The Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, at the beginning of the 20th century aptly described Afghanistan as “a piece on the chessboard on which is being played out the game for domination of the world.” At that time, the Great Game was being played between Czarist Russia and Imperialist Britain. At the end of the 20th century, however, the contestants were the USSR, and the USA. But now, a small few have amplified their presence even without a nation to call their own, seeking a lion’s share of the game. Unequivocally, the latter chose the dangerous weapon of religious fundamentalism to perpetrate their gripping dominance over those with advanced weaponry but unpopular ideologies; ultimately producing an explosive state of affairs spiraling into one of the most turbulent events of the century.
At one time the Pashtuns, under their political spiritual leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and the very first Afghan President Mohammad Daud Khan, were secular and non-violent; but now the majority has become the most radical Islamist due to the ill-conceived and hazardous path chosen by the players of this intensely contested game. So far, ten years into this latest episode of competition, there is neither a win nor a loss in sight. As a result, the players’ course of actions is creating an atmosphere of distrust, deceit and ultimately future apologetic solicitations due to erroneous acts committed by them. With that in mind, peace to this decades old war is implausible unless there is a viable solution by the Afghans themselves to end this undreamed of quagmire.
The summit in Lisbon last November was suppose to determine NATO’s strategy in Afghanistan, including a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition forces; and a plan to transition responsibility to the Afghan forces by 2014. However, a spat over the strategy erupted in Kabul between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and General David Petraeus. Karzai first and foremost called for the end to night raids—which were dramatically increased by Gen. Petraeus– on Afghan homes, and for American troops to get off Afghan roads. Indeed, this was a call in direct opposition to Petraeus’ strategy in Afghanistan.
This personal predicament between Petraeus and Karzai is the current fundamental disparity in the Afghan war effort; Petraeus – a warrior and a counterinsurgency campaigner, versus Karzai – a Taliban whisperer trying to show solidarity with them by opposing the counterinsurgency campaigner. In addition, he [Karzai] also lacks reconciliation skillfulness, credibility and legitimacy to weld his government with the former Afghan Islamic fundamentalist regime.
In early March 2011, Hamid Karzai and the British Prime Minister David Cameron met in London to discuss security and rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. Karzai then took another rout by wedging his spear between the alliance’s [U.S and British] military operations; selling his discomfort with Petraeus’ counterinsurgency plan to the British. In light of that, the U.K. MP then tarnished the U.S. military campaign by saying,” Counterinsurgency measures in Afghanistan are not working and could be counterproductive unless the U.S. and its allies start peace talks with the Taliban.”
That said, the U.S. Marines takeover of Helmand operations from the British in July 2010 was the beginning of the end of the British mission in the province. However, reports suggest that the British were not really able to hold on to the two dangerous districts of Sangin and Kajaki, while scores of the Royal Marines were killed in their failed effort. The controversial handover created some animosity between the two coalition’s military contingents. And, the U.K. MPs’ resentment towards counterinsurgency was also in concurrence with Mr. Karzai’s bitterness towards the U.S. military campaign. Then the MPs went on to say, “There is a danger that without appropriate political leadership, the current military campaign is in danger of inadvertently derailing efforts to secure a political solution to what is essentially a political problem.” Therefore, his London meeting was a mission accomplished for Mr. Karzai to win the British favor against the counterinsurgency doctrine.
Despite U.S. and NATO’s optimistic assessments of the war progress in Kandahar and Helmand, it is hard to judge whether their operations really have the Taliban on the run or whether it’s just the winter that has brought calm. In fact, the brain trust at NWSC asses from past exploits in Afghanistan—the Russian occupation—that it is too early to declare mission accomplished. In either case, the upcoming months will be a litmus test for General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine.
The NATO air strike that recently killed the nine boys collecting wood in the hills of Asad-Abad, Kunar province in Eastern Afghanistan have unleashed public fury at a crucial time for foreign forces in Afghanistan. Subsequently the rejection of Petraeus’ rare public apology by Hamid Karzai, saying, “Civilian casualties were no longer acceptable,” was a sign of the deteriorating relationship between them.
Afterwards, there even came a call from the Afghan President for ceasing the entire NATO operations in Afghanistan that Karzai’s spokesperson had to later issue a clarification on, saying, “President Karzai was referring only to specific operations that had caused civilian casualties.”
