the American military establishment, it could mean less support for large budget allocations, a decline in lucrative consultancies after retirement, no acclaim and a lesser say in policy debates.
In Afghanistan also there are lobbies in the government that benefit from this chaos and cycles of violence. For them it means a continuous flow of dollar, relevance with the competing regional powers and life styles, they cannot afford otherwise. The prevalent corruption in the Afghan government has its share of beneficiaries. Unfortunately, the security apparatus, is said to be a hotbed of corruption, because that’s where maximum cash flows take place. The war has now cost US over $1 trillion, making it the second-costliest US war, after World War II. In fiscal year 2017, the war will cost about $50 billion, nearly a billion every week.
Afghan soldier, officer, and higher-ups are openly engaged in the sale of equipment, they provide erroneous procurement reports, and are involved in contractual kickbacks. Afghanistan has struggled with “ghost” soldiers on its military payrolls, with such salaries frequently ending up in the pockets of corrupt officers. Meanwhile, weapons, ammunition, and fuel have been openly sold by Afghan officers, even sometimes to the Taliban militants on the other side of the fight. Katrina vanden Heuvel, a frequent commentator on American and international politics, says, “The United States is pouring money into a corrupt sewer.”
The recent acknowledgement by the US Defence Secretary James Mattis of taking into account the regional situation, including the impact of the rivalry between Pakistan and India on the situation in Afghanistan also does not seem serious in nature because it is followed by him saying that the “regional strategy” would be connected to the geographic reality of where the enemy is fighting from. The US media for obvious reasons interpreted this as a reference to the earlier US claims that the Taliban, particularly the Haqqani network, were still using sanctuaries in Pakistani Federally administered Tribal Areas to launch attacks in Afghanistan.
Pakistan categorically rejects this allegation. This blame game by US to abdicate itself from the responsibility of continuous failure in Afghanistan has not helped in the past, it will not help the situation now. Pakistan has done it’s bit. A lack of vision, complete disconnect with the situation and of not seeing the obvious has resulted in Taliban regaining their lost position. The weakness and infighting of the Afghan government, lack of professionalism of the Afghan forces and in-depth understanding of the fragmentation of the Afghanistan insurgency are glaring issues that need to be addressed on a war footing.
The most important factor remain time, five months into President Trump’s regime, nothing is happening in Afghanistan. The crucial time is being used by the Taliban to strengthen themselves further. They already control 40 percent of Afghanistan, consolidating their control over crucial provinces every day. The so called new strategy would be presented to the congress by “mid-July.” This gives Taliban crucial summer time to launch more attacks. The enemies’ adaptive versatility is obvious from the kind of attacks that are taking place.
The spiral of violence has gone up in 2017. The American war in Afghanistan has entered its 16th year without any success on the ground. Over this period, the United States and its allies have lost close to 3,000 soldiers. Afghan sources say that the number of Afghan dead must be near the million mark. In 2016, over half a million people fled their homes because of the conflict. About three million are refugees from the almost 40 years of war in the country. Each year, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says, the percentage of women and children among the official death toll increases, many of the deaths a result of aerial bombardment. Perhaps, the only option is that Trump should adopt the advice that then-Sen. George Aiken (R-Vt.) offered about Vietnam in 1966: “Declare victory and get out.” President Obama had also tried declaring victory in Afghanistan in 2013, but couldn’t get out.
— The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts at IBA Karachi.