After over a decade of war in Afghanistan, the United States is still grappling with the problems that plague that country. These problems range from the existence of the Taliban and threats posed by al-Qaeda to a dependent economy whose survival hinges upon assistance from the United States. Multiple and complex problems abound in Afghanistan — multiplex indeed. One cannot help but ask: why hasn’t the United States eliminated the Taliban and put an end to the violence that claims the lives of many Afghan civilians and its own troops serving in Afghanistan?
Tag Archives | Afghan War
Twice during the last few months, Afghan women have come out to vote in higher numbers than expected despite Taliban threats of violence. Whether they voted for the candidate their male relatives instructed them to or made the choice themselves, their act surprised the international community. Their appearance at the polls represented their desire for change.
The Abbott Government has made a point to shock more than awe in its short time in office. (It is hard to be awed by the Prime Minister, whose behaviour has been expected.) It has taken the program of the previous Labor government further in chastising and banishing asylum seekers. It has created seemingly insuperable legal barriers in arriving, legitimately, to Australia. It has grovelled and fawned before US power interests while dismissing concerns of unwarranted mass surveillance. It has taken the hammer to affordable education, proposed increases in the costs of medical services and funnelled more money into defence.
Then came the announcement, made in somewhat hushed tones, that 500 Afghans, many of them involved in interpreting duties for the Australian Defence Force, have been resettled in Australia. For Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, “This policy reflects Australia’s fulfilment of its moral obligation to those who provided invaluable support to Australia’s efforts in Afghanistan.”
Last week the House Committee on Armed Services began the legislative process for crafting the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, with several subcommittee meetings scheduled before the full committee markup on May 7.
Congressional budget battles, which, lately, seem to be a never-ending exercise in futility, will intensify. Budget discussions and markup efforts will reflect a political landscape defined by the upcoming mid-term elections in November and resultant political campaign posturing. This reality adds fodder to the uncertainty of the budget process outlook, and suggests that congressional efforts may culminate in the eventual passage of a continuing resolution, as has become the politically convenient solution in recent years. While Congress continues to hem and haw, defense contractors appear to be navigating uncertain waters and mitigating uncertain budgetary futures by reining in expenditures, reducing employee overheard and implementing cost reduction initiatives to keep fickle investors at bay. Recent quarterly earnings appear to substantiate the industry-wide fears and consequent cutbacks.
Boeing (NYSE:BA), a multinational, American-based aerospace company, had a 6 percent decline in sales from $8.1 to $7.6 billion in its Defense, Space & Security business unit. Overall, the company did see an increase of 8 percent in revenue during the first quarter, but that gain comes as a result of a nearly 20 percent uptick in its commercial aviation division. General Dynamics (NYSE: GD), a major aerospace and defense company, sustained a 15.2 percent drop in revenues for its combat systems business unit over this quarter last year. Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC), a leading global security company, also took a hit, with sales down 4.2 percent from $6.1 billion to $5.85 billion, over last year. And Raytheon (NYSE: RTN), a technology company specializing in defense and homeland security solutions, sustained a 6 percent drop in sales compared to this quarter in 2013.
One of the things that continue to inspire me and endow me with optimism for the future of Afghanistan is the devotion of the country’s young generation to peace and conflict resolution. Tormented by many years of war and violence, they are in the pursuit of a peaceful and democratic future. In addition, they have been active agents of change in the Afghan society. Their ubiquity and influence pervades all spheres of life: from the establishment of private schools and universities to the creation of organizations aimed at building a strong civil society.
Thomas Paine once quipped that “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” In a similar vein, a nation once awakened politically cannot revert back to dormancy. Despite decades of war and ravage, Afghanistan, while still continuing to suffer from all sorts of injustices, afflictions, and violence, is on the march toward democratization. Yesterday – April 5, 2014 – the country convulsed with exhilaration and jubilance, as millions of Afghans sallied toward the polling stations to elect their new president.
Thanks in part to US fugitive, Edward J. Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) is again in the spotlight. According to the former US intelligence contractor, not only is the NSA eavesdropping on foreign telecommunications, it is also monitoring the electronic communications of Americans. Like Jihadists, foreign leaders, international aid organizations, multi-national corporations and even ordinary citizens are allegedly monitored by America’s leading signals intelligence agency. Needless to say, Snowden has brought much unwanted attention on the secretive NSA. Besides complicating the spy agency’s work by revealing sensitive espionage methods, Snowden’s revelations also forced the Obama administration to introduce measures ending NSA surveillance of close US allies. This is of course not the first time the NSA found itself in the limelight.
Afghanistan’s first Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim passed away a few days ago, March 9th, 2014 of natural causes. Reports say that he died of a heart attack.
Mr. Fahim was a complex political figure. A native of the Panjshir Valley, he joined the late Commander Ahmad Shah Masoud in the fight against the Soviet Union occupation of Afghanistan in the 1970s. Having established himself as a fierce fighter, he continued his struggle against the Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan in the 1990s as Commander Masoud’s top deputy. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, and with Commander Masoud having been assassinated by al-Qaeda on September 9, 2001, Fahim emerged as a crucial force in helping the United States remove the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001.
His sudden death has prompted many Afghan leaders and prominent politicians to believe that with Fahim gone, Afghanistan’s instability will intensify. Those writing about the vice president’s passing are too kind to him. Society often looks very kindly upon the dead, regardless of their actions while they were alive. Fahim was a corrupt politician, lacking scruples and integrity.
The recent kidnapping of 5 Iranian soldiers serving along Iran’s border with Pakistan, and their subsequent alleged captivity in Pakistani territory has shed light on the complex relationship between the two states.
With western media analysis firmly focused on continued negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme and Pakistan’s internal troubles, there is little written about the relations between the two neighbours who share a 900km border running through the heart of the Baluchi cultural region. This is a relationship that contains myriad complexities and the potential for conflict and cooperation, ranging from tackling Baluchi separatism and drug trafficking to pipeline politics, Afghanistan and the ever present spectre of US and Saudi interests in the Middle East and beyond.
Despite the complexities, relations have been good up until now, showing the pragmatism of both states and the importance both place on the relationship. However, the recent comments of Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, who has threatened unilateral action inside Pakistani territory as a means of maintaining Iran’s security and that of its soldiers serving along the border, demonstrate the potential for a rupture and the necessity for pragmatism to prevail.
The war in Afghanistan has been expensive. Thousands of American lives have been lost, and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are still being spent there on a daily basis.
My hope is that this war – the longest in American history – will teach the next generation of foreign policy leaders a few lessons about conflicts and foreign interventions. However, this war was necessary. Those behind the terrorist attacks of September 11 had to be brought to justice, and they have been. Moreover, for Afghanistan to become a stable, democratic, and prosperous country, the United States must continue its involvement in the country because the consequences of a sudden withdrawal would be cataclysmic.
The Obama administration knows this well, of course. This is why Secretary of State John Kerry and other high-ranking officials have been visiting Kabul frequently in recent months. We do not have to wait to see what would happen in Afghanistan if the American troops were to leave; the fallout from the Iraq withdrawal provides a sufficient cautionary tale. To say that Iraq is unstable is to state what is overwhelmingly obvious. The sectarian tension between the Shia and Sunni insurgents in Iraq has intensified to such a degree that it is threatening the survival of the current democratic regime. Certainly, hope has not died in Iraq, and most likely, the nation’s ample resources and great potential for economic growth will eventually enable the country to recover from its present instability. However, it is abundantly clear that the withdrawal of U.S. troops has greatly compromised the country’s ability to weather political shocks.
With the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) presence in Afghanistan winding down attention is increasingly turning to what future lies ahead for the country once it is basically on its own.
Not surprisingly most attention and speculation is revolving around security and stability questions. Obviously the political/security landscape will be a key determinant of the country’s trajectory over the coming years. However, that will not be the whole story. Other factors will also pose major challenges. Among the most important of these will be demographic pressures. These frequently get lost in the focus on political/security issues, but will be critical. Indeed they will closely impact political/security outcomes.
Central will be the inevitable large population growth that will occur over the coming decades. The latest population projections (medium variant) produced by the United Nations see the current estimated population of 30-31 million people likely growing by around 9 million people over the next dozen years, and then a further 17 or so million by mid-century. In short, not far off a doubling of the population in less than 40 years.
Americans tend to think of Canadians as politer and more sensible than their southern neighbors, thus the joke: “Why does the Canadian chicken cross the road? To get to the middle.” Oh, yes, bit of a muddle there in Afghanistan, but like Dudley Do Right, the Canadians were only trying to develop and tidy up the place. Not in the opinion of Jerome Klassen and a formidable stable of academics, researchers, journalists, and peace activists who see Canada’s role in Central Asia less as a series of policy blunders than a coldly calculated strategy of international capital. “Simply put,” writes Klassen, “the war in Afghanistan was always linked to the aspirations of empire on a much broader scale.”
