As a veritable gate to the vast treasures of Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan has been both the cradle and grave of the invading armies of yore. Engendered by these massive incursions, was a culture with curious mix of profound hospitality and persistent hardihood in equal measure. But it was the peculiar chivalry displayed in various wars that gave finishing touches to the undying and inexplicable charishma of the land. Out of these wars came towering figures whose names now evoke the spirit of the by gone era.
It is not the first time. In the 1980s, the United States pumped in millions of dollars of weapons and ammunition to Afghans waging a war against Soviet Army. The Afghans than called Mujahideens were encouraged to fight the Holy War against the invading Soviet Army. The sole purpose of their support was to bleed the Soviets. It took about 10 years for Soviets to realize that its impossible to match the fighting skills of Afghans and defeat their determination.
The US and the USSR finally agreed for the Red Army’s withdrawal in 1989, brushing aside the Afghans from the negotiations. The USA just walked away having lost the interest in Afghanistan. In haste, most probably, even left the lessons deduced from 10 years conflict. A decade’s war hardened mujahideens were left to be managed by innocent Afghans and immediate neighbors. Events which followed, are the sad and gloomy chapter of the history. The most affected were the innocent and brave Afghans. Memories of those days are engraved in their souls. The second most affected country was Pakistan. Masses of Pakistan happily hosted over 3 million refugees and faced the spillover from Afghanistan. In the process its own economy was destablised and social sector was severely damaged.
Then came 9/11. In its fury, the US disregarding the history and ground realities, at once decided to take on Afghanistan. So after about a decade, the US was once again in Afghanistan but in a different mode. A military campaign primarily an intense aerial bombardment, was followed up by a new government made up of mostly former Mujahideens and warlords.
The US made lofty promises of reconstruction, democratisation and total eradication of terrorism. However, very soon the US got caught in the quagmire mainly due to the arrogance of military might and ignorance of ground realities.
Where do the US and Afghanistan stand in 2018 after 17 years of long conflict? 41 nations, largest wartime coalition led by US is only holding main communication centres and major roads. Rest of the Afghanistan is at the mercy of Taliban, various militant groups and warlords. Billions of US Dollars have been thrown in to achieve desired results but the visible achievement is more destruction, bloodshed and multiplication of miseries for innocent Afghans. Effects of spillover have been equally damaging for neighboring and regional countries. Only in ten months of 2018, US forces released 5982 munitions with an average of 598 per month. The coalition aircrafts flew about 6600 times with an average of 22 per day. About 2,90,000 people have been displaced in Afghanistan. Causality rate of Afghan Army trained by the US, in
Oct 2018 was as high as 1000 men a month. The fatalities in Afghanistan as of Oct 2018, stood at about 1,48,000 people. 6334 American soldiers and contractors, as well as more than 1100 allied troops have been killed. If the number of indirect deaths is included then total death count would be well over 1 million people. On the Taliban side, they have been waiting out for 17 years and meanwhile waging a very effective guerrilla warfare against coalition forces led by the US.
They have been successful in securing a strong political position and a new stature at the international platform. They have their official office in Qatar and have been travelling to important regional countries such as China, Russia and Pakistan etc. Taliban still seem in no hurry but the US seems desperate, is losing interest and looking for a safe exit. One can conclude that clarity of objectives, sincerity to cause and level of motivation have made the difference.
There is a stark difference between the US objectives and Taliban demands. Taliban demand is withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan. However, the recently concluded peace talks in UAE have given a new hope to the people of Afghanistan and international community. Now, there is dire need for all stakeholders, primarily for the US to grasp this rare opportunity and move towards sustainable peace in Afghanistan, considering the following basic needs:-
* Afghan led process with justice, freedom and dignity for all sides.
* Removal of trust deficit among the stakeholders.
* Blame game to hide own follies should immediately end.
* Afghanistan must not become the battle field for international rivals.
* All measures be put in place for secure and prosperous Afghanistan.
* Afghanistan’s shoulder should not be allowed to be used against any neighboring country.
A lasting and comprehensive peace mainly depends on the firm US commitment to support the peace process with no hidden agenda. Its really high time, the Afghan masses deserve to live with dignity and prosperity. Similarly, the neighboring countries have also severely suffered particularly in social and economic sectors due to this prolonged conflict.
A stable and prosperous Afghanistan adds to the security and prosperity of the neighboring and regional countries. It is time for all to identify the ground realities and extend a sincere helping hand for durable peace – a long waited dream of Afghans and the region.