Afghanistan: an unwinable war?

Sep 1, 2017
By Moonis Ahmar
US President Donald Trump’s policy speech on Afghanistan delivered on August 21 caused uproar in Pakistan, but also raised serious questions about the American resolve to win war in the conflict-ridden country. On several occasions, Trump made it clear in his speech that regardless of his earlier ‘instincts’ to militarily withdraw from Afghanistan, he has now been convinced by his generals that winning the war should be the thrust of US policy and in order to achieve that objective, America will need to send more forces and revamp his country’s Afghan strategy.
Trump’s assertive policy on Afghanistan reflects the frustration on the part of White House and Pentagon that despite spending more than $1 trillion and sacrificing 3,000 lives, America has not been able to win the war. He made it clear in his new Afghan strategy that, “from now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”
Few days after Trump’s policy speech on Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, a top US military commander in Afghanistan stated that, “The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield; it’s time for them to join the peace process. We will not fail in Afghanistan; our national security depends on that as well.”
America’s longest war has a question mark as far as victory is concerned. Four major realities must be taken into account while analysing Trump’s new Afghan policy and strategy. First, Afghanistan is the only country in modern history which has experienced attack and occupation by three great powers — Britain, Soviet Union and United States. While the British and Soviet interventions resulted into their withdrawal from Afghanistan, the American case has turned out to be different. British and Soviet expulsions were the result of nationalistic drive among Afghans who have a historical rejection of foreign occupation.
To a large extent, Afghans were united in their wars against the British (1839-42, 1878-1880, 1919) and the Soviets (1979-88) which is not the case as far as their ‘Jihad’ against the US backed foreign forces is concerned. Second, Afghanistan is 200 years older than Pakistan as in 1747, Ahmed Shah Durrani laid the foundations of modern Afghanistan by unifying various tribes under his leadership. Despite such a historical heritage, the country has not been able to settle down as a nation state because of tribal feuds, absence of a strong central government and weak state institutions and is a major destabilising factor in Central, West and South Asia. Therefore, as a fragile and failing state, Afghanistan provides a fertile ground to forces fomenting instability, violence and terrorism. In the last 16 years of their hold over Afghanistan, US and foreign forces failed to help the Kabul regime build strong institutions namely Afghan army, judiciary, executive, legislature and political parties adhering to the rule of law, accountability and justice system. The failure of governance and the absence of the rule of law is a major reality which the US President cannot overlook because despite the surge in American forces and maximisation of military operations against the Taliban, American cannot ensure victory.
Third, the reality of Taliban fighting what they call foreign forces in their country cannot be undermined. Reacting to the assertion of President Donald Trump on winning war in Afghanistan, Zahidullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan said in a statement on August 22 that, “if America doesn’t withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, soon Afghanistan will become another graveyard for the superpower in the 21st century.
The historical reality is that in modern times no foreign intervention and occupation in Afghanistan has yielded positive results. But, Trump’s new Afghan policy has challenged that historical narrative because of his detailed plan to sustain American military involvement in Afghanistan unless the US wins the war. Fourth, the reality that without Pakistan’s support the US cannot win its war in Afghanistan has some merit. But, President Trump instead of acknowledging Pakistan’s pivotal role in America’s longest war launched a forceful tirade against its questionable allay of harboring and patronising Afghan Taliban groups.
Despite the fact that strong segments of Afghan society, particularly non-Pashtuns, do not support Taliban because of their barbarity, Afghanistan cannot provide space to foreign forces. It is true that compared to the US military involvement in Vietnam (1965-75), where the US lost more than 50,000 of its forces and several thousand war planes, in Afghanistan its physical casualties are not more than 3,000. If more power is used by American forces against the Taliban its repercussions may be lethal for the US in the days to come.
In 1982, Vietnam Veteran Memorial was built in Washington DC to honour the services of 58,318 US soldiers who gave their lives or were missing in action while serving in Vietnam. If more bodies of US forces reach America from Afghanistan as a result of infighting against resistance groups, can one expect several years from now the building of Afghan Veteran Memorial in the US capital? Is the Trump administration prepared to fall into the tragedy of the Vietnam War as the Taliban are determined to transform their country as a ‘graveyard for the US?’
Daily Times, September 1, 2017

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