The Un­winnable War

Afghanistan will have to start tak­ing con­crete mea­sures much be­fore in­ter­na­tional troops with­draw, if it hopes to achieve some form of sta­bil­ity in the near fu­ture.

Southasia - - Cover Story - By Dr. Moo­nis Ah­mar Dr. Moo­nis Ah­mar teaches In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and is Di­rec­tor, Area Study Cen­ter for Europe at the Univer­sity of Karachi.

A re­cently re­leased report by the Brus­sels-based In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group (ICG) en­ti­tled, “Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Tran­si­tion” presents a dan­ger­ous sce­nario fol­low­ing the with­drawal of for­eign forces in Afghanistan. De­scrib­ing the “Afghan army and po­lice over­whelmed and un­der­pre­pared for the tran­si­tion,” Can­dace Ron­deaux, Se­nior Afghanistan An­a­lyst, pre­dicts an­other “botched elec­tion and re­sul­tant un­rest” in Afghanistan if the Karzai regime at­tempts to ma­nip­u­late elec­tions. In­ci­den­tally, the NATO/U.S. with­drawal from Afghanistan will co­in­cide with the Afghan pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in 2014. Although Pres­i­dent Karzai con­sti­tu­tion­ally can­not con­test for a third term, the ICG report laments that, “Karzai seems more in­ter­ested in per­pet­u­at­ing his own power by any means rather than en­sur­ing the cred­i­bil­ity of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and long term sta­bil­ity in the coun­try.” Re­sul­tantly, the ICG report was heav­ily crit­i­cized by Pres­i­dent Karzai who termed it as bla­tant in­ter­fer­ence in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of Afghanistan and an at­tempt to desta­bi­lize an al­ready volatile sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try.

As the dead­line for the with­drawal of U.S. forces ap­proaches, the pos­si­bil­ity of a resur­gence of armed con­flict and vi­o­lence be­come more real. The chal­lenge of strength­en­ing the Afghan po­lice and mil­i­tary forces re­mains un­ac­com­plished and daunt­ing. Eleven years of a for­eign mil­i­tary pres­ence in Afghanistan have, how­ever, pre­vented a largescale Tal­iban in­sur­gency but the south and south­east­ern parts of the coun­try re­main vul­ner­a­ble to pe­ri­odic in­sur­gent at­tacks on not only for­eign forces but also against the Afghan army. With se­ri­ous threats mar­ring devel­op­men­tal progress in Afghanistan and the role of re­gional play­ers still un­clear, Afghanistan’s short-term sta­bil­ity seems like a far-off prospect. Will Afghanistan be left on its own and re­vert to an era of bloody civil war in a post-2014 pe­riod or will the west­ern pow­ers main­tain a sym­bolic mil­i­tary pres­ence af­ter 2014, serv­ing as a sta­bi­liz­ing fac­tor?

Four re­al­i­ties should be taken into ac­count while an­a­lyz­ing the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan. First, un­like the era of Soviet mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Afghanistan (De­cem­ber 1979 till Fe­bru­ary 1989), the re­sis­tance against for­eign forces has not spread into ma­jor parts of the coun­try. It has been claimed by the Karzai regime and also ver­i­fied by in­de­pen­dent sources that around 80% of the Afghan ter­ri­tory is peace­ful and it is only the south and south­east­ern Pash­tun dom­i­nated prov­inces, where vi­o­lence and re­sis­tance is no­tice­able. The post-9/11 for­eign pres­ence in Afghanistan lacks main­stream re­sis­tance and eth­nic groups like Ta­jiks and Uzbeks re­main on the side­lines of re­sis­tance forces.

Sec­ond, in or­der to pre­vent a vi­o­lent civil war in Afghanistan and Tal­iban rule, it is up to the peo­ple of Afghanistan to put their own house in or­der. Since King Zahir Shah was de­posed in 1973 and monar­chy was sub­se­quently abol­ished, Afghanistan has been in con­stant tur­moil. Four decades of vi­o­lence, blood­shed and anar­chy have left a psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­cial im­pact on two gen­er­a­tions of Afghans and plunged their coun­try into an end­less state of armed con­flict. With­out seek­ing con­sen­sus with lo­cal stake­hold­ers, it is im­pos­si­ble to seek a peace­ful tran­si­tion fol­low­ing the pro­jected with­drawal of for­eign forces in 2014.

