Preparing for civil war in Afghanistan
From the old Great Game to the new, Afghanistan is once again at the helm of a bloody crisis. Decades of warfare, interference, divisions and political manoeuvring has obliterated the fabric of progress, culture and development in the Afghan lands. As a background check, it all started with the British and the Russian Empire going to proxy war to avoid control of the area. Now, the new Great Game is being played out to capture the rich resources of Central Asia amidst lawlessness. Originally in the 1800s, the British were making all out efforts to refrain the expanding Russians to reach India or the Indian sea. Democratic and Communist parties were installed in Afghanistan with bitter fighting while Russians sent troops to keep the stability in the country. Political upheavals continued till the time the Americans joined the fight of overthrowing the Russian occupation. 1979 marks an important year, in which fighters and volunteers from all over the Muslim world to join the war against Russia while the equipment and armaments were supplied by the Americans and the Western bloc of nations. Pakistan avidly joined the “Mujahideen” movement and supported the “the Taliban” to fight the red army. After years of war and a dwindling Soviet economy, the Soviets lost. The Taliban fighters and Arab-volunteer armed groups were left behind. Soon after, the capture of Kabul was on the table. Around 1994, Mullah Omer with the support of fighters swept across Afghanistan and by 1996, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was founded with a strict interpretation of Sharia Law. Soon after, the organization named Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden were welcomed by the Taliban into Afghanistan which brings us to the beginning of the crisis unfolding today.
The September 9/11 attacks changed the tables. Taliban and Mujahideen whoever allies of the CIA and the Western nations, now became sworn enemies. Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omer were demanded to be handed over to the US which was refused. And in 2001 began the US Invasion of Afghanistan with coalition NATO nations, a disaster in the making. Americans bomber jets bombarded Taliban and Al-Qaeda positions with hundreds of civilian casualties. Soon after, the American troops were stationed all over Afghanistan and one time, the number of US troops were as high as One hundred thousand. The American invasion under President Bush was a three-step process, that is, to eliminate Al-Qaeda, secondly to destroy Taliban and third, install a strong democratic Government. Only the first objective was achieved to some extent. Before diving into the intricacies and future trajectories of the crises, let's look at the numbers. In human cost, since 2001, the Americans have lost 2500 regular soldiers and over 20,000 severely injured. On the Afghan side, there have been over 45,000 deaths in the army and over 60,000 injured. In financial cost, the American Govt. has spent over 1 Trillion Dollars on their war in Afghanistan and over 60 Billion Dollars have been spent on Afghan reconstruction projects. All is meant to fail and go to waste as the Taliban today are in control of over eighty percent of the country. Has all been lost?
The Americans have been frustrated beyond measure. In the 20 years of war, being the longest war the Americans have fought, the US Government has failed to install a stable Government in Afghanistan, the effort to strengthen democratic institutions have been weak and the Taliban are coming back with full force. They have played their cards well while stalemating offensives with talks and negotiations in Doha and Tehran and taking key positions and rallying troops.
All hopes were rested with the Afghan people and the tribal leaders including the Loya Jirga. The Americans selected Hamid Karzai to lead. Ironically, his father served under the Communist Government installed by Russia and now he serves the Government installed by the Americans. Hamid Karzai is from the Southern regions of Afghanistan and spent considerable time in Pakistan. Once again, in paradox, he holds a Political Science degree from India and calls it his second home. During his time, even in the face of opposition from the Afghan population, Karzai allowed the Indian Government and Businesses to interfere in Afghan politics and reconstruction, another strategy bound to fail like his Government. On the Northern side, Abdullah Abdullah retained a coherent outlook and took part in numerous institution-building projects. He won multiple elections to enter into a power sharing deal but has been left out of key decisions. A lot is to be done and there is no time.
The Americans are pulling out. One of the slogans for Bidens election campaign was bringing the soldiers back home. Even if it means, leaving a power vacuum that leaves thousands dead as collateral, the Americans like any other occupation army are least concerned but there are no alternatives left. This war can only be won by the people of Afghanistan from within and that is the ultimate reality. War is never the solution. The change has to come from within and the people of Afghanistan who put their hopes on the American army and foreign aid have a hard realization ahead of them.
A civil war is imminent. The Taliban are sweeping. In a news article, the Americans are so fed up, they are leaving equipment worth billions behind which is falling right into the Taliban hands. Eighty percent of the country has been surrendered. The fate of Afghanistan hangs in the balance. The Human Rights Watch is reporting massive looting, burning and killing in areas that are accused of allying themselves with the so-called infidels. Tehran and Pakistan are expecting millions of refugees. A bloodbath approaches and tragically is inevitable. Earlier, in the Russian occupation, Pakistan handled over 2.5 million Afghan refugees and Iran over 1.5 million, the numbers are expected to be worse.
The incoming conflict is not avoidable but it is still an opportunity. Iran has hailed the failure of foreign forces in its neighbouring country and the version of the Pakistan Government has been accepted, that is, there is no military solution, fire cannot put out the fire. It is high time for neighbouring Muslim countries to hold detailed talks, negotiations and offer a positive hand in the sharing of power and minimizing the loss of innocent lives, jobs and infrastructure. The Afghanistan Government has repeatedly accused Pakistan of ill-will against their nation and now a time comes when the people of Afghanistan will be looking towards their Pakistani brothers. It is an event that the people of Pakistan must not ignore and utilize this time to help build a better future for the children of Afghanistan. It is a time to bury the hatchet and sow trust, friendship and love. The Taliban of today are not like the Taliban of yesterday. Talks are already underway in Tehran and it can be hoped that the involved parties will give peace a chance and give a break in the vicious cycle of violence and torture that consumed Afghanistan for decades now. Pakistan is fully committed to peace in Afghanistan and the forward step of China and a vow for development, hopeless is not an option even in civil war.
(The writer is Chairman of Jinnah Rafi Foundation)