“I have never seen any skill in lengthy campaigns. No country has ever profited from protracted warfare. If you know your enemies and yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle”.
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War
It was in 2003 that President Bush, clad in Top Gun attire aboard the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln, triumphantly declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq. Hours later, Donald Rumsfeld declared victory in Afghanistan at a Kabul press conference with these words: “We clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and reconstruction activities. The bulk of the country today is secure.”
Masters at knowing themselves and their enemies, something perpetually elusive to their invaders and occupiers, Afghans have been the undoing of many great armies and powers. True to their history, they continue to be so, the latest in line being the US and its allies. President Bush, befuddled by the opiate that power is, unleashed Washington’s military juggernaut on Afghanistan. ‘History is for losers’ was his arrogant mantra. Today, as Washington frantically searches for a face-saving exit, history stands vindicated – as are those who opposed this war.
The latest tactic unleashed on Western forces in Afghanistan is the crippling green on blue attacks. 45 Nato soldiers have been killed and an equal number wounded by their Afghan counterparts in the first eight months of this year alone. However, General John Allen attributes this to “Ramadan fasting combined with operational tempo during the summer heat”!
The conceived solution has been a ‘Guardian Angel’ programme. It tasks coalition soldiers to keep an eye on their Afghan allies in every meeting or joint mission with shoot to kill orders on the mere apprehension of such an attack. This knee-jerk reaction, given the ground realities in Afghanistan, is akin to closing the stable door long after the horse has bolted.
A military uniform epitomises commitment, comradeship and professionalism and symbolises the willingness to sacrifice ones life. In a new twist, the rank and file of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan Local Police (ALP) have been infiltrated.
The announced withdrawal in 2014 shall expose both ANA and ALP to the burden of ensuring stability in Afghanistan. The occupation’s ‘grand’ exit strategy is based on Washington’s chant that, ‘when they stand up – we stand down’.
Former Afghan Defense Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak’s solution to the green on blue dilemma was that “every soldier has to become an informer”. Anathema to any fighting force, how can an entity tasked with the seemingly impossible feat of raising its standard from scratch, stand up with this informer psyche encouraged amongst its ranks?
Apart from this, a recent UN report ranks nine out of ten of the 350,000 strong ANA as illiterate and three in ten as drug addicts. The desertion rate, bane of any fighting force, stands at 60 percent. According to an ISAF finding, as of now, not a single ANA unit can operate independently.
The spate of deadly green on blue attacks has led to a purge within the ANA and ALP. Measures are afoot to revalidate the credentials of all its members. Easier said than done, given the fact that for the majority of Afghans an identification card, driver’s license or a social security number are as alien as most facets of the Western way of life. In a country where written records are a rarity, the task itself is as daunting as it is seemingly impossible.
Despite these harsh ground realities, Washington prefers to remain in a Crocker stupor. Ryan Crocker, of Iraq fame, was Washington’s seventh ambassador to Kabul in almost as many years. Charged recently with drunk driving in Spokane, Washington, he spent a night in jail. As Washington’s ‘viceroy’ to Kabul he said, “The greatest concern that Afghans, with whom we have regular contact, express about the US military presence is not that we are here but that we may be leaving”. Only an inebriated mind could ooze such wisdom.
Afghanistan is essentially a tribal society. The survival of an individual depends on the tribal code of conduct. Mosques, homes, funerals, jirgas, marriage parties, all symbols of this society, have been bombed by the occupation forces. Copies of the Quran have been burnt; dead bodies have been urinated upon, some have been savaged for war trophies. What else could be a more potent recipe for the ever-increasing deadly backlash? It is this reality that has molded Washington’s image as a cruel occupier rather than the saviour it never was but aspired to be.
Another resurgent yet extremely flawed strategy towards the looming withdrawal from Afghanistan is the practice of arming warlords and militias yet again. It is these very warlords whose cruel oppression led to the rise of the Taliban. The International Crisis Group asserts that “this warlord strategy has led to a culture of impunity that was allowed to take root in the name of stability.” Voices within the West profess that the majority of Pakhtuns shall never rally around a government and an army propped up by an occupying force led by the minority Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.
The latest endeavour towards the warlord strategy end is the brainchild of British Conservative MP, Tobias Ellwood. Code named ‘Plan C’, it proposes the dangerous division of Afghanistan into eight zones; Kabul, Kandahar, Kunduz, Herat, Jalalabad, Bamyan, Khost and Mazar i Sharif. This plan has reportedly “been presented to British Foreign Secretary William Hague and the White House and also discussed with Pakistani government officials in London.” It is imperative that Pakistan, already bearing the fatal brunt of a flawed war strategy, does not become part of this extremely dangerous and fractious plan.
Religious and ideological motivations are not easily defeated. Pharaoh Ramesses ordered the killing of each male child of (Bani) Israel. Washington DC, besotted with relentless hubris and pursuing its phantasmal demons, is doing the same. It is imperative that Afghanistan is ruled by the majority Pakhtuns, something that should not be at a tangent with the ideals of Western democracy of majority rule.
The most important fact of all is to engage the Taliban in a dialogue. Lakhdar Brahimi, now peace envoy to Syria convener of the Bonn conference in 2001, said that “the original sin in 2001 was not to give the Taliban a seat at the (Bonn) table.” The way out of this created imbroglio is to listen to voices of sanity. To all other plans, the Taliban say, ‘you have the watches, we have the time.’
“A defeatist position in Afghanistan is not possible for us. We cannot leave in our underpants or without any.” With these words Mikhail Gorbachev gave vent to his frustration, addressing senior officers in Moscow, exactly two years before the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Today, two years before the announced stand-down, Washington and its allies face exactly the same set of unsavoury options. History is for losers; for once Bush may have had it right.
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: email@example.com