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K. Hussain Zia |

The Afghans are not a nation as such but a composition of numerous tribes. These form loose groupings based on ethnicity. Individuals owe their allegiance first and foremost to the tribe and after that to the ethnic group. Among the latter, Pashtuns constitute the dominant force and are the main element in the insurgency.

They are divided into a number of tribes and sub tribes that have a common code of conduct known as Pakhtoonwali. There are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. They have traditionally treated the border between the two countries as informal and interacted with each other freely.

Who are Taliban?

The fate of Afghanistan will be decided by the Afghans themselves. It will be much messier than it would have been had the U.S not intervened

Contrary to the impression that has been created, Taliban are not a standing force driven by an ideology. They have been branded as terrorists to serve a political purpose. Their basic aim is to rid the country of foreign occupation and they also do not export terrorism as is often alleged. Each Pashtun family is honor bound to commit one or more adult males to the fight whenever needed. The US is not at war with a conventional army in Afghanistan but the greater majority of Afghan tribes as a whole.

Read more: Trumps’ new Afghan strategy- recipe for war, destruction and mayhem

In a piece in The New York Times of 22nd August 2017, Rod Nordland, reporting from Kabul wrote, ‘Shortly after President Trump’s speech on Monday, a retired Afghan general recalled a Taliban fighter who had taken up arms after six of his sons were killed, one by one. The same AK-47 was handed down to each.

‘Then the father was killed.

You don’t make peace with people like that,” said the retired general, Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, a combat veteran and Parliament member who comes from Helmand Province, the heart of the Taliban insurgency. “You also don’t win by killing them; there are always more. ———”

The fate of Afghanistan will be decided by the Afghans themselves. It will be much messier than it would have been had the U.S not intervened

‘Hajji Naqibullah, an insurgent commander from Sangin District, cited Hajji Amanullah, who had 13 members of his family killed in battle, all replaced by his nephews. And Mullah Abdul Salam had four sons killed, but his fifth volunteered and is now a local commander. “His mother is now living with widows and orphans,”

‘Hajji Naqibullah said three of his own cousins were killed during the fight in Sangin, where more American and British soldiers died than anywhere else in Afghanistan, and which fell to the insurgents in March after a yearlong campaign. The three were brothers, and their widowed mother had one son left, who joined after they died.

Read more: Bombs for the Taliban: Is the US prolonging the Afghan war,…

To win, the Americans will have to annihilate the overwhelming majority of Pashtun males. Killing Taliban leaders alone will not help. An aspect of Pakhtoonwali is the absolute obligation to avenge any killing even if it takes a hundred years. All American, Russian and by default European males over the age of twelve have become a fair game all over Afghanistan. This is what makes the war unwinnable and Afghanistan the graveyard of empires. The only way out is to make a deal and the sooner the better.

Psychological impacts of Afghan war on US soldiers

It is hard to say how the Pakistan government and military will react after the rhetoric has calmed down. What is certain is giving in to pressure will not change the US long term policy

According to Eric Margolis, the number of brains damaged U.S veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq due to improvised explosive devices may be more than two hundred thousand. They are committing suicide at the rate of twenty-two a day. Because of this U.S politicians have become highly averse to taking casualties, fearing adverse public reaction.

As quoted by David Rohde in The New Yorker of 22nd August 2017, the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Washington Post that the strategy was to minimize American casualties in Afghanistan to the point where few Americans would care.

Read more: More troops in Afghanistan: A recap of the Vietnam war?

The fact is, if you slow down the casualty rate and you’re not losing young Americans, the American people will support gradually growing allies for a long time.”

It will make long-term troop presence in Afghanistan acceptable to the American people as happened in the case of Germany, Japan, and Korea.

He also quotes an American officer who had done two tours of duty in Afghanistan, “We couldn’t even drive anywhere unless we had helicopters flying overhead to attack anything that attacked us,” The officer, who asked not to be named, told him, “Any little hiccup and the mission got completely scrapped.

The American dilemma in Afghan war

The American dilemma is that they are not willing to take casualties but at the same time want to have control over Afghanistan. The solution they seem to have found is for the Afghan army to do the heavy lifting while the U.S lean on Pakistan to weaken and disable the Pashtun resistance. Since the Afghan army is mainly composed of non-Pashtuns, it will in all likelihood lead to deepening of divisions and civil war in Afghanistan. This is good for the U.S because it provides the justification to remain in Afghanistan.

Read more: The intelligence top brass warns the US of increasing “Afghan Trouble”

Total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation could be as high as 6 to 8 million

Pakistan cannot stop Pashtuns on her side of the border from going to the aid of their brothers nor could NATO while it had 130,000 troops in the country. There are no Taliban sanctuaries as such, just ordinary duty bound Pashtuns. President Trump’s threat to take the war to Pakistan is unrealistic and may lead to a very dangerous situation. At the very least, it will put the lives of Americans and Europeans in Pakistan in great danger from Pashtuns bent on taking revenge. What it will not do is bring peace to Afghanistan.

