U.S. again making historic mistake in Afghanistan

The Taliban increased attacks immediately after they pledged in the “roadmap for peace” to avoid threats and have said they will continue fighting against the Afghan government after dealing with US.

September 1, 2019 01:49
US MILITARY advisers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade work with Afghan soldiers at an

US MILITARY advisers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade work with Afghan soldiers at an artillery position on an Afghan National Army base in Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan in 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In the late 1980s, without ending the war, foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan, which prolonged the conflict for three decades. Similarly, US President Donald Trump is now keen to fulfill a 2016 campaign promise to pull out remaining 13,000 US troops from Afghanistan before the 2020 election. The current religious militancy in the country is not much different from the 1980s; the consequences of withdrawal would be similar too.

When the Communist government was established in Afghanistan in 1978 under the presidency of Nur Muhammad Taraki, the new government, which had close ties with the Soviet Union, had immediately brought social reforms. The reforms immensely mounted the sentiments of hardline Muslims and mostly anti-Communist population against the government, which finally triggered the Mujahedin insurgency.

In late December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with 30,000 troops in order to protect the newly-established pro-Soviet government and its interests. The soldiers quickly controlled major cities and highways. The Mujahedin, who were supported by foreign powers including the US to counter Soviet Communism, started fighting against Soviet forces. The violence escalated enormously, and in the vicious nine-year war, around one million civilians were killed.

But Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had decided to end the occupation of Afghanistan once he became general secretary of its governing Communist Party on March 1985, and later urged Afghan officials to settle with the conflicted groups. Afghan president Dr. Mohammad Najibullah announced a national reconciliation policy in 1987, invited the leadership of the Mujahedin, and offered to make them autonomous rulers and remove Soviet troops from their territories if they made peace. However, the opposition leaders rejected the government’s proposal and pledged to continue jihad till the entire withdrawal of Soviet troops and the end of the Communist regime.

At last, in 1988, the Geneva Accords were signed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and the Soviet Union for the settlement of Afghanistan and the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

The reconciliation plan failed due to the earlier announcement of the withdrawal of troops by Soviet which gave Mujahedin no reason to make peace. The fighters realized that they had defeated a superpower and hoped the Kabul government would fall instantly after foreign troops left.

Similarly, as the Soviet left country, the US also lost its interest in Afghanistan without installing its nominee in Kabul and ending jihad, which they assisted to defeat Communism. Owing to the Mujahedin’s continued war, the government collapsed in 1992, and Afghans lost the opportunity of peace.

After that, the various Mujahideen factions fought against one another across Afghanistan for gaining government and key posts. Consequently, the insurgency changed into a civil war with great distractions.

Around 10,000 individuals were killed in 1993 alone. Amidst the chaos of civil war, the Taliban emerged in 1994 with the help of regional powers, overthrowing the Mujahideen government, and captured Kabul which lastly prompted the attacks on September 11, 2001.

AFTER 9/11, hopes of peace increased among Afghans, when the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan, toppling the Taliban with the cooperation of the Northern Alliance within three months. However, a few weeks later, the Bonn Conference was held in Germany in December 2001 for peace and Afghanistan’s future, but the Taliban were not included. The then-US ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, had previously declared that there was no place for the Taliban in Bonn. Though the “losers” of war, the Taliban were ready for dialogue, the Bonn Conference brought together just the “winners” of war.

It was, of course, the mistake of the US that underestimated the strength of insurgents and their attachment to the regional powers. Therefore, the Afghans did not only miss the opportunity of peace once again, but the US also failed to change its early military victory into a political victory within 18 years, and fought the longest war in its history.

Furthermore, the attention of the US diverted from Afghanistan in 2003, when its forces invaded Iraq, which became a key US concern. In May 2003, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defense secretary, claimed that most of Afghanistan was secure, announced an end to “major combat activity,” and set a timeline for troop withdrawal within 12 months.

The statement paved way for the return of the Taliban. Attacks on US bases and government buildings resumed soon after the Rumsfeld proclamation. The Taliban realized that the US was tired of war.

Last year, the US started peace talks with the Taliban, after 17 years of war. Fatalities in Afghanistan between 2001 and October 2018 stood at about 147,000.

Currently, the Taliban are celebrating the triumph and believe the Muslims of Afghanistan have defeated three superpowers in the past two centuries. The first was Great Britain in the 1920s, then the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and the current one is the US, and it is also on the verge of defeat.

The Taliban increased attacks immediately after they pledged in the “roadmap for peace” to avoid threats, and have said they will continue fighting against the Afghan government after dealing with US and seizing power. Now their strategy appears to have convinced the US to accelerate troop withdrawal. Next they will attempt to overthrow the government.

In these circumstances, instead of increasing focus on Afghanistan, Trump is eager to fulfill his past campaign pledge. He has told his five advisers that he wants to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by the November 2020 presidential election. The withdrawal of troops may be advantageous for Trump’s next election campaign, but it will bring another civil war, as Afghans saw after the Soviets pulled out.

The US should be cautious about the insurgents’ motives for ending America’s longest war and saving Afghanistan from another catastrophe. It will be the historic mistake of the US once again if it withdraws troops without the permanent resolution.

The writer is a journalist and political analyst who writes about South Asian political and security issues.

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