Brig (Retd) Ishaq Ahmed |
Who wants peace in Afghanistan and in the region, the query that at times is raised at various platforms? War is a profitable activity and the biggest industry in the world along with the drugs. Unfortunately, drugs and wars are co-existing and the drug is contributing to war in Afghanistan, thereby both businesses have flourished and attributed to the continuation of insecurity in Afghanistan and the region. The perception exists that drugs business is a lifeline for the Taliban’s financial sustenance for the fighting, yet there is another view that drug money also weathers the US and CIA.
Private fighters or contractors are also a phenomenon that is rendering financial benefits to people like Eric Prince and many others. The boggling matters are if the war is a financial benefit to the powerful states and industrialists alongside private corporate, why shall it stop? The question is that if Afghan war has consumed about a trillion of the US exchequer during past seventeen years and all is considered a loss then who benefitted? Yet another query is that if even fraction of the trillion $ was spent on the uplift and reconstruction of Afghanistan, the country would now be on a path of prosperity.
The Taliban’s financial sustenance for the fighting, yet there is another view that drug money also weathers the US and CIA.
Pakistan in specific and few others, in general, have been talking about a negotiated settlement and talking to the Taliban as an option since the beginning of the war on terror in Afghanistan. Unfortunate that it took seventeen years for the invaders to comprehend the realities and gravity that too at the cost of human life. Back to the desire, Afghans, the populace and not the leaders or lords (the warlords), are and were the most affected, suffered the most during past four decades at the hands of foreigners and their own leadership for not permitting peace to prevail.
May it be the Soviets war, the civil war of power grabbers, or the recent so-called war on terror, initiated by the US and her allies? In all three phases of insecurity and instability, the poor Afghans were the losers in all forms of life, livelihood, and sustenance. The political elite, the warlords, the rich and powerful segment of the society, were never the sufferers as they migrated to peaceful Europe, America and the Afghanistan neighbourhood. The refugees in Iran and Pakistan and those Afghans who preferred to live in war-ravaged Afghanistan was the segment that still suffers the most at the hands of Taliban, state security apparatus and international forces.
So the majority is those Afghans who preferred to stay rather becoming refugees and these are the ones who are looking, begging and aspiring for peace. But do they matter, if yes, why peace is not becoming a reality? This segment of the society is “Have Not” and they do not matter, therefore they cannot contribute towards betterment and are irrelevant for the war lovers and mighty rulers; a bitter and hard, reality which everyone accepts yet hesitates to speak about. Next segment is of the ruling class, the political leaders, the warlords, the profiteers. Are they working for peace?
The answer remains an assessment or speculated comment. Important to note is that during past forty or seventeen recent years of fighting how many have lost lives and how much have they benefitted from war. Few prominent leaders like Burhan-ud-Rabbani, Abdul Raziq, IG police, Kandahar, Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, a parliamentary candidate, and a handful of police and government officials became a victim of the insecurity. Afghans, may they be businessmen, bureaucrats, the political elite, and predominantly warlords, all have made handsome financial gains from the recent war. So will they prefer peace over the war, or will they work for peace, the response is NO, they shall not like peace as that will dry up their wealth well. This is one the basic cause of continued war because peace should be the desire of Afghans and priority too and not for others like the US, India, Iran and western powers.
Pakistan in specific and few others, in general, have been talking about a negotiated settlement and talking to the Taliban as an option.
Pakistan is also a desirous party as she is major loss gainer alongside the Afghans. The bottom line is that Afghans– not all but those who matter– have not contributed towards peace rather were party to the war. Another important player is the Taliban, who are to be blamed for this prolonged war, as they too have not worked and aspired for peace. Though Taliban were and are the target of the entire US imposed war yet they never exhibited flexibility and preferred war over peace. The Taliban objective of the war in relative terms is more just than the US objectives.
Taliban have been stating from day-one that the war is against the invaders and that western forces shall leave Afghanistan and let the Afghans decide their present and future. Today, the Taliban are also desirous for peace but not at the terms of American. Interesting to note is that the Taliban are Afghans and native of the land yet they are being considered an enemy of the state by the US and others. The perception created about the Taliban over the last two decades has been instrumental in prolonging the war. The narrative was so built over the years that Taliban become the axis of evil and a major threat to Afghan stability.
Read more: How to achieve peace in Afghanistan?
Despite their removal from the power, they remained a formidable threat to peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. Today Taliban are engaged in negotiation with the US for settlement of the issues and if all parties negotiate well the world may witness peace in Afghanistan. The US is a key player in entire Afghan scenario and probably the biggest loser in terms of achieving her objectives. The US came in the region with probable objectives of continuation of global dominance through physical presence in South Asia, containing China and Russia in the context of unipolarity.
