EDWARD Luce in his recently published article in Financial Times drew parallelism between Vietnam and Afghanistan vis-à-vis the South Vietnam was excluded from talks, and now Afghan government and its European allies have been excluded in talks with the Taliban. He wrote, “Kissinger said there should be a decent interval between the US’ 1975 withdrawal from Vietnam and the Communist takeover; but Saigon fell shortly after the last US helicopters had left. Zalmay Khalilzad, Donald Trump’s Afghanistan envoy, is working on roughly the same script for Kabul. That would turn Mr Khalilzad into a poor man’s Henry Kissinger…The proposed deal is simple: the Taliban will pledge not to host any terrorist attacks on America; the US, in turn, will bring its troops home.” After having spent $1trillion, losing more than 2,400 US lives in addition to 1000 NATO army’s personnel, it could not win the war in Afghanistan.
But members of the US Administration and American Generals from the day one have been blaming Pakistan for supporting the militants in Afghanistan. The allegations smacked of something sinister; as for showing no spine for fighting, the coalition forces sought in Pakistan the whipping boy for their failure in Afghanistan. Instead of blaming Pakistan, they should have done a bit of serious introspection and examine as to why more than 1,50,000 American and NATO forces and about the same number of Afghan army could not control more than 40 per cent area in Afghanistan. After the US had bombed Afghanistan flat after 9/11, it thought to have created enough ‘shock and awe’ and would be able to control Afghanistan with minimum troops. The Americans had primarily focused on hunting down Al-Qaeda leaders and cadres not realizing that Afghanistan is a large territory and cannot be controlled by abysmally meagre force.
ISAF and NATO forces had stayed around Kabul for years and were scared to go into hinterland, which provided opportunity to the militants to come back and consolidate. Later, when NATO-led forces did spread out to the south and the east, its poor strength and low morale did not allow them to control the situation. In fact right from the beginning, the strategy in Afghanistan was absolutely flawed. For years, 6000 ISAF troops stayed put in Kabul, whereas they should have deployed adequate number of troops spread out to chase and capture Al-Qaeda’s and Taliban’s fleeing rumpus, but they did not dare. At that time, American soldiers were barely 12000, and they too remained in their Bagram redoubt, showing not much of soldiering to take on their adversaries. Years later in 2006, when they took to ramping up their forces in Afghanistan Talban had regrouped in their strongholds of country’s east and south.
Yet, the coalition forces were mostly less keen an fighting and more intent on spending out duty period in the country’s relatively peaceful north and west. It was because of their cowardice that the Taliban ruled roost in 60 per cent of landmass in Afghanistan. Already in 2008, Mike Mullen had testified to a Congressional hearing that “America is not winning the war in Afghanistan but it can”. The bland truth, however, is that America had practically lost the war, which was reflective of the failure of the world’s best ‘war machine’ — the US and NATO forces — that could not achieve any of the objectives set for it. In 31st January 2009 issue of the Newsweek, John Berry in his treatise titled ‘Could Afghanistan be Obama’s Vietnam’, had observed similarities in Vietnam and Afghanistan war and of course similar results.
He wrote: “Privately, Petraeus is said to reject comparisons with Vietnam; he distrusts ‘history by analogy’ as an excuse not to come to grips with the intricacies of Afghanistan itself. But there is this stark similarity: in Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, we may now be facing a situation where we can win every battle and still not win the war – at least not within a time frame and at a cost that is acceptable to the American people”. Already, many analysts were of the view that Afghanistan could become another Vietnam for America. As regards Afghan resistance against Soviet forces that had invaded and occupied Afghanistan in late 1970s, Pakistan supported Afghan resistance that resulted in defeat to Soviet forces and later its disintegration. Anyhow, the US is now in a hurry to close the Afghan chapter before the next presidential elections.
There have already been two rounds of talks between senior US officials and representatives of the Taliban, but no significant breakthrough has been achieved that could pave the way for structured peace talks. Khalilzad faces an uphill task; on the one hand he wants to appease Afghan government and on the other he will have to satisfy the Taliban who want a schedule of withdrawal of US and other forces from Afghanistan, and also change in the Afghan constitution, including establishment of interim government to ensure free and fair elections. Addressing a ceremony on former Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim’s death anniversary in Balkh, Hanif Atmar a presidential candidate, among other things said, “Establishing an interim government based on the Constitution will be our top priority so that we assure our nation that peace and elections are coming.”
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.