8 Blunders that Foretold
American Defeat in Afghanistan
After a 20-year-long war, the United States has left Afghanistan defeated and humiliated, as in the words of General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff: “It is clear, it is obvious to all of us, that the war [in Afghanistan] did not end on the terms we wanted, with the Taliban in power in Kabul.” Calling the war a strategic failure, during a committee hearing about the US troop pullout from Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation from the capital Kabul, Gen Milley said, “It wasn’t lost in the last 20 days or even 20 months … There’s a cumulative effect to a series of strategic decisions that go way back.”
In the following write-up, we will try to find out eight blunders that the United States committed in Afghanistan and how they contributed to humiliating defeat that the world’s sole superpower has faced.
1. The United States joined the chronic regional political wrangling by becoming a part of proxy wars between India and Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia and Iran, in utter ignorance of what British historians have enumerated as a cause of failure in Afghanistan. The US sought to give greater role to India so as to prevent Pakistan and China from gaining an influence in this country. Obviously, policymakers from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China could not afford an opportunity to the United States and its allies to work against their interests. So, Afghanistan became a hodgepodge of interests of regional country and war on terror turned into a war of interests.
2. The second blunder was made at the time of the formation of the Afghan government with Hamid Karzai as its head. This step virtually left Pashtuns, who are around 42% in Afghanistan’s population, out of the corridors of power. When minority rules the majority, the results are always catastrophic as did happen in the case of Afghanistan where most Pashtuns supported the Taliban.
3. Americans also ignored the sovereignty-related issues of the Afghan government, despite repeated warnings by Afghan Presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani. Initially, NATO commander and later US commander were considered de facto rulers of Afghanistan. This is what became problematic for the Afghan community who didn’t trust their government.
4. The fourth blunder is related to the training of the Afghan army that completely ignored their basic issues of literacy and professional command. Moreover, Afghan army, like the Afghan government, was taken from the minority segments of Afghan population.
5. Americans also utterly failed to own the ordinary Afghans at the grassroots level. They roped in tribal sardars and warlords of which common Afghans were wary.
6. A serious lack of proper planning and policymaking for sustainable peace in Afghanistan also contributed to US’ defeat. Instead of respecting and adhering to the cultural norms of the locals populaces, the US resorted to honour the liberal and secular voices – they listened to what they wanted.
7. Seventh major blunder of the United States was not taking Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries on board for the broader spectrum of regional peace and order on the same footing. American interest in Afghanistan was not based on a win-win exposition rather it sought to dominate neighbouring countries particularly Iran, Pakistan and China.
8. Last but not least, the United States failed to make Afghanistan economically independent from the donors as around 75% of the Afghan economy was dependent on American aid and that from donors under US influence.
The writer is an author of The Reforms. He is serving as a Strategic & Administrative Adviser at a CPEC-based project in Islamabad. He is also a member of Anti-Drug Task Force Punjab.