Following September 11, the US, together with NATO forces and the Afghan
Northern Alliance, launched Operation Enduring Freedom, a military campaign in
Afghanistan aimed at toppling the Taliban. For the first time in its history,
NATO invoked Article 5 which states: An attack on one member nation is an attack
on all. Then-president George W. Bush called it the “War on
Over the last nine years, a wealth of problems has plagued the
US in its hugely complex war in Afghanistan, including high military and
civilian casualties, last year’s famous dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal
over disparaging remarks he made to Rolling Stone magazine, Afghan government
corruption, voting fraud and recent revelations that for months the coalition
had been negotiating with a Taliban imposter.
As part of the ongoing
US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign
Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi met in Washington last month despite concerns about
Pakistan’s ties with militants and recent revelations that Iran has been
supplying Afghan President Hamid Karzai with bundles of cash. Clinton announced
a further $2 billion in military aid citing “mutual security challenges.” She
said, “The United States has no stronger partner when it comes to
counterterrorism efforts against the extremists who threaten us both than
But diplomatic cables exposed by WikiLeaks this week show that
Pakistan actually supports terrorist elements both in its own country and in
Although Pakistan identifies both al-Qaida and the Taliban
as existential threats, government institutions still support the Taliban for a
number of reasons.
According to the documents, Pakistan believes the
Taliban will prevail in the long term and continues to define India as its
number one threat.
Pakistani officials believe that if militant groups
were not attacking in Afghanistan, they would seek out Pakistani
Pakistan views the Taliban as a potential asset against the
influence of India in Afghanistan once the US withdraws. The US consequently
considers this a global danger, as terrorist elements in Pakistan may attempt to
gain possession of nuclear weapons.
In 2001, the US-led coalition was ill
prepared for the huge task to which it had committed itself. The intent to
minimize casualties and limit overexposure to local communities out of cultural
Military analysts claim the coalition was far too
focused on creating a “light footprint” and lacked “hard power,” an overwhelming
surge of manpower and presence to eradicate al-Qaida and push out the Taliban by
sending in thousands more troops and insisting on enhanced Afghan National Army
(ANA) involvement. It also failed to couple military force with diplomatic “soft
power,” doing little to engage tribal leaders in dialogue and including Taliban
leaders, in particular, in negotiations. According to one analyst, the coalition
simply “underestimated the magnitude of the task of creating a functioning
US POLICY-MAKERS and military officials say it is crucial to take
regional stability into account as well. President Barack Obama’s trip to India
last month highlighted some of the differences between Pakistan and India. While
India lobbied the US not to supply Pakistan with military aid other than with
counterterrorism weaponry, Pakistan complained that the need for a heavy
military presence on its eastern border with India has left it without the
necessary troop numbers to fight the Taliban in the west.
documents show that the US does not consider it possible to counter al-Qaida in
Pakistan without first addressing the interlinked Taliban threat in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, bringing about a stable civilian government in Afghanistan and
reexamining the broader role of India in the region. The documents highlight
Pakistan’s fear of a pro-India government in Afghanistan that would allow an
Indian proxy war against Pakistan from its territory.
Afghanistan’s western neighbor, claims to reject extremism in Afghanistan,
WikiLeaks documents show that it provides at least some support to the Taliban
to facilitate attacks against International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF)
there. Gen. David Petraeus has often made it clear that Iran poses a “major
state-level threat” to regional stability in the area of US Central Command
The Taliban are strongly respected by ethnic Pashtuns and
their strict interpretation of Shari’a law has led them to outlaw anything
secular. This includes radio, television, movies, music and art. Photography,
soccer, chess and kite flying were all at some point banned too.
absence of education during the years of Taliban rule, and with the flight of
millions of refugees throughout two decades of conflict, young men turned
militant in the hopes that they would find purpose and live a better life. The
result is that thousands of men have grown up with the Taliban’s radical jihad
approach and by filling the ranks, sustained the Taliban’s ability to
US efforts to eradicate Taliban strongholds in 2001 succeeded only
temporarily, as in recent years the Taliban have reappeared as an
active enemy force within Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. Although
has increased drone operations in Pakistan, their success has proven
to measure since Pakistan’s government is reluctant to cooperate fully
Taliban fighters now shave their beards to better conceal themselves
Other periods in Afghanistan’s history were
devastating to its political structure and economy, but the Taliban’s effect on
Afghani society likely had, according to some, the deepest and most devastating
psychological impact on the general population.
Because of this, experts
say, Afghanistan’s reconstruction must focus, at least in the short term, on the
extensive social destruction caused during the Taliban era and the
rehabilitation of Afghan society.