Three decades of war and destruction have destroyed the fabric of Afghan society, but one quality that has characterized Afghans throughout their tumultuous history is their resilience, or ability to develop ongoing strategies for survival.
I have previously painted a very bleak future about the security environment in Afghanistan and concluded that if the US discontinues its engagement with Afghanistan, the country could easily devolve into a brutal civil war. At present, there is an aura of unprecedented uncertainty and confusion pervading the country which is why so many groups and factions, inside and outside of Afghanistan, are gearing up for what is to come. The truth is that no one knows what will happen in an Afghanistan where there is no United States, no NATO troops, no international aid. I asked a friend of mine whose brother is President Karzai’s national security adviser about what his brother thought would happen after the exodus of American troops. His response was startling: “He is more flabbergasted about the future than the ordinary people.” This is a scary situation given that Afghanistan’s economy is in shambles and desperately needs all the help it can receive to develop in multiple spheres in the decades to come.
The recent suicide attack on the Lebanese restaurant in Kabul, which claimed the lives of 21 people, including the head of the International Monetary Fund in Afghanistan, illustrated how fragile the security climate is. However, this barbaric and tragic event has been misinterpreted, in particularly by Nemat Sadat, a former instructor at the American University in Kabul. Mr. Sadat argues in “Why the Taliban Attacked the Taverna du Liban in Kabul” that the Taliban targeted these individuals because they were “the leading figures calling for reform and ready to take measures to dismantle the institutionalized corruption and system of kleptocracy in Afghanistan.” He talks as if these four UN workers were the sine quo non for the elimination of corruption in Afghanistan. The truth is that like every other major malpractice in Afghanistan, corruption is well-established; its removal will take decades of effort and consistent oversight.
Last Friday’s Taliban attack in Kabul, Afghanistan was the deadliest attack (on foreigners) in the last twelve years inside Kabul’s highly guarded Ring-of-Steel. Last year, a number of attacks in Kabul left countless dead.
Behind the tragedy that claimed the lives of 21 people (including the IMF head and several UN officials), there is a deeper story everyone must know. I was a frequent visitor of Taverna du Liban during the time I lived in Afghanistan. These locales catering to affluent Afghans and expats have never been on the radar of the Taliban. Why? Because the owners of these establishments pay a monthly “bribe” to corrupt Afghan police who then indirectly purchase a security guarantee from the Taliban to remove these locations from targeted hit lists. (Recently the New York Times wrote about Afghan police who have not been paid since last November). In 2010, the western media reported on how USAID indirectly paid the Taliban billions not to attack incoming logistical convoys traveling from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
So what is happening now? According to Afghan officials, pro-Pakistani ISI Afghans have embedded themselves in the central government in Kabul. While the US and international forces are running for the exits, these Afghans are desperately trying to secure their future in a post-2014 Afghanistan. Pro-Pakistan Afghans appear on the surface to be pro-Western but they have robbed American taxpayers and Afghans while simultaneously working with Pakistan. Why? They are buying an insurance policy to make sure they remain in power if and when the Taliban retake Afghanistan. This is a deadly strategy. How ironic that last Friday’s Taliban attack was more precise than a surgical drone attack by the Americans. It wasn’t just a random coincidence. The identity and itinerary of the victims were relayed and the killings were well orchestrated with pinpoint precision.
The Loya Jirga confirmed through the Bilateral Security Agreement the Afghan intent to have a longer security relationship with the United States and has put into doubt any thoughts of a wholesale U.S. pullout in 2014.
It seems clear what the Afghans want although it is less clear why President Karzai is stalling before signing the agreement despite pressure from many U.S. officials. What should the response of the Obama administration be to Karzai’s dithering? President Karzai wants Afghanistan secured by the U.S. military before the deal is finalized. He is referring to the Taliban influence, which is quite substantial in many parts of the country.
Before considering any prolonged U.S. engagement our ultimate goals in Afghanistan and any options other than military should be explored. In a paper in March of 2011 I suggested three approaches to help the Afghans repair their country: enemy-centric, people-centric and leader-centric.