October 11, 2010

Why the US will lose in Afghanistan

The US govt. cannot sustain the increasing war pressure.
(Photo: Dawn.com)
The biggest constraints are time and money. The general perception in the US is that this war in unwinnable and that is quite true. You see history tells us that over the last 2500 years, no one, and I mean no one (including Alexander the Great, and the 120,000 men strong Soviet army), have been able to tame the wild beast called Afghanistan. It is inhospitable, and the population has been in a state of civil war spanning the last 3 decades which has resulted in utter chaos, devastation, and no development of any kind of civil infrastructure. So how does the US expect to tame this beast?

It can’t. The sad realization has struck Washington and consequently, they have been forced on the back foot. Apparently, the US government bit off more than it could chew. In the hope of driving out the Al Qaeda remnants from the ragged lands in Afghanistan, they actually rattled a hornet’s nest, which has caused the US to take a pounding everywhere. The Taliban are sadistic guerilla warfare champions, and their biggest advantage is that they don’t have to go home; unlike the American troops. According to Foreignpolicy.com, the US needs approximately 500,000 troops just to mollify Afghanistan. However, this troop surge will never come, and the US will leave battered and bruised.

The costs of war being incurred in Afghanistan, and the overwhelming dissatisfaction amongst US citizens has forced the Obama administration to announce that the troops will be moving back home. However, the problem that they went in to solve in Afghanistan has actually aggravated. While the Taliban have taken a hiding, they now have the time and patience to wait until the US leaves before re-embarking on their dangerous adventures. So where does this leave us Pakistanis?

It is an intriguing question, and possibly the one that is defining the current military non-response to repeat US requests about action in North Waziristan. While the US will leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will stay, and it is possibly this notion that is driving policy makers to refuse opening up a new front in this war against the Taliban; and possibly, it is this non-response on the part of the Pakistan army that has caused an intensive escalation in the number of drone attacks inside Pakistani territory, particularly North Waziristan. You see the US believes, and quite rightly so, that unless the sanctuaries and safe havens of the Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami, and the Haqqani network can be eliminated in Pakistan, these insurgent groups will never dismember. On the other hand, old alliances and strategic interests disallow the Pakistani state to completely uproot these safe havens. So for all intents and purposes, both the Pakistani and the American administrations are in a quandary.

What the US government has failed to realize is that Pakistan feels threatened by the growing Indian influence in Afghanistan, and consequently will do anything that it possibly can to stop that influence from spreading. If the US government could have provided pertinent safeguards to its Pakistani counterparts, maybe the outcome of this war could have been different. Maybe, after South Waziristan, the Pakistan army would have been willing to go into North Waziristan; but now, with the US combat troops’ withdrawal becoming apparent with each passing day, and no safeguards assured to Pakistan as such, it would be unwise to expect the Pakistan army to antagonize the Taliban.

So the real question is: What do we do? Well, the first option would be try to not become another Cambodia. While the Vietnamese ripped the heart from the American war machine, it was Cambodia which was left to face the brunt of the American onslaught because of its purported neutrality. By siding with the Taliban, we risk inviting the US’ wrath and possible invasion by its troops. These sentiments have been mentioned time and again, and the statement by Hilary Clinton particularly, the one in which she quite clearly threatened Pakistan with dire consequences if a successful attack on US soil “….is traced back to Pakistan”, hold critical importance.

The ideal situation would have been if the US had committed itself to a long term counterinsurgency plan, whereby the environment in Afghanistan is made so inhospitable for the insurgents in Afghanistan that they have no choice but to leave it. Of course this kind of effort requires a lot of time, possibly decades, and a growing concern in addressing the root causes that are driving all the Afghans on average, including the Tajiks, Hazaras, and the Pashtoons to be in constant conflict of some form with the central government. However, this appears to be highly improbable.

As of now, Pervez Musharraf’s recent suggestion of holding talks with the Taliban appears to be the safest route for Pakistan, despite the risks. It will help guarantee a safe passage back home for the US troops, and hopefully ensure that the tidal wave of terrorism emanating from FATA engulfing Pakistan will slowly ebb. Afghanistan on the other hand, will once again be left alone to deal with its demons.