Keeping Iran under constant watch and in close proximity to react if need be. Pakistan, a Muslim nuclear power where extremists were getting strengthened and military powerful enough to respond to all kinds of threats, yet nuclear Pakistan is a threat to the US and Israel. Roll-back of nuclear remained and remains an important outcome for the US. Oil, gas, underground wealth in the region and the un-explored/ virgin Central Asia too was an objective. The stated objective was the terrorism; in form of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and some other terrorist organizations, who were a threat to the US mainland in specific after the twin-tower attacks and world in general.
This is one the basic cause of continued war because peace should be the desire of Afghans and priority too and not for others like the US, India, Iran and western powers.
Having attained one of the stated objectives in the initial days, the removal of Taliban from power in 2002 and dismantling the Al-Qaeda network, the perception and views in some of the quarters were that the US will exit after the re-construction and enforcing peace. But unfortunate for all that Taliban though removed from power yet re-emerged as a potent threat to the security and fighting continued. Later after the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, once again the critics opined that American would now work for peace as the kingpin of terrorism has been eliminated. Having achieved the prime stated objectives, did the US strive and made efforts for a negotiated peace is the question that remains unanswered.
It is now widely believed that the US never aspired for peace through the settlement of issues and wanted to extend her presence through insecurity gambit. The US desire for peace in Afghanistan is not positively perceived rather a large segment of global analysts are of the opinion that the US missed many opportunities for peace. Having overpowered Taliban during 2002-2003, was the first opportunity where Taliban leadership was completely fractured and the lower cadre was also scattered with no control and reorganization mechanism intact. Post first presidential election was another opportune moment when the political settlement could have been initiated.
2011, was yet another time, after the death of OBL, the warring parties could have negotiated peace, but the objective was neither peace nor exit from Afghanistan. 2014, when the drawdown was executed, was probably the last and best time for the US to leave Afghanistan as by then the US should have realized that victory in the Afghan war was not possible and Taliban over the years had gained proficiency in guerrilla warfare and were seriously hurting the foreign and local security apparatus beside collateral damage to civilian life. Seventeen years of fighting the Taliban, who are no match to the US might, with no victory in sight, indicate and raise doubts over the US capabilities, capacity and above all the intention of peace.
Was or is peace really an objective for the US and her allies in Afghanistan, if yes, can that be achieved through decades of fighting. Historic accounts dictate that rarely a conflict ended without negotiated settlements. The US took very long to fathom what Soviets understood in short period and withdrew from Afghanistan. Today the situation is not in favour of the US, ground realities are bitter yet comprehendible that the US has lost in all field less dismantling the Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan and killing the top leadership of Taliban. Despite the elimination of the Taliban leaders, the command structure of Taliban remained intact and they re-emerged stronger than earlier.
Al-Qaeda and some other terrorist organizations, who were a threat to the US mainland in specific after the twin-tower attacks and world in general.
If the US intended peace, why it took them so long to manage, enforce or broker peace. The US enjoyed high-grade superiority in security forces strength and presence, liberty of actions, operations and influence over Afghan government and above all the operation Enduring Freedom, operation Freedom Sentinel or Resolute Support Mission (RSM) relished total support from the UNO and the entire world. With all the physical, financial, and moral support the US failed to muster peace in Afghanistan. The question remains, was peace an objective?
Today the peace efforts are galloping, Zalmay Khalilzad is traversing the region to manage peace by asking Taliban and Pakistan, to whom the US never trusted (Pakistan) and never wanted to talk (Taliban). Probably having realized or became aware, that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, Trump administration nevertheless still hesitate to state. President Trump wants to leave but is being pressured by military commanders, who understandably want their sacrifices to have achieved something that could be stated to the home crowd or the world, whose money they used to kill so many Afghans.
Read more: A path towards peaceful Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, the Taliban are a reality and are Afghans, which the invaders failed to realize. Instead of trying to defeat or destroy the Taliban, the US should define success more in terms of brokering a political settlement. The American decision to invade Afghanistan was outdated thinking from an earlier era. During the years, preceding the 9/11 attacks, U.S. foreign policy experts were fixated with the danger posed by “power vacuums” and “failing states,” and the terrorist breeding grounds. The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan were to deny al-Qaeda a base for its operations.
Yet most of al-Qaeda’s leadership simply fled to Pakistan and other parts of the world and America got entangled in fighting the Taliban, who despite their fundamental ideology, never had intentions of attacking the U.S. mainland, not they had the pan-Islamist vision.
Brigadier (Retd) Ishaq Ahmed is the Director Operations at a think tank, Pakistan House. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.