Presence of ISIS in Afghanistan is a different issue. There is no evidence of how its fighters arrive in Afghanistan, who recruits, trains and provides logistic support or who pays them. Recently ex-DG ISI, General Durani has expressed his opinion on this issue and there are disturbing reports from Russia as well. All we know for certain is that some ISIS elements are present and that they clash with Taliban which is strange since both of them are supposedly on the same side.

Accusing Pakistan of providing sanctuaries to Afghan insurgents is meaningless. The latter control more than half of Afghanistan, not one-third as Trump claimed. This would not be possible if they did not enjoy popular support within the country. It makes no sense and there is no need for them to seek protection and operate over long distances from bases in Pakistan.

Read more: On Afghanistan: How successful will the US be adopting a hardline…

 The cost of US wars

For Trump to shed tears over civilian casualties is both hypocritical as well as frivolous. Terrorism worldwide kills only a fraction of the people that are killed in road accidents every year. The war against terrorism, on the other hand, has and continues to kill millions of innocent men, women, and children in Muslim countries.

According to the prestigious Physicians for Social Responsibility (PRS) landmark study released in June this year ‘total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation could be as high as 6 to 8 million

Trump’s ‘new’ Afghan policy

President Trump threatened unspecified action against Pakistan. He also invited India to join the US in Afghanistan. It may be just a ruse to increase pressure on Pakistan, knowing India may not want to get overly committed to the U.S game in Afghanistan. It is hard to say how the Pakistan government and military will react after the rhetoric has calmed down. What is certain is giving in to pressure will not change the US long term policy.

Musharraf had laid down the country for them but still President George Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he ‘wanted to go beyond Iraq in dealing with WMD proliferation, mentioning, in particular, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan’ (see Douglas Jehl in The New York Times of 14th October 2005).

Presence of ISIS in Afghanistan is a different issue. There is no evidence of how its fighters arrive in Afghanistan, who recruits, trains and provides logistic support or who pays them

Trump’s threat does not impact only Pakistan. It has profound implications for the entire Central Asia region including Iran, China and Russia considering the U.S intention to maintain a permanent military presence in Afghanistan.

Read more: Gen Nicholson talks about hideouts in Quetta and Peshawar; what’s the…

Chances are they will come together to make it as difficult for the U.S as possible for their own sake. One way or another, the latter will be obliged to withdraw, blaming Pakistan’s ‘treachery’ for the fiasco. If that is going to be the end, why not withdraw gracefully now and save all the bloodshed and expense?

Ultimately, the fate of Afghanistan will be decided by the Afghans themselves. It will be much messier than it would have been had the U.S not intervened. Nonetheless, the situation will stabilize in much less time than the sixteen years Americans have taken without anything to show for it except killing. But it will only happen after the Americans leave and not before.

The writer is a retired Pakistan naval officer having served in various command and staff appointments. The latter mostly related to the development of strategic plans. His published books include, ‘Muslims and the West: A Muslim Perspective’, ‘Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis’, ‘East Pakistan Separation: Myth and Reality’ and ‘Odyssey of a Pakistani Matelot’. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

The writer is a retired Pakistan naval officer having served in various command and staff appointments. The latter mostly related to the development of strategic plans. His published books include, 'Muslims and the West: A Muslim Perspective', 'Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis', 'East Pakistan Separation: Myth and Reality' and 'Odyssey of a Pakistani Matelot'. 

6 COMMENTS

  1. If post 9/11 Taliban are fighting against foreign occupants then against whom they were fighting pre 9/11? I rarely red such sweeping and factually incorrect piece.

    • Afghans were fighting each other, the many ethnic tribes and the many war lords… most of whom were well funded by international stake holders… and we also had the topping on all this… the Shiite and the Sunni factions…
      Hussain Zia has a very valid point there… you cannot subjugate the Pashtun… it just seems inaccurate to use the term ‘Taliban’ for legitimate Pashtun resistance in Afghanistan. In my opinion it just confuses the audience.

  2. “All we know for certain is that some ISIS elements are present and that they clash with Taliban which is strange since both of them are supposedly on the same side.”

    It is not the least strange if one is aware who is the mastermind behind the creation of ISIS and how it has been used in the Middle East especially in Syria. However it must also be clear that ‘Taliban’ have many a factions, just like the ‘Moderate Rebels’ in Syria and ground reality over the past 16 years or so i.e. post 9/11, does tend to suggest most factions of the Taliban are in fact on CIA’s payroll and perhaps it is only the much feared and much written about Haqqani Network of Pashtun ethnicity that has continued a legitimate resistance against the occupying Allied Forces in Afghanistan.

  3. From the looks of it ISIS thugs are clashing with this legitimate resistance in Afghanistan not the CIA paid Taliban. Nonetheless the CIA and Pentagon are pretty capable of using their own mercenaries under different labels for staging dramas that would further their agenda of continued presence in the region just as has been observed in Syria.

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