Additionally, the U.S. troop killing of Karzai’s cousin in Kandahar brought claims of a deep conspiracy that Karzai’s brother Mahmood Karzai feared maybe U.S. Special Forces had acted on false information, possibly given as part of a 30-year family blood feud. Also, Karzai’s younger brother Anas Karzai, who lives in Toronto, dismisses the findings by the U.S. that his uncle was an immediate threat to the security forces and is asking the Canadian military to conduct its own investigation into the raid.
This all raises the question as to why so many furies have surfaced at once, and what are the motives behind all these unexpected and conflicting circumstances? Is it a game of politicization for public sympathy to justify the anger towards the loss of a blood family member at the hands of the U.S.?
Meanwhile, an unannounced visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates—at a time of increased strain between Kabul and Washington—was more of a soothing mission rather than security transition milestone. Robert Gates assured Karzai regarding the presence of U.S. troops, who will remain beyond 2014, which may not help Mr. Karzai’s reconciliation effort with the Taliban; on the contrary, Mr. Karzai cannot refute secretary Gates’ confirmation of U.S. troops staying longer in Afghanistan.
Indeed, Mr. Karzai’s tantrum against the U.S. operations killing innocent civilians is loud and clear, but his government‘s reluctance to protect the Afghan populace is also obvious when scores of innocent people are being killed by the Taliban. This year their assassinations have increased by an additional 15 percent. In fact, there were seven Taliban strikes killing some 400 Afghans, and many of whom were non-combatants. Ironically, the handover of security to the Afghan government that is to begin in July and completed by 2014, is a pipedream because there are no viable security preparations or precautions planned by the Afghan government to protect the population; and there is doubt that they can even step up to the plate.
Also, another outburst by Mr. Karzai,—because of some corruption criticism of his government by the White house—to kick out private national and international security contractors and phase out their operations in favor of Afghan security forces was an ill-thought plan profoundly undermining Obama administration’s new Afghanistan strategy, but Karzai had to back down later on because the reality is that his government forces are not prepared to handle that responsibility.
Recently British Special Forces in Afghanistan seized a convoy of powerful Iranian rockets destined for Taliban fighters, and it was confirmed as a significant and strong indication of Iranian support for the insurgency, yet the Afghan government remains in denial, saying that no such evidence exists and the two countries have constructive cooperation to fight against terrorism, drugs and organized crime.
In another occurrence, U.S. Army Colonel David Flynn had to level and destroy homes and villages to oblivion and nothingness in the Zhari, Panjwaii, and Khosrow districts of Kandahar province; all because they were embedded with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). He had to destroy the houses to make the districts safe per Mr. Flynn’s words. But the house demolitions did apparently affected many thousands of people, making them angry because now their homes are gone and they face cold weather and lack of basic necessities. This was believed to be just to force people to go to the district governor’s office to submit their claims for damaged property and to rebuild their homes from ground up, in effect, connecting the corrupt and deeply unpopular government of Hamid Karzai to the people. But that connection is certain to be marked by bitterness. A tribal elder dismissed the offer of compensation for houses destroyed as “just kicking dirt in our eyes.” It also corresponds to an Afghan proverb, “You can take an Afghan to hell with kindness, but not to heaven by force.”
The list goes on and on for all the failures that Afghanistan has endured including, needless to say, the theatrically corrupt government of Afghanistan. In the same token, the U.S. army “Psy-Ops” operation that was mounted against U.S. senators and other visiting dignitaries in order to win support for more funding, as expressed by Lt. Gen William Caldwell, “How do we get these guys to give us more people?……..What do I have to plant inside their heads?” will not win the war in Afghanistan. In fact, at this crucial and pivotal moment, in its 10th grinding year, with no viable plan on the table that can win the war, there is only a political solution to this quagmire and an indigenous one at that, for an “Afghanistan National Reconciliation” and not a “Karzai-Taliban Reconciliation.”
By Khalil Nouri STAFF WRITER / EDITOR
Khalil Nouri is the cofounder of New World Strategies Coalition Inc www.nwscinc.org , a native think tank for a nonmilitary solution studies for Afghanistan, and a member of Afghanistan Study Groupwww.afghanistanstudygroup.org