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Special Report

AMERICA’S FIASCO IN AFGHANISTAN The American government explained loss of innocent lives as unavoidable “collateral damage”, but Afghans perceived it as a deliberate, irresponsible and hostile act. By Dr. A. M. Rabbani The author is a lecturer at the Ismail Yusuf College of Mumbai.

of Afghanistan p o l i t i c o vital difference targeted both. of “collateral militant hideouts in Moreover, it could not it, with the result that on Afghan soil; instead as a result, has minuscule over eleven years into military drawdown America wrongly

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T

he United States of America’s fiasco in Afghanistan is the result of its own making. The invasion was swift, but ambiguity was pervasive as regards military accomplishment. America ignored the between Taliban and Al-Qaida, and indiscriminately It was also careless about the long term effects damage” - America went on targeting suspected hinterland, killing thousands of unarmed civilians. weave a regional alliance of those willing to support regional countries worked against one another against the real enemy - Al-Qaida. America, accomplishment to showcase after well the war in Afghanistan. The ongoing complicates the matter even more. presumed that Taliban and Al-Qaida


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are one and the same. Though Taliban was providing all kinds of hospitality to Al-Qaida leadership, it was not overwhelmed by AlQaida phenomena, both in terms of ideology and practice. When Al-Qaida was signaled out as the perpetrators of 9/11 attacks, Taliban asked for the proof of Al-Qaida’s involvement and had promised appropriate action. In fact, Taliban offered unconditional talks with America as the right way forward, anytime and anywhere. Taliban emphasized that the head of Al-Qaida is not part of the ruling establishment but their honorable guest, who cannot to be asked to leave the country merely because of suspicion. From Taliban’s perspective, the alleged involvement of Al-Qaida in the attacks is yet to be proven beyond reasonable doubt and an appropriate action would follow if found guilty. Taliban insisted that America’s unilateral conclusion that Al-Qaida headed by Osamabin-Laden has carried out the attack violated international norms

American policy of targeting militant hideouts close to populated areas by air power has backfired. Though air power reduced the risk of immediate and direct attacks against its troops, it caused killings of innocents in the vicinity.

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and is therefore unacceptable to it. The American government however rejected Taliban’s negotiation offer presuming Taliban and Al-Qaida as one. Yes, some elements of ruling establishment might have had direct links with Osama-binLaden and his organization but presuming both as one and the same was perhaps a mistake. America dismissed differentiation and ordered its forces to target both. Taliban-Al-Qaida combine could not withstand American military assault and melted away in the mountains, near and far. America easily captured larger chunk of Afghan territory with the help of Northern Alliance and declared victory over TalibanAl-Qaida combine. The defeat of Taliban-Al-Qaida combine was so profound and widespread that some experts declared death of Taliban and Al-Qaida and with it the death of political Islam. After well over twelve years since the victory against Taliban was declared, now it appears neither Taliban nor political Islam is dead. On the c o n t r a r y,

Taliban is not merely alive but has resurrected itself from the ashes and appears stronger. The only difference is the fact that they have not

captured Kabul as yet and analysts believe it is no longer a question of whether but when. Had America rightly presumed Taliban and AlQaida as different, it would have had a companion to negotiate with and stabilize Afghanistan with a fraction of the losses it has suffered in respect of men, machine and material. Taliban was asking enough proof of Al-Qaida’s involvement in 9/11 attacks, the fundamental imperative to punish the accused. It is intriguing that America is negotiating with the same Taliban now, without any condition but refused to do so when Taliban was pleading negotiation. What America lost then was not merely the opportunity to negotiate but the opportunity which could have prevented the blood bath, the agony, and the destruction. Now visible politicostrategic fiasco in Afghanistan could have been a v o i d e d by just


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What America lost then was not merely the opportunity to negotiate but the opportunity which could have prevented the blood bath, the agony, and the destruction.

acknowledging the factual and/or tactical difference between Taliban and Al-Qaida. American policy of targeting militant hideouts close to populated areas by air power has backfired. Though air power reduced the risk of immediate and direct attacks against its troops, it caused killings of innocents in the vicinity. Despite supposed razor thin precision of the technology in selecting the targets, a large chunk of them seemed to have missed the targets. Thousands of unarmed civilians lost their lives. Moreover, the bulk of the alleged militant hideouts thus targeted were not very far from residential areas, inducing terror in the hearts and minds of the civilians living nearby. The American government explained loss of innocent lives as

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unavoidable “collateral damage”, but Afghans perceived them as deliberate, irresponsible and hostile acts. Additionally, the outrageous acts like American

America did seek active support from Pakistan, India but appears to have ignored the regional undercurrents as to their real intention for supporting global war on terrorism.

soldiers urinating on the dead bodies of Afghans were viewed as an act of rubbing the salt on grievous wounds. Foreign soldiers burning of the copies of the

