Afghanistan Endgame (Part I)
The events of 11th September 2001 had shocked the world. It was as if the unthinkable had happened. The twin towers had collapsed before the very eyes of the world. Not even the Pentagon was spared from the attacks. The way, the attacks were executed, was unlike anything the world had ever seen. Passenger airplanes occupied with innocent lives were used as ballistic missiles. The world condemned the loss of more than 3,000 lives, spanning across more than 90 countries. Obviously, the aftermath of the events was even more devastating.
The attacks prompted the United States of America to declare war on the Taliban. They held total control of Afghanistan at the time. Thus, this marked the beginning of the so-called War on Terror. The world would certainly never be the same again. The word ‘terrorism’ would become a staple of news channels. This trend continues to this very day.
By the numbers, the war lasted two decades. This was across four US administrations. Namely, the Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations. Moreover, countless people younger than the War on Terror itself suffered nearing its end. A Costs of War report states almost 1 million lives were lost globally due to terrorism. It had displaced more than 38 million people, therefore turning them into refugees. The United States of America has been conducting counterterrorism activities in 85 countries. Therefore, the War on Terror became a global conflict. The US government’s claimed price tag of the war is $8 trillion dollars. However, with various economic losses, relief efforts, interests on loans, etc. this amount will only skyrocket.
Pakistan alone has suffered every nightmare imaginable during the War on Terror. Some of these were the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the Marriott Hotel bombing, the Lal Masjid insurgency, and the tragic APS massacre. However, these are only a few of the events which had happened. Gulf News estimates more than 83,000 Pakistani lives were lost due to the War on Terror. Moving onto the costs, Pakistan was set back $126 billion alone.
Moreover, it was during this time the Pakistani armed forces had flushed out the terrorists throughout most of the country. As a result, suicide bombings had declined by a remarkable ninety-seven percent since 2009. Target killings and kidnappings had decreased by an incredible ninety-eight percent. Karachi fell from the 6th most criminal city to becoming the 103rd one. A majority of the Durand Line has been fenced. Therefore, this curbs smuggling, gunrunning, drug trade, and a plethora of other illegal activities.
In what can be called the world’s largest military blunder, the US government finally decided it was time to withdraw from the war. The war ended on a grim note with a heavily mismanaged withdrawal. In fact, a disturbing video where a US airplane took off with many refugees clinging to its wheels went viral. The nature of the video itself captured the hastiness of the American forces to pull out.
US President Joe Biden was not of the view that the War on Terror could be won. The White House neither called for a celebration nor did it even hint at a victory. White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated there was no “mission accomplished moment in this regard.” She then said that the 20-year-old conflict had not been won militarily.
President Biden defended his position on withdrawal from Afghanistan by claiming “speed is safety” in answering a reporter’s questions. He clarified his stance by further saying that the US forces were deployed in Afghanistan to eliminate the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. He said specifically that the US did not “go to Afghanistan to nation-build.” However, Jen Psaki’s and Joe Biden’s statements seem rather contradictory. Not everyone is on the same page as the White House, it seems. This leaves room for a lot of confusion and doubt concerning the current state of affairs.
Near the end of the US withdrawal, the attacks against the US forces had escalated. Instead of delivering a befitting response, they quickened up the pace of their withdrawal. Even though “speed is safety”, multiple people were killed over the messy withdrawal.
The haste of the decision had raised many questions in the United States of America. Likewise, these questions were backed up with much resentment over the lives lost and the wastage of tax payer’s dollars. America had spent unimaginably large sums of money to achieve nothing. Therefore, it had returned to square one. The twenty wasted years was another miserable defeat for America. Many drew parallels to another Vietnam.
It was impossible to remove all the military equipment from Afghanistan. As expected, it fell into the possession of the Taliban. An infographic by the Times of London and Sunday Times lists all the tools of destruction left behind by the American forces. This included close to 1000 armored vehicles, more than 22,000 armored Humvees, more than 500,000 firearms across all varieties, and more than 100 aircraft. If this can be considered America’s parting gift to the Taliban, then such a statement would hit it on the nail. America had not only failed, but it had also transformed the Taliban into one of the most lethal forces in the world.
To seize the ‘graveyard of the empires’ after the US withdrawal did not appear to be hard for the Taliban. Afghanistan was taken over in roughly a week’s time. The Afghan government forces and its military gave up without putting up much resistance. Many important Afghan officials, especially president Ashraf Ghani, had fled the country as soon as the Taliban takeover was imminent. Thus, they had deserted their own people and fled, fearing for their lives. This left the locals at the mercy of the Taliban.
The reason behind the lightning-fast takeover was that the Afghan authorities were demoralized from the start. On top of that, they lacked ammunition and rations. This put them in an unwinnable position. A vast majority of the soldiers were only enlisted for the paycheck. Moreover, many high-ranking Afghan officials had misused the American-allotted funds and kept them for their own benefit. This led to the creation of ‘ghost soldiers'. These were simply soldiers that did not exist. Therefore, it was the perfect way for Afghan military officials to thickly line up their wallets sans the responsibility they were expected to carry out.
A phone call between former president Ashraf Ghani and US President Joe Biden went public. In the phone call, Ghani was rather concerned about the Taliban forces gaining ground. Biden told Ghani that he “needed to project a different picture” of the events and that he had the best military. Therefore, Ghani was instructed to lie to his country even though his defeat was highly foreseeable. He was expected to tell everyone that all was well, even though nothing really was. Biden reassured the then-Afghan president that he could easily crush the opposing forces. The whole phone call downplayed the rapidly escalating situation in Afghanistan. The New York Post had slammed the phone call for creating the illusion that all was going well. It had even gone as far as saying the contents of the phone call itself could impeach the sitting US President!
Everyone in America seems outraged over the world’s most expensive failure. Many accused the Biden administration of making the “Taliban great again.” It was understandable that many US citizens were furious over the wastage of their taxpayer dollars. Furthermore, they even had to pay for any economic downturns out of their own pockets because of the war itself.
Even more alarming was that 100-200 US citizens remained in Afghanistan after the formal US departure. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken roughly estimated this figure. However, he said the government is still “trying to determine exactly how many” Americans are left. It would seem that the US government had failed to do its homework yet again. Thus, leaving its very own bonafide citizens stranded in a country where they are definitely unsafe.
With the events before us, the American government was certainly not loyal to its own people, let alone the Afghans. After all, they were not there to ‘nation build’. The end goal seemed to eliminate Al-Qaeda and probably go home. But this begs the question: Why remain in the country more than a decade after eliminating the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks? If America was never there to ‘nation build’ then it was certainly complicit in destroying the country. The subsequent Taliban takeover had only made things much worse.
As tensions increase across the Durand Line, Pakistan will find itself in a key position once again. However, how the Pakistani government deals with the matter can make or break the country. Furthermore, it will play a large part in international relations. Things are heating up in the country as well. Islamist outfits and their supporters have renewed morale from the Taliban takeover. They are very likely to commit their activities with more impunity than before. There are already various reports of terror incidents taking place in the country. Therefore, the ball is now in Pakistan’s court to act. It should take the necessary steps to ensure the flawless security of the country as well as its people.
To be continued…