After 17 years of ‘wasted effort’ in Afghanistan, no lessons learnt by US
Syed Zafar Mehdi
After nearly 17 years of war, chaos, mayhem, misery, death and destruction, the United States is seeking peace negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. That the US has miserably lost the plot in the war-ravaged country is no secret, but to come back after 17 long years of fighting and talk about peace parleys not only sounds audacious but plain ludicrous.
The hawks in Washington have finally understood that the longest war in the US history, which is still costing American taxpayers some $45 billion per year, will not end on the battlefield. And, it took them 17 long years to understand this simple fact, which shows that they haven’t learnt their lessons well. They did it in Iraq before and they got away with it. This time, they simply cannot get away. As Noam Chomsky once told me, America owes huge reparations to Afghans for the damage it has caused to their country without achieving anything.
A few days ago, on an unannounced visit to the war-torn country, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to do some PR work for his boss, not knowing that the damage done was irreversible. He said the Trump administration was prepared to “support, facilitate and participate” in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, making it amply clear that the US war machinery had failed in Afghanistan and was frantically looking for an escape route.
His visit came a few weeks after the Afghan government and the Taliban observed an unprecedented ceasefire to mark the festival of Eid. Pompeo, speaking to the US service members at the highly-fortified Bagram Air Force base, said if there was a ceasefire for a few days, why not a few years. Perhaps he needs some lessons in history. It was his country that sabotaged all chance of peace and stability in the country after 9/11 events.
Anand Gopal, the author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes, in an interview told me that the blame for resurrecting the insurgency in Afghanistan ultimately rests with the US The top Taliban leadership, he said, tried to surrender soon after the US invasion, but the US rejected their offer. “America’s goal was to wage a war on terror, and the fact that its enemies were trying to switch sides was something that did not mesh easily with the ideology of counterterrorism,” he said. That pretty much explains who played the spoilsport. It was not anyone else but the war-mongers sitting in the power corridors of Washington.
Pompeo, like his nard-nosed boss, seems bewildered, which is understandable given the kind of disparagement they have received over the ‘failed war’ in Afghanistan. He spoke of bringing the Afghan government and the Taliban to the negotiating table, suggesting that the US government had given up, but in the same breath he said Trump’s less-than-year-old approach to the conflict in Afghanistan was “working”.
If the American strategy in Afghanistan was “working”, and if the Taliban now see that “they can’t win on the ground militarily”, then why take a step back and settle for anything less than a convincing victory? If the America is indeed in a winning position, then backing out should never be an option. The vitriolic truth remains that the Americans have failed in all their goals in Afghanistan. They have been decimated and they have utterly failed to ‘win hearts and minds’ of Afghans, owing to their monumental follies and dastardly war crimes.
Pompeo quite rightly remarked that the region and the world were tired of the war in Afghanistan and the war-weary Afghans were no longer interested in seeing the whirlpool of death and destruction. But, let’s ask him, who started this war in the first place?
Who invaded the country? Who resurrected the Taliban insurgency? Who refused the offer of Taliban leaders to surrender? Who destroyed millions of lives, forced people to abandon their homes and seek asylum abroad? It was the US
So what has the US achieved in Afghanistan in past 17 years? Americans are told by their government that the ‘wasted effort’ in Afghanistan is to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups that seek to attack the US That argument holds no water. It’s called paranoia.
Pompeo, who was on his first visit to Afghanistan since taking up the new job, perhaps needs a reality check. The security has deteriorated alarmingly, civilian casualties have jumped alarmingly, the cultivation and smuggling of narcotics has increased, corruption has touched new high, and the fledgling government in Kabul that was formed through a deal brokered by Washington continues to be beset with numerous problems. This is the legacy of America in Afghanistan.
The bottom line, as Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University wrote in an article in Foreign Policy recently, is that the US effort in Afghanistan is a failure under Trump, just as it was a failure under Obama and George W. Bush.