Another Action Replay?
The Soviet Union’s expansionist ambitions were brought to zilch in Afghanistan in 1989 when it had to withdraw its troops from the country it had invaded, leaving it to various factions of warring warlords. It was in reaction to the resultant bloodshed that the Taliban movement emerged. They were welcomed by a population weary of the corruption, brutality and fighting between the warlords. However, once in power, the Taliban followed their own agenda to oppress the population and pursue a rigid and misplaced interpretation of Islamic laws, under which they publicly executed criminals and outlawed the education of women. It was clear at this juncture that Washington, which had indirectly supported the rise of the Taliban, realized that they needed to be dispensed with. However, by this time the movement had dug its feet in, controlling almost 90 percent of Afghanistan. They also provided a safe haven to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Following 9/11, having arrived at the unilateral conclusion that it was al-Qaeda that had hit New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the U.S. took advantage of the opportunity to invade Afghanistan and plant itself in a region that offered it the much-desired geographical leverage against Russia, the Central Asian States, Iran and China.
In the process, the world’s sole superpower also decided to broker peace between the warring tribes and offer a modicum of good governance to this sorely troubled and backward part of the world. Such has been the level of their ‘success’ on this count, that, after more than a decade, they have nothing to show in terms of results. The foreign troops on Afghan soil have wreaked nothing but destruction and are now ready to hand things over to their Afghan counterparts and leave the people to their own devices. Though post-2014, the US and ISAF forces want the Afghan security forces to come forward, the people of Afghanistan are fearful that this could be a replay of the early and mid 90s and they certainly do not want a repeat of the bloody ethnic fighting that erupted then. The fear is that when international forces leave, minority Afghan groups may take up arms to prevent another Taliban takeover. It is even anticipated that members of the Afghan security forces would desert the government and fight with their ethnic leaders.
There is also mounting uncertainty about the upcoming elections. At about the same time as foreign troops withdraw, the Afghan people will go to the polls to elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai. The Afghan government is already weak and corrupt and if the next election is rigged, it is bound to give way to another round of civil strife which may reverse Afghanistan’s future by several decades. It would also be imprudent to believe that the U.S. will actually vacate Afghan territory. It took them some time to find a foothold in this strategic part of the globe. They have spent billions of dollars in building their presence in Afghanistan and sending a message to the rest of the world that they are no more a military restricted to the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean and that they can strike at major global powers and others, from really close quarters. As such, America will continue to maintain more than a token military presence in Afghanistan and will not vacate the region anytime soon.