Angst about Afghanistan


By I. M. Mohsin

Robert Reid in a recent article entitled Bad news bares reality of Afghan War has revealed that Admiral Mike Mullen conceded that “we all have angst” about the Afghan war. The latter’s reaction to the festering position is a realistic assessment if the objective conditions are given due importance. As against that, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates expressed his disappointment at the tendency to propagate negative versions of the situation in Afghanistan, which appears to have seized Washington DC. It is interesting to note that sitting close to the theatre of war our American friends keep on comparing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and hope to draw some lessons which may hold good for both.

The two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been suffering since 9/11, differ vastly in terms of history, geography and cultural peculiarities, despite generally sharing the Islamic religion. A veteran intelligence boss, like Robert Gates, would have known all about Afghanistan. More so, as he, like Director Casey, travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan, as per dictated by the mission assumed by the US, to ensure the defeat of the Soviet Union in the good old days. He is known to have been a dedicated expert on intelligence, thanks to long years in CIA till he took over its command. With such flattering credentials, it is difficult to understand his statement unless he is talking politics.

In this backdrop, Washington presents a confused set of ideas on the ongoing war. Rahm Emanuel, the Chief of Staff of the White House, and someone who is considered very close to the President, insists that the withdrawal of troops will start as scheduled in mid-2011. He also appeared to agree recently with Joe Biden’s projection that minimal force should be committed to the Afghan war. Secretary Gates, being the head of Department of Defence, who oversees the execution of the national war strategy, feels peeved at reference to such a clear deadline. He considers giving such schedules in advance as unrealistic and impractical as it could help the Taliban plan their tactics accordingly to get their pound of flesh. While agreeing to a phased withdrawal, he insists that it has to be conditions-related.

General McChrystal has very intelligently avoided the issue lately, while General Patraeus appears to support the White House in his latest statements made to the media. It is no coincidence that Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorses the official position, while nurturing ‘angst’ about the policy.

History of the region lays down that whatever the experiences of the US since 2001, Afghanistan and Iraq are very different entities. The latter was created by the British after the Ottoman Empire lost World War I. Such tribalism and divisions were created only to make sure that the Muslims would never be able to unite again to threaten the status quo wherein UK was the kingpin till the Nazis ripped apart the colonial empires of the West European countries.

Iraq generally consists of flat land and deserts. Hence, the capacity of the people to fight against foreign invasion is limited despite the bravery with which they fought the last war. Quite naturally, the Iraqis have little hope of winning against the US in a straight fight, while being so badly outgunned. In any case no country, as yet, can fight the onslaught by the US in a straight fight. The best chance of damaging a very powerful enemy is by waging a clandestine war like it is being done in Afghanistan. In this great venture, the local resistance is being consistently helped by the topography, history and the hoary traditions of the Pashtun’s in south Afghanistan.

The US destroyed the Soviet Union by inducing these very Afghans and Muslims to shed colossal blood and suffer incalculable devastation, while it supported their valiant fight financially and by providing latest weaponry to them. Pakistan also paid a heavy price for acting as a combative chaperon in this operation, as it was subjected to terrorism by the communists, Afghan KHAD.

The US policy appears to be based on counting pennies and not pounds. Accordingly, seeing the collapse of the Soviet Empire caused by its defeat in Afghanistan, the US abandoned the latter and Pakistan to their fate on the pretext of Pressler Amendment. All this led to the rise of the Taliban and the quagmire which holds fears for many.

A famous Pashto proverb emphasises: “There is a path to the top of the highest mountain.” When the Afghans were hit by the awful misery of the post Soviet-Afghan war in their devastated country, the US failed to bail them out. The cumulative resentment among Muslim fighters from all over the world is very likely to have produced Al-Qaeda, which the neocons exploited to the hilt to enable George W Bush win two terms in the Oval Office. It is widely believed here that Osama is dead but as long as people nurse such terrible grievances in Afghanistan revenge is the tribal obligation. This can only be given up if the aggressor openly apologises for his crime and offers to make a negotiated settlement thereafter.

In wreaking revenge, these people have marvellous patience. Moreover, it is widely believed here that 9/11 was masterminded by ‘special interests’ in the US with which the leading neocons were hand-in-glove. This mindset cannot be finished by even using nukes. It has survived for centuries and have pulled down the greatest empires which got involved here.

The Taliban regime was devastated by the atrocious use of power by the US assisted by Russia and UK in October 2001. Few tears were shed despite the war crimes committed by the attacking forces, as the people had been resentful about the aggressive micro-management and autocratic governance of the Taliban. The US won some goodwill which they squandered in failing to back up their magical promises with actual reconstruction. As insecurity, corruption, and warlord misrule flourished, poverty and unemployment soared bringing back the Taliban on top. This week saw one of deadliest days of the war. It killed nine foreign troops and brought down an army helicopter in the South.

The US must find a better way to reach the top of the mountain!

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