A Failing US Strategy in Afghanistan
Dr Raja Muhammad Khan
Western analysts believe that, “Afghanistan was Obama`s war of choice. He picked it in preference to Iraq, ordered up a Petraeus-patented surge, went after the bad guys in Helmand and Kandahar, and now, like George Bush before him, is preparing to declare a victory, whatever the uncomfortable facts of the matter.” Indeed, U.S was able to secure its interests in Iraq, pulled out its combat forces, while leaving behind oil companies and contractors. US declared victory in that country, after having caused instability and division among various ethnic and sectarian groups of that country. After a decade, it has not been able to control even 50% area of Afghanistan. In the wordings of renowned US writer Steve Coll, US “policy was disintegrating under the weight of its own wrong assumptions and would not last until 2014.”
In the recent past, three gruesome incidents committed by US forces in Afghanistan indicate its imperial mindset. The first incident was urinating on the bodies of the Taliban by US soldiers. While committing this callous act, US soldiers appear to be amusing themselves and as if they have done something of pride, as video indicates. Another act was the burning the Holy Quran by US soldiers in a US Military Base in Afghanistan. By doing that U.S uniformed persons gave an impression that they wilfully disrespect the Muslim belief and their religion, in a country whose inhabitants are very strict followers of the religion. The third incident was killing of sixteen innocent civilians by a US Sergeant mercilessly and burning them too. Most of those targeted were women and children.
These incidents were deliberate, thus cannot be treated as isolated ones, as US media and officials portray. Just as an example, it was a group of U.S marines, who urinated on the bodies, not a single individual. Someone out of those could have stopped occurring the incident. Nevertheless, all gave the impression as if they have done something worth appreciating, and as a mark of triumph. Burning of the Holy Quran at a US Base in Afghanistan was not an individual act. A military base after all is always well guarded and soldiers do not live in single rooms like peacetime in ones own cantonments.
In the third incident, leaving the base and getting inside the houses to kill innocent cannot be an individual act. After all the exit and entrance of the base must have been guarded by a certain number of security personnel. Why did they allow him to leave the base in the dark hours of the morning, while being heavily armed and all alone? Can US afford its soldiers wandering individually in any part of Afghanistan even in broad day hours? More over, as President Karazai suspects, this killing cannot be one man’s job, therefore, let us be fair in accepting that. For the US and its marines, all these incidents might have been fun and mark of victory, but for the Afghans, all these events and many others are humiliations and loss of precious lives. How can they pull on with these daily happenings? After over a decade of the occupation, they were not expecting such a humiliating treatment, but a fair handling.
Probably, US policy makers are in a strange miasma. Economic disaster back home compels the US to wrap-up as soon as possible through a strategy, “how to get out fast without appearing to get out fast.” This strategy was even focused in the meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron on March 14/15 in Washington. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has already signalled the likely US wrapping up by end of 2013. Even the American and European analysts feels that, “As they watch these moves, Afghans, the Taliban and neighbours such as Pakistan can reasonably conclude that the United States, rather than trying to win the war, is racing to implement an exit strategy in which the interests of Afghans and their government are slighted.”
Nevertheless, such a scenario does not mean that, US would not leave its footprints in Afghanistan after 2013 or as agreed in Lisbon Summit of a drawdown by 2014. After all US has made lot of investment in the Afghanistan and must have a foresight to reap the fruits. Tussle between Pentagon and White House over the drawdown plan is not new. While Obama Administration would like to reduce the overseas defence expenditures by ending military engagements, the Pentagon is sticking to the continuation of military engagement indefinitely. What to talk of 2014, the Pentagon would like to continue even after that; a period from ‘transition to transformation’ 2015-2024). With these opposing poles, there are two more actors; the American masses and the US soldiers on Afghan soil. While majority of US masses sees the military engagement as non-productive, would thus like US soldiers to leave that country without anymore-economic expenditures and investments made there. The US soldiers themselves are tired and indeed sick-of the hostile environment in Afghanistan, are more than willing to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. Soldiers of US and other coalition partners are indeed compelled to stay in these environments, thus at time commit acts which embarrasses the super power and EU partners. According to a Guardian writer, Simon Tisdall, “in Afghanistan, it`s time to swallow pride and wise up, before it really is too late.” Even now, there is a time; US should buy this sincere advice.
Even after having analysed and acknowledged the difficulties on ground, the areas which NATO and U.S failed to invest, is the Afghan society and political integration. So far, the billion of dollars NATO and US have spent are on making the military bases to secure their own forces and military equipment and establishing a shaky Afghan National Army and Police. Would this rickety and raw ANA and ANP be able to integrate the Afghan society, or bring the political harmony among the Afghan society? Whether deliberate or otherwise, this non-productive US investment is now harming its own long-term objectives in the region. Today, a common Afghan has no regard for the US and NATO forces. Except the US rewarded class, Afghan masses take US military presence as an occupying power, exploitative in nature and humiliating and degrading Afghan traditions and culture, besides driving wedges among various Afghan factions and ethnic groups.
While talking to Taliban, US did not take into confidence its own handpicked President Karazai. Now after these incidents, Karazai demanded US to vacate the villages and move the forces to bases. Indeed, as per British reporter Sandy Gall, “Mr Obama and his aides have done much to damage the relationship between the two countries and public morale on both sides.” These incidents and US arrogance over these have brought the Qatar dialogue between Taliban and US to a grinding halt.
The issue is not of the US failure in Afghanistan, but leaving it in a lurch. “Afghans already feel that electoral considerations are more important to the west than the key question of whether the raw, new Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police will be up to the task of guaranteeing the country`s security.” After so many years of civil wars and invasions, Afghans cannot afford another civil war and factional fighting. Therefore, it would be rather in the interests of either party if U.S recognises that its current policies have failed, thus should not persist on those. Rather, along with other partners, it “considers, for example, paying greater attention to the broad political goals enunciated by Afghan leaders, and not just by Karzai.” This all has to be done before, it is too late.