Third, the mech­a­nism for a peace­ful tran­si­tion in Afghanistan would re­quire ma­jor re­forms in the mode of gov­er­nance, which would de­mand curb­ing law­less­ness, cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism. Un­for­tu­nately, the Karzai regime, de­spite be­ing in power for more than a de- cade has been un­able to en­sure rule of law, pro­vide good gov­er­nance and im­prove the so­cio-eco­nomic stan­dard of the peo­ple. In­stead of rec­ti­fy­ing vis­i­ble fault in its mode of gov­er­nance, Pres­i­dent Karzai launched a strong tirade against the United States, ac­cus­ing it of play­ing a dou­ble game “by fight­ing a war against Afghan mil­i­tants rather than their back­ers in Pak­istan where ter­ror­ism is fi­nanced and man­u­fac­tured.” He also ex­pressed his re­grets over “NATO’s re­fusal to sup­ply Afghanistan with mod­ern weapons nec­es­sary to fight its en­e­mies.” Karzai’s re­marks against the United States and NATO were strongly re­buffed by U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon Panetta who said, “Karzai should be grate­ful that more than 2,000 Amer­i­cans had died in Afghanistan. Th­ese lives were lost fight­ing the right en­emy, not the wrong en­emy. And it would be help­ful if the pres­i­dent, ev­ery once in a while, ex­pressed his thanks for the sac­ri­fices that have been made by those who have fought and died for Afghanistan rather than crit­i­cize.” The Amer­i­can out­burst against Karzai’s crit­i­cal and rather provoca­tive at­tack on the United States of play­ing a “dou­ble game” on Afghanistan is a se­ri­ous is­sue be­cause a rift be­tween Kabul and Washington dur­ing an “un­easy tran­si­tion,” will only fur­ther desta­bi­lize the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try.

Fi­nally, the role of re­gional play­ers is cru­cial and crit­i­cal in the tran­si­tion phase. Along with the sup­port from Iran, Pak­istan, China and its Cen­tral Asian neigh­bors, it is es­sen­tial that a peace­keep­ing force com­posed of neu­tral Mus­lim coun­tries is sent to Afghanistan so that prior to the with­drawal of for­eign forces, an al­ter­nate se­cu­rity ar­range­ment is reached and the pos­si­ble out­break of con­flict is pre­vented.

The neu­tral force for Afghanistan should in­clude par­tic­i­pa­tion from coun­tries like Morocco, Egypt, Bangladesh, In­done­sia and Malaysia. The pro­posed peace­keep­ing force should have a man­date from the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to pre­vent the out­break of armed con­flicts, de­mo­bi­liza­tion and de­mil­i­ta­riza­tion of non-state ac­tors. Fur­ther­more, the peace­keep­ing force should also be re­spon­si­ble for co­or­di­nat­ing with the Afghan se­cu­rity forces in curb­ing cross bor­der in­cur­sions.

There is no short cut to deal with the Afghan predica­ment but it is pos­si­ble to seek a “home grown” so­lu­tion, which has a lo­cal own­er­ship and re­gional sup­port to en­sure peace and sta­bil­ity. Cen­tral, South and West Asia will re­main vul­ner­a­ble to in­sta­bil­ity un­less there is peace in Afghanistan. Re­gard­less of tribal, eth­nic and sec­tar­ian cleav­ages, the peo­ple of Afghanistan should com­pel their lead­ers to re­nounce vi­o­lence, an­tag­o­nism and hos­til­ity while cre­at­ing con­di­tions for peace in their coun­try. The task is dif­fi­cult but cer­tainly not im­pos­si­ble to ac­com­plish.

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