A lot has changed in nine years.
Counterinsurgency (COIN) is the new civil-military war strategy designed to get
the military working with the Afghan populace through small Provincial
Reconstruction Teams which focus on reconstruction and development. PRTs also
work to convince villagers to accept the authority of the Afghan government over
the Taliban and ISAF are busy training the ANA to eventually assert authority in
There has been considerable improvement in Afghanistan’s
progress toward stability, and rehabilitation efforts have shown signs of
success. Thousands of fighters have been disarmed and millions of children have
returned to school.
There has been economic improvement and the
government has witnessed a steady flow of domestic revenue.
Part of the
improvement is a direct result of security sector reform (SSR) which centers
around five main issues: military reform, police reform, disarmament and
demobilization, a counter-narcotics campaign and judicial reform.
ensure successful SSR, many political and military analysts believe support of
the Taliban in neighboring countries must come to an absolute end. Global jihad
is a major concern, they say, and the war in Afghanistan cannot be won solely
there but must include an ongoing offensive in neighboring Pakistan, where the
Taliban maintain a stronghold, primarily in North Waziristan.
As in other
countries such as Somalia and Rwanda, the US has implemented a program of
disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, known as DDR. In Afghanistan,
the program has disarmed thousands of fighters, demobilized hundreds of militias
and reintegrated former fighters into civilian life through vocational training
and job placement.
President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother Ahmed Wali
Karzai, a former restaurant owner in Chicago, said in meetings with coalition
members that what is needed are “similar large-scale, laborintensive projects
that would provide jobs to the people and keep them from being recruited by the
Taliban.” Many experts agree that economic and political stability depends on
the ability to eliminate the opium trade, the largest in the
Afghanistan provides approximately 90 percent of the world’s
opium, most of which is processed to make heroin and is then transported through
Iran or Pakistan.
While this allows farmers to earn a living, it has
destroyed the economy and destabilized the government. According to the UN
Office on Drugs and Crime, corruption and drug trafficking feed upon each other
and undermine development efforts in Afghanistan.
Until recently, the US
has operated on the assumption that arresting drug traffickers and eradicating
crops would resolve the opium problem and had even resorted to dropping bombs on
huge piles of opium seeds.
But the Associated Press, referencing a cable
leaked by WikiLeaks, reported on Tuesday that “Karzai freed dangerous detainees
and pardoned suspected drug dealers because they had connections to powerful
figures... The cable, which supports the multiple allegations of corruption
within the Karzai government, said that despite repeated rebukes from US
officials in Kabul, the president and his attorney general authorized the
release of detainees.”
However, the US administration does seem to have
changed its tactics. At the 2009 G-8 meeting in Italy, US envoy to Afghanistan
Richard Holbrooke announced the US would phase out support for crop eradication
and use the money to work on interdiction, rule of law and encourage farmers to
grow alternate crops such as saffron and pomegranates. Expanded agricultural
cooperation, seen as vital to the future of Afghanistan and other countries in
the region, could lead to rural development, employment growth and higher income
levels for farmers.
According to another classified document released
this week by WikiLeaks, Ahmed Karzai suggested that the coalition pay mullahs to
preach against heroin, which would reduce demand for poppy cultivation. However,
according to another document released at the same time, Karzai is “widely
understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.”
is much the same as McChrystal’s, since Petraeus was heavily involved in the
original planning and McChrystal implemented many of his
What has changed in the last six months is the combination
of increased COIN operations with improved diplomatic efforts.
assurances that they would not be arrested or killed, senior Taliban leaders
were escorted last month by NATO forces from Pakistan into Afghanistan for talks
with the Afghan government and which included the US demand that Taliban
fighters lay down their arms, cut ties with al-Qaida and respect the
At a press conference at the end of the NATO summit in
Lisbon last month, at which an exit strategy and transition to Afghan control
was one of the key topics, Obama said, “My goal is to make sure by 2014 we have
transitioned... certainly our footprint will have been significantly
reduced.” But a withdrawal in 2014 is unlikely, according to many experts, since
the Taliban show no sign of fatigue and, as The New York Times recently
reported, the US military announced it would be sending a company of tanks to
southwest Afghanistan, bringing a “much-needed armor presence to an asymmetrical
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also said the
Taliban can “forget it” if they think NATO is planning to cut and
With the last nine rough years in mind, analysts are hesitant to
make predictions about an exit date, but with an upcoming US policy review this
month, admit that if the US can foster an India-Pakistan agreement and manage to
suffuse Afghanistan with enough “hard power” to maintain security, it will allow
the maneuverability needed to advance “soft power” political, social and
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