Qur’an also acted like fuel to the fire. Given the nature and gravity of the acts, official explanations looked grossly inadequate. A routine order of investigation and an apology could not cut much ice, and perceived as too little too late. Taliban took maximum advantage of public indignation and appealed to Afghans to unite and fight against the occupying force. This has helped Taliban attract youths to their ranks. The ordinary Afghans bitterly resented American policy of targeting villagers alleging them to be Taliban fighters. Despite the best efforts, the American government appears to have failed to win hearts and minds of ordinary Afghans one of the oft repeated objectives of America’s Afghan policy since 2001. America failed to form a


Special Report regional alliance of its supporters willing to secure peaceful, stable, and thriving Afghanistan. The regional bigwigs – Pakistan, India, Iran and China, perceive Afghanistan strategically important. Pakistan and India in particular believe that political influence on Kabul as an imperative for national security. Pakistan and Iran, the immediate neighbors see Afghanistan as indispensible zone of influence and has been trying to control bordering Afghanistan areas by hook or crook. India and China, distant neighbors have also been active in Afghan politics for their own sake and their (clandestine) activities appear to be complicating already fragile socio-political conditions there. In other words, peaceful, stable and thriving Afghanistan is in the interests of regional bigwigs and has a strong motivation in turning things around positively. Given these realities, America should have weaved a regional alliance of those willing to support it, comprising the likes of Pakistan,

Iran and India to secure peaceful future for Afghanistan. Despite regional countries having strong interest in stable Afghanistan, America appears to have failed to weave such an alliance. America did seek active support from Pakistan, India but appears to have ignored the

America failed to form a regional alliance of its supporters willing to secure peaceful, stable, and thriving Afghanistan. regional undercurrents as to their real intention for supporting global war on terrorism. Noteworthy is the fact that India and/or Pakistan agreed to support the war against terrorism but their support complemented peace efforts meagerly, for they have been

Afghans have resolutely defended their independence from foreign influence.

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promoting individual interests rather than international peace efforts. Iran also purses a peculiar policy not wholly compatible with international peace efforts in Afghanistan. Put differently, regional bigwigs pursue not only different but contradictory policies in Afghanistan and might well be worsening the conditions. America should have put together a regional alliance comprising Pakistan, India and Iran for securing peaceful Afghanistan before invading it straight away. Yes, such a regional alliance would have taken some time and effort but would have been benefited all, for they had strong incentives to become part of it. The unparalleled and all pervasive American hegemony over world order, coupled with the enormity of 9/11 terror attacks, would surely have made such an alliance possible. What needed was a genuine, long-term commitment to put Afghanistan and the region back on track, sans self-serving, opportunistic and occasional indulgence by America; because peace in Afghanistan is intrinsically linked with peaceful and stable relations between key countries of the region. The ongoing drawdown of troops would deepen the fragile political situation even more and may strengthen Taliban. The drawdown is part of larger agreement between the parties contributing troops for Afghan operation and unlikely to see


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Muhammad Naeem, right, a spokesman for the Office of the Taliban of Afghanistan, speaks during the opening of the Taliban Afghanistan Political Office in Qatar.

the change as regards final date of troops withdrawal. In fact, countries like the UK and France have already announced withdrawal plans. The American President too has made it clear that American troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan irrespective of political development there, sans an agreement between it and Afghan government about a contingent of foreign troops staying behind for mutually agreed purpose. Taliban too appear to have mounting security offensives against Hameed Karzai government and reportedly is in consultation with their mentors in Pakistan as regards future political strategy. The political situation however appears to be sketchy and is affecting prospects of long-term stability. The inability of America and its allies to stabilize Afghanistan since

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2002 despite its strong fire power and consequent civilian casualties is truly shocking. And the take home lesson is that Taliban, which once received American support and encouragement would likely remain relevant in Afghan politics many decades to come, whether one likes it or not. Few years earlier, America committed the same blunder in Iraq. It invaded Iraq to destroy Iraqi nuclear weapons. However, the alleged nuclear weapons were never found, for there were none. Much like in Afghanistan, America did not distinguish between Saddam Hussein’s regime and Iraqi security establishment. The invading forces indiscriminately targeted Hussein’s regime and Iraqi security establishment. The wise course would have been not to disband the security establishment entirely

but take out the top leadership and keep the rest, as an instrument to stabilize the country. America however liquidated Iraqi security establishment entirely and trapped herself in a quagmire. As in Afghanistan, America could not put together a regional alliance of willing supporters which could have cemented peace efforts. Consequently, America had to withdraw its forces in defeat from Iraq, leaving behind a fractured nation. Far from being free and democratic, as was promised, Iraq now swings between ethnopolitical violence and territorial disintegration. An identical fiasco is unraveling in Afghanistan America withdrawing its forces, leaving Afghanistan at the mercy of the same Taliban it had promised to wipe out.

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