Monday October 18, 2021

American wars

With US forces almost entirely out of Afghanistan, the Taliban are resurgent again. All indications are they may be headed for an outright military victory against the regime in Kabul. However, it is encouraging to see talks at reconciliation between the two groups in Doha. Any attempt by either group to exercise total control over the country could only lead to further violence.

Sadly, after the exodus of the Soviet army in the early 1990s, infighting between various Afghan groups caused widespread death and destruction and led to the takeover by the Taliban.

Over the past 20 years, while the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan may not have accomplished much in terms of creating a stable administrative structure, at least girls were again able to access education, and women started to participate in many areas of civic life. They are surely looking at the new developments with trepidation. There seems to be an expectation among some that Taliban 2.0 will be a more moderate force. It is hard to find any evidence for such an outcome.

In the meantime, there appears to be a measure of satisfaction in Pakistan at the resurgence of the Taliban. While the exit of US forces may be seen as a positive development, it isn't clear what aspect of the resurgence of Taliban is a source of satisfaction. If a second Taliban drive leads to significant infighting in Afghanistan, it risks a major exodus of refugees into Pakistan, further destabilizing the country.

The first wave from the 1980s and 1990s are still in the country and estimated to be around two million. And a Taliban regime in Kabul that imposes a strict and uncompromising religious order could be felt in Pakistan as it may encourage extremist groups within Pakistan itself.

A new element has been introduced into the mix that could potentially have a stabilizing influence on the country. It has been reported that China is planning to invest billions in Afghanistan as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. Afghanistan does share a tiny border with China on the eastern edge of the Wakhan corridor. China aims to invest in developing mining in Afghanistan. Whether the country will present a stable enough environment for such investment remains to be seen.

Having a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the best interest of all countries in the region. Most of all, after nearly 40 years of war and turmoil, the people of Afghanistan deserve to live in peace. However, even if all countries in the region are pushing for such a solution, it will ultimately rest on the shoulders of the people of Afghanistan to take charge of their own destiny. No foreign power will accomplish this for them.

In the US, as expected, a discussion has started whether it was a mistake to depart from Afghanistan so abruptly. Politicians of different stripes are posturing for political advantage. What is harder to find however, is any discussion of how it is that the US continued to stay for 20 years in a war that could not be won; spending trillions of dollars and losing thousands of lives of US servicemen well after its initial goals had been accomplished. Why was it that critical discussions about the nature of the conflict, the expense of it, and its goals and objectives never took place in the country?

Some are claiming that the way US wars are now fought - barely impacting a tiny percentage of the US population, and opaque accounting for the expense of war, makes it likely the US will continue to repeat such mistakes in the future. On top of that, the overwhelming military superiority that the US enjoys, and the size of its military budgets make clear thinking in Washington hard to come by.

The fear is that there will be little discussion of what was accomplished and what was lost in the Afghan war. The country will just move on with little introspection, making it very likely that such mistakes will be repeated in the future. At great expense to the US taxpayer.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC.