Has the latest decade-long war in Afghanistan brought any stability? It appears that the Afghan people are in for continued years of uncertainty and turmoil - a situation they have been undergoing since the past 33 years now. At one time Afghanistan was host to about 200,000 foreign troops from various countries, mostly Western.
The 2001 US-led foreign invasion that ousted the Taliban regime has not been able to ensure complete normalcy. Nearly half of the country’s territory is under the rebels’ control. The Afghan National Security Force is 352,000-strong in a country whose total population is less than Nepal’s.
Had the foreign troops made an early exit after the Taliban members were dislodged from Kabul’s seat of power, their governments would not have been as war-worried as they are in the recent years. The foreign governments are afraid of the body counts as long as the bodies are those of their own citizens.
The French, for instance, are in a tearing hurry to see their boys at home from the insecurity in a foreign land with which they have hardly anything in common, except the "strategic" interest that they fail to comprehend. The Americans, too, want the recall of their troops, except that their superpower government is looking for a respectable exit. The idea is to create an impression that the mission is almost complete.
Such changing mood and concerns have made Washington and its allies review the war in Afghanistan and work out plans to pull out with minimum damage to their reputation. Hence President Hamid Karzai, at Washington’s prompting, has been making efforts at drawing the Taliban to a negotiated settlement. But the task has been found to be extremely difficult, with the Taliban sensing that the foreign troops’ pullout by 2014 would mean a drastic shrinkage in Kabul’s fighting strength. The guerrillas are taking one step forward and two steps backward in a clear strategy to drag their feet until the foreign forces are out of Afghan soil.
Washington developed a plan for opening a line of communication for negotiation with the Taliban. Within the Taliban, a section, termed "moderate" by Washington, was thought to be receptive to the idea. However, Obama’s talk of reaching out to the Taliban only bolstered the confidence of the Taliban elements.
The Taliban concentration is heavier in the south, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar. An aircraft carrying UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and foreign ministers two years ago was forced to divert as militants fired rockets at the airport, underscoring the huge challenge facing Afghan troops. The UN in July removed the names of 14 Taliban members from its "Black List".
Karzai had appointed former Afghan President (from 1992-1996) and leader of the Opposition Burhanuddin Rabbani to head a High Peace Council. But Burhanuddin, an ethnic Tajik leader who was to muster support from all sides, was killed by a bomber in September 2011.
Reports of the Koran being burnt and an American soldier going on a rampage killing 16, including nine children, in March 2012 have fuelled the fury among the guerrillas and their sympathisers among civilians.
Karzai, mired in corruption, is to step down after two terms in 2014 in keeping with the two-term ceiling stipulated by the constitution.
Crony capitalism has crippled and paralysed Kabul Bank, in which the president’s inner circle is also reported to be involved. Karzai gave an inkling of his "erratic" nature when he in April 2010 made a statement threatening to join the Taliban and abandon the on-going peace restoration drive.
At a 70-nation conference on Afghanistan’s future, Karzai declared that Afghanistan needed international support for "up to 15 years". The January 2010 conference in London also mulled over the prospects of buying off the Taliban fighters.
Efforts were set in motion in Afghanistan to restore normalcy that has eluded the Afghan people for more than 30 years. Karzai announced that talks with the Taliban had been "going on well". Washington announced that meetings with the rebels were being held in a search for a peace settlement. But no visible result is seen.
Afghanistan remains a bleeding wound for the US and its allies that have been intervening in that country for 11 years without being able to restore the stability and prosperity so lavishly promised. The war in Afghanistan has been neither short nor decisive, as the foreign capitals had hoped for, without consulting history.
Eleven years on and the Taliban rebels are no less weak than what they were at the start of the new millennium. Since his 2009 inauguration in office, US President Barack Obama had been thinking of opening a line of communication for negotiation with the Taliban. The virtually zero level progress in dialogue with the hardened guerrillas indicates that their hopes for victory in the eventual run have soared. A study by The Asia Foundation showed that 83 per cent of the people in Afghanistan want a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.
Costs and consequences
The war has cost the US $1.2 trillion since it led the invasion in 2001. When the Soviets finally left Afghan soil in February 1989, leaving the government of Dr. Najibullah to fend on its own, the latter managed to last for two more years before the Taliban arrived at the Kabul gates and Moscow’s puppet fled the presidential mansion, only to be publicly hanged by his pursuers.
Washington has drafted a plan for Afghanistan covering till the year 2024. The annual cost for Kabul to maintain its security forces is estimated at $4.1 billion, of which Washington has pledged to provide $2.3 billion. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are expected to meet the lion’s share of the shortfall.
Will a corrupt regime in Kabul be able to pull off what its foreign allies representing the world’s mightiest military forces with some of the most sophisticated weapons could not achieve in well over a decade? At their peak, the NATO forces numbered nearly 200,000 mostly from the US. Mark Curtis, of the British daily The Guardian, commented: "Afghanistan has become the most militarised country on earth."
The pullout process of foreign troops in war-torn Afghanistan is no big deal. How Kabul will cope with the security situation, with "some foreign advisors" after 2014 is the concern.