13.03.2014 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

From Domination to Negotiations: The US Misadventures in Afghanistan

564The assumption and the sustainment of the ‘super power’ role by any all means possible has been the most defining feature of the post World War 2 United States of America. Military interventions, overt and covert operations, political interferences, installment of governments have been the modus operandi of the ‘only’ super power to achieve this objective. One of the main logic for this offensive strategy was and still is the strive to secure a privileged position in the global order that can enable the US-controlled modes of production flourish throughout the globe without nay interruptions. This is also simply the case for the openness of oil trade, which is crucial to maintaining the US’ hegemony. Since the US and its European allies are one of the major importers of oil, any threat to the ‘free’ flow of oil to the West is a threat to its economic stability and control over international politics. It is for this reason that the US’ grand strategy required that it should never lose its ability to respond quickly to any such threat anywhere in the world, regardless of the human cost it may involve; for, loss of control means increased dependence of the US on the exporting states—a condition certainly not conducive to the fulfillment of the US’ national interests.

As such in order for securing control of the flow of energy to the global market, Dick Cheney, in 2001, was assigned to the task of carrying out a comprehensive review of the US energy policy. His findings and recommendations emphasized declaring energy security as the immediate priority of the US foreign policy. It was this very consideration that lay at the heart of the US interventions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A complete politico-military domination over Afghanistan was and still is crucial to the attainment of the US’ grand objectives—hence, all efforts to keep residual forces and military bases in Afghanistan in the post-2014 scenario. It is, as such, absurd to keep arguing, as is done in the Western media, against Taliban as threat to global peace; for, it was the US who started this war to establish its stranglehold in Afghanistan in order to control the flow of energy from Eurasia to the outer world—hence, the US sponsored projects, and conversely, a staunch opposition to Iran-Pakistan pipeline. In other words, militarization of the region, precipitating political instability was the core element of the application of the US grand strategy. It is then not a coincidence that the war in Afghanistan was followed by war in Iraq and now Syria.

Over the course of a decade and more, however, the discourse has undergone some change from castigating Afghan Taliban as mere ‘fanatics’ to emphasizing the need for engagement in a dialogue with them, the underlying purpose of which is now to find out the way for “saving face”.

But the question now is: why have the US and its allies fail in achieving their objectives and what has now compelled them to think of negotiating with Taliban?

One of the fundamental reasons that have led to such a failure in Afghanistan was the sheer reliance on the brutal military power. Contrary to the ambiguous ‘peace settlement’ in Iraq, which the US officials often relate to the  increase in number of military troops, this policy has bitterly failed in case of Afghanistan. However, contrary to this assumption about Iraq, a number of other factors such as political settlements with the Sunni population, a counterproductive terror campaign by Al Qaeda, and the possible decision by Iran to no longer incite Shia resistance, also played significant part in paving the way for a “face saving escape” of the US.

Secondly, the US’ own declining economic strength crippled its ability to apply other means of negotiation then, notwithstanding the fact that application of military power also involves huge amount of money. As per the official figures of the US, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have raised deficits by about 1% of GDP each year since 2001. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that the deficit-financed wars are one of the main drivers of the projected debt, totaling $20 trillion by 2019 if current policies continue. Even if the US succeeds in sustaining a military presence of 20,000 troops—an idea that some policymakers support—and continues to finance the Afghan security forces, war costs could still exceed $25 billion each year. Although $25 billion is much lower than the Afghanistan war budget for one year—which is over $110 billion—it is still a significant amount of money. Certainly it’s too much to spend on war that many Americans want to end it now. And again, it is this very factor that is constantly pushing the US to its limits.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the US failed to break the resilience of Taliban. On the contrary, not only have Taliban successfully resisted the US successfully but also has created a number of virtual territorial zones in Afghanistan where it has established its own rule. On these territories Taliban has successfully implemented a system of government which is working efficiently and to the satisfaction of people as well. Details of Taliban’s position and hold in Afghanistan’s socio-political fabric have been spelled out in a report of ISAF, titled as State of Taliban (January 2012). According to this report, Taliban leadership and Taliban fighters have all started to believe in the possibility of establishing government in Kabul thereby, winning the war eventually against the allied forces and inevitably re-establishing their control throughout Afghanistan – this is one of the main reasons behind their refusal to negotiate with the US forces. The report also states that Taliban do not aim at persecuting their rival ethnic groups; rather, aim at achieving a sort of ‘national reconciliation.’ I

While the media continues to focus on Taliban’s military operations, their ability to provide effective governance has become a source of appeal for common Afghans. It has been achieved, tells the report, through a new system introduced in the areas under their control. This system has been termed as “the civilian commission system”, which is designed to provide local, Sharia-based government, unbiased mediation, judicial systems free of corruption, as well as an independent voice for civilians who have issues with the Taliban military command. One of the strengths of the “civilian commission system” is its flexibility in which Taliban provincial governors are free to establish a civilian commission system which suits the needs of their assigned province. It is significant to note that the “People have reported their satisfaction with the system,” mentions the report.

It would be no exaggeration to state that the vacuum that Taliban is filling has been left by the very policies pursued by the US backed system of government in Afghanistan.  In simple words, the US strategy of giving the people of Afghanistan a government system—a central element of the counterinsurgency system— an alternative to the one established  by Taliban in the late 1990s has ultimately failed, which in turn forced the US and its revive the idea of negotiating with Taliban. But this strategy, too, seems to be flawed; for, the US is still adamant in retaining its military bases in Afghanistan despite Taliban’s staunch opposition to it. The fact of the matter is that the US’ strategy of retaining some tentacles of influence in Afghanistan stands very little chance of success, as the US army general and officials have acknowledged this fact even as early as 2012 when the New York Times reported that the US officials have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war in Afghanistan: battering the Taliban into a peace deal.

Hamid Karzai’s government is too weak, and so would be the new government that is to be formed after the elections in 2014,  it could hardly last more than a few months after the US forces departure from Afghanistan; and, Pakistan has always been sort of sympathetic to the Afghan Taliban, so there would not be too many objections on the Pakistani side to the Taliban’s return to power—hence, problems for the US. The US, as such, has been left apparently with no other option but to leave Afghanistan with the Afghans themselves to decide their future.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.