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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

Lessons from Afghanistan Conundrum

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

The most spectacular victory of the Afghan Taliban, especially the takeover of Kabul without firing a bullet contrary to the US President’s claims till the last moments, is indicative of flaws and failures on many counts. A lot of analysts are pondering over this unexpected and sudden collapse of Afghanistan like a sand castle and offering a host of reasons. Some of those explanations are aimed at face saving to the withdrawing forces, concerned intelligence, military, political and diplomatic institutions and others at giving birth to new twists and conspiracies. Nothing seems to work though as amnesty granted to all and sundry and so far very mature handling of affairs on all fronts by the re-enthroned Afghan Taliban has baffled the opponents on all fronts. It is amusing to watch Indian and western media gone berserk and frenzied, thoroughly embarrassed and finding it hard to cover up their lies and foolish narratives spread in the last 20 years to justify a war unleashed for fake aims and objectives. Nevertheless, some of the clumsiest propagandists and embarrassed officials are still trying to give life to old and failed plots to scapegoat Pakistan by raising most stupid fears of a Nuclear Pakistan supporting Taliban, women and children rights, economic failure of Afghanistan and becoming sanctuary for global terrorists again. This rant continues despite invaders’ 20 long years of destruction and killing of thousands of innocent women, children and other innocent civilians in the name of remorseless collateral damage. Ironically what is not talked about is the one greatest reason for failure on all fronts by the US and allies i.e. the CORRUPTION rampant among the invaders in connivance with their Afghan puppets who have stashed huge stocks of plundered American taxpayers' dollars abroad scot free from FATF eyes.

Let’s first have a look as to what all is being said by some of the affiliated experts for this unceremonious finale of an endless war. As per Christina Lamb, she was told by a British military commander Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith at Helmand Afghanistan in 2008 that the war in Afghanistan could not be won militarily; thirteen years on, U.S. President Joe Biden reached the same conclusion. The writer ofThe American War in Afghanistan Carter Malkasian considers just how it could be that with as many as 140,000 soldiers in 2011 and some of the world’s most sophisticated equipment, the United States and its NATO allies failed to defeat the Taliban. Moreover, he asks why these Western powers stayed on, at a cost of more than $2 trillion and over 3,500 allied lives lost, plus many more soldiers badly injured, fighting what the British brigadier and others long knew was an unwinnable war. Malkasian’s book raises a disturbing question: In the end, did the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan do more harm than good? “The United States exposed Afghans to prolonged harm in order to defend America from another terrorist attack,” he writes. “Villages were destroyed. Families disappeared. . . . The intervention did noble work for women, education, and free speech. But that good has to be weighed against tens of thousands of men, women, and children who died.” “There is one seductive argument made by critics of the withdrawal: that a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will again become a haven for terrorist groups threatening the security of the United States. This argument is a backhanded acknowledgment that we succeeded in reducing the threat from Afghanistan to minimal levels—the original rationale for U.S. intervention. The sacrifice, however, was significant: more than $2 trillion, the deaths of 2,400 U.S. service members (and thousands of contractors), more than 20,000 wounded Americans”.

What has happened in Afghanistan is a terrible tragedy, but the blame cannot be laid at any one door. The Biden administration’s short timetable for withdrawal, tied to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and in the middle of the fighting season, may be termed as a mistake. But the situation on the ground is the result of two decades of miscalculations and failed policies pursued by three prior U.S. administrations and of the failure of Afghanistan’s leaders to govern for the good of their people. Many of the critics speaking out now were architects of those policies.

