By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
Throughout during the George W. Bush presidency, US maintained almost a constant policy towards Afghanistan. This was in fact the neo-conservatives policy of oppression and long-term occupation of Afghanistan by United States. The people of US indeed seriously contested this strategy of dragging the war towards an indefinite end, once they rejected the Republican candidate and voted for a promising young and an articulate Democrat, Barack Hussain Obama on November 4, 2008. As abstracted from his speeches during the election campaign, President Obama promised the US people for three main objectives; improvement of US economy; provision of enhanced employment opportunities for the US citizens and curtailing US overseas troops employment.
Apparently, President Obama was committed to these promises with the US people, once he took over the reign on January 20, 2009. Within a period of 100 days, the President made a review of US Afghan policy and decided to incorporate Pakistani tribal areas into its combat zone, renaming it as the AfPak Strategy. The policy aimed at combining Pak and Afghanistan as the single warzone. Owing to its inherent defects of combining a sovereign country with an occupied country, the policy failed.
In December 2009, President Obama, reviewed the AfPak policy and gave a broad outline of the US troops drawdown policy from Afghanistan, starting from July 2011. Prior to the troop’s pullout, he fixed three objectives for the US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. These objectives include; denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan; to reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the Afghan Government; and to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and government for taking over a lead responsibility upon US withdrawal. Since then US increased its force level by 30,000, with overall strength of NATO and US troops reaching to 150,000.
Unfortunately, contrary to the recent claims of the President Obama, there have been no successes to NATO and US in achieving the laid down objective. Indeed, there have been momentary and tactical gains, but in the longer-run, there have more reverses in the strategic gains. The Taliban movement, which was restricted to south and southeast, has further spreads to north and north east of the country. People even claims that this movement is turning into Afghan National movement against the foreign occupation. In spite of the claims of the CIA Director that there could be less than 100 Al-Qaeda operatives and that, Taliban’s strength has sufficiently been reduced, today US and NATO forces are not holding even 1/3rd of Afghan territory, after the ten years war in that country. Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Warlords are holding bulk of the Afghan territory and can freely move anywhere in the country, contrary to the US and NATO forces, who have limited space to manoeuvre. Even Afghan capital is not fully secured. Afghan National Army and police force might have been trained sufficiently, but lack the basic element of the people’s support or even the acceptance within Afghan society. Indeed, the majority ethnic group, the Pashtuns; forming over 50% of the total population are facing discrimination and alienation, at the hands of non-Pashtun minority. Today, Afghan security forces are even unable to secure the Capital, Kabul.
The Lisbon Summit of November 2010, though gave a deadline of 2014 for the troop’s drawdown, but remained apprehensive of its implementation too. Apart from rest of the NATO countries, US also made it clear that troop’s withdrawal will depend on ground situation, rather the given dateline. Otherwise, General David Peatreas, Commander of US, and NATO forces in Afghanistan have visualized a long war in Afghanistan. It appears that, the announcement of the troop’s drawdown is for the public consumption in the Europe and all troops contributing countries. In fact, there is a huge public pressure in these troops contributing countries including US for the pullout from Afghanistan. They ask their governments, as to why their soldiers be killed in a country thousands of miles away from their homelands without a cause. In addition, why their financial resources are driven to that country, leaving an economic chaos in their own countries. Indeed, the December-2010, review of Afghan war, offers President Obama an opportunity to chart a new course and make political accommodation. The paramount element in the US strategy thereby should have been reversing a situation in which a faltering military effort has been dictating the political approach. Nevertheless, that does not seem to be happening and Pentagon is totally dictating the Whitehouse. Moreover, after the success of Republicans in the mid-term elections, the situation has even worsened. With the likely taking over of the charge of foreign relations and defence committees by Republicans, Obama would be left with no option, but to concede the demands of neoconservatives, who intend staying in Afghanistan for a longer duration as envisioned in 2001, following the incident of 9/11.
Under such an uncertain situation, there would not be a peace and stability in Afghanistan. Rather, there are all the chances that, chaos would prevail in that war-ridden country in the days to come. Today, an average Afghan questions, why he is denied to live with peace, and economically prosperous life in his own homeland. After a continuous war for thirty long years, where a former and current super power has invaded this poor country for their own desired goals, this question is an ultimate outcome. After all, if the war wagers have the right to live with comfort in their respective countries, why Afghan people are deprived from such a necessity of life. Should not this be enough for the NATO and US forces to leave this country? Besides, without a shift in the current political structure in Afghanistan, it will be simply futile for the United States and its NATO allies to wage continued war on behalf of a government that cannot consolidate domestic political support without indefinite massive international assistance and troops.
There exists a continued mist in the US Afghan policy. It needs to clarify, whether to have a long-term stay in Afghanistan while keeping it unstable, or its stabilization is the true objective. Construction of its military bases in some of the strategically significant areas in that country indicates its long-term stay in that country. In that case, US has to make a choice, whether to economically collapse inland and meet the fate like Vietnam by staying in this hostile country. Alternatively, the best policy and perhaps the preferable option left to US would be, to redirect its diplomatic, financial, and military resources toward a more sustainable political settlement in Afghanistan in which US & NATO can withdraw without igniting a larger conflict. This will require “a political system that offers diverse Afghan factions including: those backing current government, those taking part in armed insurgency, and those sitting on the fence: an opportunity to participate in the stability & peace in Afghanistan.”