US Exit Augurs Ill for Kabul
By Najeeb Jung
Apr 10, 2013
IT IS now almost sure that the American forces will leave Afghanistan in 2014.
From leaks coming from the State Department, it seems they would leave behind roughly 6,000 US troops concentrated at the Bagram airbase and at a few other installations around Kabul.
All this after the US military to date has lost around 1679 marines in battle and another 1173 men/ women working for US contractors. In addition, the US has so far spent $ 641.7 billion of which $ 198.2 billion or over 30 per cent has been spent in the current year itself.
Here I have not taken into account the loss of life and property of the Afghans.
In hindsight it seems shocking that Afghanistan trackers within the State Department and the CIA were so oblivious of Afghan history that no deep analysis seems to have been done on the prognosis of an attack on Afghanistan. The country seemed to have been blinded with rage and the desire for revenge on Bin Laden and his Al- Qaeda for the attacks on the twin towers in New York on 11 September, 2001. In history, Afghanistan is known as the ‘graveyard of Generals’ and with the exception of Aurangzeb, no army has truly succeeded in subduing this ferociously independent people. The British learnt it at their cost and the Soviets lost the Union itself. So, as far as the US withdrawal in 2014 is concerned, the question to ask is about how much has been achieved during this past decade. Will, after the end of President Karzai’s term in 2014, Afghanistan continue to progress towards a sustainable democracy and modest economic prosperity or, God forbid, would it spiral down to the pre- 2002 conditions? The overall picture does not give occasion for much optimism. Since 2010, despite initial losses, the Taliban have re- grouped and re- emerged as a resurgent force. They are now actively engaging coalition forces and have managed audacious attacks even in the heart of Kabul. The original Taliban of Mullah Omar has now spawned numerous new Taliban groups that have a footprint as a pan Islamic group, often coalescing with other groups of similar ideological bent that are based in the Central Asian Republics, some Islamic countries in the middle- east, and of course Pakistan.
What the Americans clearly forgot in 2002 was that it is not possible to tame or put fear into a people who are unafraid of death. The Afghans had fought within and without for centuries. One would have thought that after the bitter war with the Soviet Union and the huge losses of life and property incurred during those horrid years, the Afghan leaders would arrive at some compromise and take the country onto a path of development. What happened, in fact, was the reverse with massive fighting between different warlords that included Ahmad Shah Masoud (the Tajik leader), Abdul Rashid Dostum ( the Uzbek leader), Ismail Khan ( who controlled the lucrative trade routes to Iran), Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Burhanuddin Rabbani and the Hazara leaders. The leaders ensconced themselves on separate hills surrounding Kabul and bombarded each other for years. Travelling in Kabul in the post Taliban years (2003- 05), one saw vast parts of the historical city reduced to rubble.
Therefore post 2014 it is hardly likely that the residual US and NATO forces would be able to match the Taliban or the warlords, half of whom are members of the Karzai government. The nightmare scenario is the fear of the country being divided for spoils between 25 or 30 warlords. As things stand today, while Karzai and his family’s influence is likely to shrink back to Quandhar, Mir Alam would take Kunduz, Mohammed Atta could well take Mazar- e- Sharif, with Abdul Rashid Dostum retaining his traditional stronghold of Shebergan. This will leave Paktika for Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar controlling the areas bordering Pakistan. The Taliban will undeniably undermine security and pose a regional threat to neighbouring countries such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran and parts of China as also leave an undeniable impact on Pakistan and India ( Kashmir). Therefore while the US did indeed succeed in killing Bin Laden after a search of ten years, its objectives on the war against terror have hardly been met. Secret meetings between representatives of the Karzai government and the Taliban, with ‘friendly’ nudging by the US since 2010 have achieved nothing. The fundamental mistake has been a strategy to reach out to ‘ moderate’ Taliban because there are no ‘ moderate’ Taliban.
The Taliban who had faded away in 2002 are back. In 2002, when I asked a junior officer of Pashtun origin recruited at a multilateral institution in Kabul as to where the Taliban had disappeared, he looked me straight in the eyes and said “ but I could be one of them; be sure they will be back”! Today their organisational structure has been substantially rebuilt.
The leadership operates from within Afghanistan as well as from Pakistan. The dichotomy is that despite this the US is constrained to support Pakistan with military equipment and financial aid. The Taliban footprint is large in the NWFP and the FATA areas of Pakistan as indeed there are a strong Pakistani Taliban itself.
India has reasons to be concerned. The resurgence of fundamentalist sources within the government of Afghanistan, the ISI and sections of the people of Pakistan that provide succour and training to such forces is a matter of deep concern.
India obviously will watch and evolve its own strategy. But the game in Afghanistan is far from over. It is sad to see that the Americans came to Afghanistan in anger and without a plan; and they now leave the country again without a plan. I am reminded of a line from Khwaja Mir Dard’s famous couplet: “ Kis liye aaye the hum, kya kar chale”.
Najeeb Jung is the Vice- Chancellor of the Jamia Millia Islamia
Source: Mail Today