Chartering The Way Forward

As part of his campaign for the 2016 US presidential election, a critical soul-searching on the protracted, unwinnable Afghanistan war, which the United States finds itself awkwardly bogged down into, formed a recurrent discourse in Donald Trump’s speeches. He called for a thorough review of the US policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan. However, like his predecessors in the White House, ‘President Donald Trump’ seems unlikely to start any initiative in the foreseeable future so as to pull things out of the gridlock. Things are getting messy, really messier out there. The areas previously held by the government are fast sliding under the Taliban sway – according to a report, the government’s control over the territories has diminished from 66 to 55 percent. Shillyshallying on the part of the United States in finding out a workable and pragmatic strategy for the peaceful settlement in Afghanistan is going to further complicate the situation. The sooner America opts out, the better it is.

Some may claim that America does not lose wars; it loses only interest in them. Either case, Afghan War, longest in the American history, has turned out to be an albatross around its neck. Osama Bin Laden, the man the USA was long after had his whereabouts in another country, not Afghanistan. Today, he is no more. The embittered region continues to provide safe havens to militants, who are now more impregnable than ever. Casualties have upsettingly taken a huge toll with the Taliban and other militants flexing their muscles against the US-backed forces. As per the United Nations, in 2017 alone, over 10,000 civilians were killed. Major parts of the provinces like Kandahar and Helmand are under the Taliban control.

Volatility of today’s Afghanistan is no different from that in 2001. Corruption has become rampant with the production of narcotics (heroin, opium, etc.) having gone through the roof. According to the US Justice Department, Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) is taking up only the low level corruption cases rather than the mega scams. The Afghan forces being trained by the US personnel hardly seem self-sustainable after the American pullout. The Afghan political leadership, the US is backing, hardly appears to be up to the task owing to the conflicting stakes.

So, what calculus should our assessment of the scenario be built upon? Realistically speaking, gains, if at all, are fewer, and losses in terms of money and blood outstrip them all. Moreover, prolonging the war further serves only the militants. As Robert Manning ingenuously put it, “The insurgents do not have to win—they only need to not lose until the foreigners give in to [their] pressure and leave.”

For their part, the Americans believe Afghanistan is a backwater in which they, at least today, are unnecessarily enmeshed. Much of their discussion focuses on securing an honourable exit from the country. After the debacle of the first option, that is, militarily bringing the terrorists to the knees; the second alternative of bringing them on table entails more than one complication. Nonetheless, the latter remains a Hobson’s choice for bringing an overstretched war to its culmination; to provide a face-saving to a superpower; and to ensure maximum stability to a region that has long served as a breeding ground for international terrorism.


The US peace overtures are more likely to be construed by the Taliban and other terrorist outfits as a failure and weakness of a superpower that is also in a hurry to hightail it, and ultimately their own triumph. Additionally, it is going to lend credence to the Jihadist narrative; besides reinforcing their belief in violence and terrorism as an instrument to assert themselves. Plus, it is a foregone conclusion that it will attract a larger influx of new recruits. The withdrawal may also afford these battle-hardened jihadists even more space to regroup and proliferate.

But, the scenario is not all dark. The potential adverse aftereffects can well be headed off. There is no reason not to believe that the Taliban are highly likely to respond in kind to olive branch being extended to them. The long-drawn-out war has left it sapped of energy and its resources depleted. It may be assured to be given a direct role to play a first fiddle in the prospective government setup. Likewise, it may be made to assure in return: 1) that it will abide by the terms of the agreement in letter and spirit; 2) that Afghanistan, or its any part thereof, will not be used for perpetuating international terrorism; 3) that they will not allow a safe haven to any of the militants, be those of the Islamic State, or other outfits; and 4) that they will uphold the inviolable human rights, especially those of women. The prospects of transmuting from an outlawed insurgent outfit to a legitimate, governing political party provide attractive suasion to incentivize them to shun violence. The power incentive may be compounded by the $25 billion multi-year reconstruction fund and the other economic benefits that are to accrue from the peace accord.

Opting to pull out of Afghanistan is not an end, but setting to work on rehabilitation process is. America needs to be clear on the fact that its withdrawal does not mean the menace of terrorism is over. An Afghanistan sans the US support will leave the field clear for the malevolent actors to orchestrate lethal terror attacks home and abroad. The pragmatic approach on the part of the US would be to hand over its political and military roles to the immediate neighbours directly coming under the spillover effect of the destabilized Afghanistan. China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Iran must collaborate to develop a coordinated approach to Afghan issue with the leadership role going either to China or Russia. Their alliance may be facilitated by the UN, and even NATO, to ensure that in the post US-withdrawal days, the country does not sink back into chaos as a result of power-vacuum.

Whatever the mechanism of post-withdrawal resettlement may be, the conflict is resolvable only through comprehensive dialogue, and diplomacy. According to the US military veteran, Will Griffin, “Negotiating with the Taliban will in no way embolden them. Just the fact that they are willing to sit down and talk with the US now compared to 15 years ago that they were not willing to even talk to the US…This is a point that I need to make: the US might stay in Afghanistan, they might have military bases there. And the Taliban might be compromising on having that issue. That is something that has never happened before. It shows that peace is possible. But, it now really depends on what the US will compromise on.”

Trump’s instincts were right on the point that Afghan strategy may be taken up with a radical rethink. It is high time a realistic pullout policy were worked up in the best interests of Americans, Afghans and the humanity at large!

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