Obama’s war of necessity has become an albatross, yet a negotiated settlement offers the only opportunity to end this senseless war.
Beginning of the End
The war in Afghanistan does not seem
to be coming to an end.
In August 2009, addressing 5,500 members, families and guests of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at their annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona, President Obama declared that the Afghanistan War was a war of necessity. He also said that the war in Afghanistan won’t be won solely with military power. “We also need diplomacy and development and good governance.”
But burgeoning corruption in Karzai government defied all hopes of good governance. Nor could development make any mentionable headway due to the ongoing war. Meanwhile the generals appeared so sanguine of victory in the battlefield that diplomacy was put on the backburner.
In an attempt to prove to Obama that the war could still be won “solely with military power,” Gen. Petraeus asked for another 33,000 troops. With his wish granted, he went all out to show results, using all the tricks in his bag. He flooded the south with troops to clear Kandahar, Helmand and adjoining areas of Taliban presence. As a result there were some apparent gains. As Taliban dispersed, their attacks became less frequent. But they did not cease. Besides, pushed from the south, Taliban moved to north and east.
Even in Kandahar, despite heavy presence of U.S. troops, Taliban tunneled into Kandahar’s main prison and freed more than 470 prisoners on 25 April. And on June 29 they attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in the heart of Kabul. Sporadic attacks are besides. The Kabul incident was so spectacular that the New York Times headlined it as “Attack at Kabul Hotel Deflates Security Hopes in Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, to supplement the surge, Petraeus tried his signature tactic of creating Awakening Councils a la Iraq, lavishly distributing money. But he again failed for the simple reason that in Afghanistan there was nothing like the Sunni-Shia
divide in Iraq to be exploited.
Petraeus also increased the frequency of night raids by Special Forces, which now average 300 a month. Their victims are often innocent people including women and children. In addition NATO air attacks often kill civilians. In consequence America has lost more hearts and minds than it ever won. Therefore they no longer talk of winning hearts and minds.
So, now it seems that after nine years and eight months, the war began on October 10, 2001, $3.7 trillion in cost as estimated by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, and loss of 1511 troops, wisdom has at last dawned on the U.S. administration that there is no way except diplomacy to end the war.
Therefore President Obama has decided to bring 33,000 troops back home from Afghanistan by next summer which he called the “beginning of the end of the war.”
Also retreating from his earlier pronouncements on his war aims, Obama has now declared that, “Washington would no longer try to build a ‘perfect’ Afghanistan from a nation traumatized by its blood soaked history.”
With military power having failed to “win” the war and nation building dropped from the agenda, at last Washington turned to diplomacy, inching ever so gingerly towards seeking negotiations with Taliban which it had contemptuously scoffed at earlier.
For no earthly reason Washington presumed that Taliban had been pushed to the wall, so as to demand that they lay down (surrender?) arms, forswear all contacts with al Qaeda and pledge allegiance to the Karzai government before it will agree to direct talk.
Perhaps Afghanistan has proved a new experience for the Americans as it does not fit into any past model in their repertoire. In consequence they have been changing their position more frequently than a chameleon would its colors and trying all sorts of gimmicks like spreading the rumor of Mullah Omar’s disappearance and even death.
First they gave a nod to parleys between the Afghan government and Taliban, keeping a lofty distance. Gen. Petraeus eagerly facilitated a trip for an “emissary” of Mullah Omar on a NATO airplane from Pakistan to Kabul to meet President Karzai, only to be humiliated when it turned out that the “emissary” was phony - just a shopkeeper from Quetta. Next they talked about bringing Pakistan also into the loop. Later they sidelined both Pakistan and Afghanistan, swallowed their pride and entered into direct talks with Taliban. Mid-ranking U.S. State Department and CIA officials have met Taliban representatives led by Tayyab Agha, a personal aide of Mullah Omar, at least thrice since January 2011 – once in Qatar and twice in Germany, according to Reuters. And the then outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that the U.S. has made “preliminary contacts with Afghan Taliban guerrillas.”
Yet, while it has started talking with Taliban the U.S. continues its efforts to capture Mullah Omar, a tactic that might retard the possibility of any serious negotiations.
On the other hand Taliban have been consistent in their approach. From day one they have rigidly adhered to their one-point agenda that all alien troops must vacate the country before they would engage in any talks.
After the latest round in Qatar they again refuted on July 6, 2011 claims they had entered into talks with the West to try and find an end to the war. They said that “ any contacts with foreign countries had only been to negotiate prisoner exchanges.”
In a statement emailed to media, they also repeated their long-standing position of rejecting any negotiations for peace as long as foreign troops were in Afghanistan.
“The rumor about negotiation with America is not more than the talks aimed at the exchange of prisoners. Some circles call these contacts as comprehensive talks about the current imbroglio of Afghanistan,” the Taliban said. “However, this shows their lack of knowledge about the reality. It is clear as the broad daylight that we consider negotiation in condition of presence of foreign forces as a war stratagem of the Americans and their futile efforts.”
Nevertheless the critical importance of a political solution and a negotiated peace is beyond any question. But there are so many issues that need to be sorted out for an enduring peace. First, the required number of trained Afghan troops who would replace alien forces, is not likely to be in position even by 2014 the final date agreed to by the NATO powers at the Lisbon summit in November 2010 for vacating the occupation.
Next there are questions about the conflicting interests of parties directly concerned with the peace process. These include the interests of a predominantly non-Pashtun Afghan civilian and military establishment installed under U.S. patronage, U.S. interests that have led it to sideline even President Hamid Karzai, and finally, Pakistan’s long term considerations for its safety in the border regions. And then there is India in the background.
This is a real witches’ brew. Yet, only a political solution acceptable to all players will guarantee peace.
Taliban have been consistent in their demand to consider negotiations
only when the foreign forces leave Afghanistan.