– If Afghanistan has not become a modern functioning state after 10 years of American-led presence in the country, it should not be taken as a sign of the US’s defeat in our neighbourhood.
President Barack Obama has announced the drawdown plan whereby the US will gradually withdraw its combat forces from Afghanistan. The announcement comes almost 10 years after the American-led forces landed in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Such is the nature of warfare now that the battle is seldom between easily identifiable entities nor are its results a cut and dried victory for one side and a defeat for the other. Truth, as the old cliché goes, still remains the first casualty of warfare and different sides will claim victory in the mess that is Afghanistan now.
Here I will mention and put into perspective a version of the truth that will come from the self-congratulating triumphal camp within Pakistan who will portray the Obama announcement as an American defeat in Afghanistan. They will tell you the following things: the US, like the Soviet Union, has been defeated in Afghanistan. The Soviets had to pull out the last of their soldiers in little over 10 years and the Americans have started their withdrawal in the same timeframe. No matter how superior American military power, it is no match for the soldiers of Islam. And, if you need any proof, this is the victory of the Islamists against a decadent west. The American decision to gradually withdraw and approve negotiations with the Taliban is a vindication of the Pakistani establishment’s long-held view. That Islamabad has always maintained that the Taliban are a political force in Afghanistan and there can be no stable Afghanistan without the Taliban having a significant say in its political system. Finally, that time is on the Taliban and Pakistani side and ultimately any future political setup in Kabul will have to accommodate Islamabad’s genuine interests.
Before you accept this version of the truth, keep the following in mind: 10 years of the US’s presence had an identifiable beginning and the drawdown announcement is part of an undefined endgame. The Americans have had failures in the process but they can claim some salient victories. Pakistani analysts need to keep those victories in mind when issuing verdicts about the American ‘defeat’ in Afghanistan. Pakistan has not gained much by its strategic choices of the past 10 years and its current policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds does not portend well for the country.
The US mounted the attack on Afghanistan’s Taliban regime because it considered the Taliban as the providers of safe havens to the forces that had attacked the US mainland in September 2001. It managed to have all its NATO allies be part of the US-led mission. Step one of the US’s policy was to punish the Taliban regime, and this they did quite successfully by dismantling it. The second step was to go after al Qaeda in this part of the world. This culminated in the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In the past 10 years, if one goes by the US’s account, it has greatly eliminated the al Qaeda’s leadership base in Afghanistan.
As a result, in these 10 years, there has not been any major attack on the US mainland, and the likelihood of any such attack coordinated from the Af-Pak corridor is quite slim. From the US’s vantage point, 10 years of engagement started with the successful dismantling of the Taliban regime, and now the killing of bin Laden will serve as the beginning of a long end.
In the meantime, American politicians tried to, simultaneously, put in place the state and nation building project in Afghanistan. Many sensible analysts had all along, and rightly so, maintained that it was a doomed project and not in the US’s best interests. If Afghanistan has not become a modern functioning state after 10 years of American-led presence in the country, it should not be taken as a sign of the US’s defeat in our neighbourhood.
What about Pakistan in all of this? It is at a crossroads. From now on, if it exclusively backs the Taliban in Afghanistan, it will be supporting forces that are determined to tear apart the fabric of the Pakistani state. If it wants to have a diverse political portfolio in Afghanistan then time may be fast running out. One hopes that the policymakers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, unlike the ghairat (honour) brigade of the small screen, do not read the Obama announcement as an unmitigated victory for Pakistan. Pakistan’s security policy choices have isolated the country and adopting a triumphal tone will not change that fact.
The writer teaches political science at the University of British Columbia, Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy: → Daily Times