Onus of Afghan war end-state
DURING his address to the UNGA in Sep, the PM rightly expressed his dismay at Pakistan’s castigation by some Western law makers, for denouement of the Afghan war and appropriately suggested an examination of the melt down of Afghanistan’s security apparatus and the abrupt disintegration of its government.
The 22 Republican Senators, who later moved a bill on our role in that war, must hear that speech, to learn about our support to the US and its disastrous consequences for us.
Thereafter, they need to ponder on the revelations of the Washington Post , titled the ‘Afghanistan Papers’ and the many reports of US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
Besides, there are ten other fundamental reasons for the unpropitious end of that war: First; the objectives stipulated by President Bush to respond to the 9/11 attacks were murky, as they aimed at not only punishing Al-Qaeda and Taliban but included ‘ridding the world of the axis of evil’, with Saddam Hussein at the top.
Thus while the Coalition met quick successes in Afghanistan till 2003, the US decision to attack Iraq the same year, dispersed and diluted their resources.
Between 2003 and 2009, it was fighting a two front war, owing to heavy neo-conservative influences, on the higher directions of war. This ominous decision, (based on shoddy intelligence), turned the Afghan war, from a short campaign to a costly and protracted undertaking.
Second; despite severely degrading Al-Qaeda and elimination of OBL in 2011, the US did not quit Afghanistan, though NATO troops and Afghan forces had peaked at 140,000 and 323000 respectively, and the Taliban were also in disarray at the time.
The war lingered on, hereafter, with addition of a new mission of nation building for winning hearts and minds, to defeat the Taliban decisively.
This mission also failed, mainly due to botched and half-hearted efforts, as pointed by SIGA Rand the shift of US focus to operations against the ISIL/Daesh in Syria and Iraq and eliminating Gaddafi in Libya.
Third; later on, Trump’s policy on Afghanistan also miscarried as it was essentially based on reinforcement of past failures and faulty premises. Fourth; belatedly but finally, this convinced the US to accept the cliché that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict.
This led to the release of Abdul Ghani Baradar from Pakistani prison in 2018, on US request, for Baradar to serve as the Taliban leader for peace negotiations in Doha.
These talks succeeded mainly because they were facilitated by Pakistan, once again, as desired by the US.
Fifth; a day after the fall of Kabul, President Biden formally claimed that the US mission to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden and to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base for attacks against the US, had been accomplished 10 years ago.
This also raises the crucial question why the US didn’t declare victory in 2011 and left Afghanistan. Actually, a series of politico-strategic blunders, misjudgements, indecisions, ambiguity, shifting and transformation of the mission, emanating from the ‘White House’, stalemated the war.
Sixth; we learn from history that winning of public support in occupied countries is possible only if invaders were perceived as liberators and friendly and if conditions after occupation were better than what they were earlier.
This can’t be said for most period of the previous regime’s rule in Afghanistan, during which, funerals, weddings, congregation prayers, hospitals, etc were targeted indiscriminately with drones and aircraft, damaging property and taking innocent lives.
This led to erosion of public support for the Coalition and the Afghan government. Excessive use of force alienated the people too, which was lamented by Mr Karzai, as follows: ‘The (US/NATO military) campaign was not against extremism or terrorism, the campaign was more against Afghan villages and hopes; putting Afghan people in prisons— in our own country… and bombing all villages.
That was very wrong’. The repercussions of the desecration of the Holy Quran at Bagram, the urination of US forces on Afghan corpses and massacre of civilians, including women and children at Qandahar, in the beginning of the year 2012, the Australian soldiers war crimes (2005-2016) of slaughtering two 14-year-old boys and wilfully murdering 39 other innocent civilians, tremendously enhanced the cause of the rebels and widened the rift between the Afghan government and the masses.
This resulted in the Coalition mission creep, as mere apologies by the US or Australian leadership for these crimes, were inadequate.
These incidents also negated the US’s own Counter Insurgency Doctrine which acknowledges that support of the population lies at the core of such tasks.
Seventh; as outlined in SIGAR report 2021, ‘corruption significantly undermined the US mission in Afghanistan by damaging government legitimacy, strengthening support for insurgency and channelling material resources to insurgent groups — corrupt officials (also) victimized and alienated the Afghan population.
The report adds that ‘substantial US funds led to fraud— nepotism, — empowerment of warlords’. Eighth; sharp divisions between successive Afghan Presidents and its Chief Executive was a perpetual predicament that badly damaged the US war and peace efforts.
These climaxed in March 2020, when Afghanistan had the dubious distinction of having two presidents: Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.
Ninth; the Afghan forces were trained but they lacked the ‘will to fight’ which can’t be instilled through foreign teaching or bought with money.
Finally, to know the whole truth, the Machiavellian and deceptive role of the regional ‘peace spoiler-in-chief’, India, must be scrutinized, who supported previous regimes in Afghanistan, merely to reinforce the façade of their popularity.
This kept the coalition embroiled and glued to false hopes of victory, which served Indian interests and facilitated their terrorism in Pakistan.
The forgoing points at a good look in the mirror by US politicians and officials for culpability, rather than scapegoating Pakistan for the outcome of the Afghan war.
— The writer, a retired Lt Gen, is former President of National Defence University, Islamabad.