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.
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.