The US intervention in Afghanistan along with a long list of allies was premised on the stated objectives of elimination of Al-Qaeda, defeat/ destruction of Afghan Taliban being their supporters, introduce democratic government and rebuild Afghanistan on western footings….none was to happen in two decades and the stated politico-military aims/ objectives, policies and strategies kept changing and failing with the passage of time. That continued to happen despite revealing annual audit reports by the US Special Inspector General on Afghanistan(SIGAR), which always tactfully highlighted the mismatch in the political, military and intelligence pretense of successes, funds misappropriations and rampant corruption that was going around because a syndicate of Afghan elite and US officials in all the departments associated with war in Afghanistan worked hand in glove. The defence industrial complexes, narrative building think tanks, overrated policy advisers/strategists, military contractors, money dolling intelligence operators, covert war contractors, multiple proxy runners, local warlords, drug barons and Afghan dummy political elite kept on making hay while the Sun shone above Afghanistan and clouds rained bombs and missiles over hapless people. Ironically, all was being done with the hypocritical slogan of ‘winning hearts and minds’.

Besides, failure to understand Afghan history, tribal culture, unfamiliar rugged terrain, under-estimation of Taliban’ faith, determination and fighting skills, Taliban’s ability to wait out the interventionists (clock and time allegory), local support to Taliban, US funded, trained, equipped and greatly relied upon Afghan National Army as well as police(which was mostly ghost and remaining faithless due rampant corrupt practices of their so called leadership and Karzai s well as Ashraf Ghani government), American disregard to “eroding stalemate”, misreading of a fragmented Afghan political reality and disproportionate cruel use of military muscles based on concocted human and faulty technical intelligence led to failure of all military plans. In particular, prematurely declaring Afghanistan as a success and turning on to Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen couldn’t have been without an overall master plan to destroy the listed historically, culturally and financially rich Islamic countries whose rulers had run their service to the old Western sponsors and were becoming model of wealthy and stable welfare states considered threat by the capitalist world. Hence long hypothesized destruction of political Islam through a Clash of Civilizations just happened in the last two decades and continues unabated in different forms and in newer regions. Needless to say that in the overall bigger context, American misread the geopolitical realities of the region; US and allies soon found themselves confronted by strategic competitors i.e. China and Russia and other regional countries in the arena, which had not been factored-in adequately in their strategic calculus. Nevertheless, these entire factors resulted in imperial over-stretch for the USA and NATO allies who became gradually disenchanted with US’ unbridled war making due unbearable economic, human and political cost in respective countries.

The current U.S. plan is to contain so dubbed terrorism from afar, using drones, intelligence networks, and special operations raids launched from bases somewhere in the region. William Burns, the CIA director, admitted that this plan involved “a significant risk.” It was “not the decision we hoped for,” said the British defense chief, Nick Carter. “These are professional understatements,” William Hague, a former British foreign secretary, wrote recently in response. “Most western security officials I know are horrified.” Even if the United States’ war is over, Afghanistan’s is not. Now, threats to withhold international recognition as the Taliban finally retook Kabul by force mean little. Taliban leaders are not much concerned about whether the United States and allies recognizes them as a government despite accommodation and magnanimity shown to the exiting invaders’ troops, diplomats, citizens, media persons, NGOs, undercover spies, and their thousand of local undercover agents and helpers; other international actors probably will no matter what Washington does. Nonetheless, such statements are indicative of the badly hurt withdrawing coalition’s intentions and difficult times that Afghanistan and neighbouring countries will have to brace up for.

Above discussed reason and factors that contributed negatively towards an endless and futile war in Afghanistan, has a lot of lessons and pointers for the regional countries including Pakistan. As a fish rots from the head down; likewise mega financial corruption and nepotism at the top political, military, intelligence, judicial and other institutional levels malfunction down to the lowest levels due lack of trust, betrayal and disillusionment with the leadership. The swarms of people fleeing Afghanistan in spite of general amnesty announced by the Taliban are mostly those corrupt people who preferred serving the interventionists as translators, helpers, proxies, spies and subservient people….no wonders why Afghanistan mostly remains in the eye of the storm. A country filled with a lot of traitors, corrupt elites, opportunists and sycophants can neither prosper nor be at peace; that is the best of lessons that we all need to learn!

24 August 2021

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