South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Afghan endgame - US version
Sultan M Hali

Most analysts opine that the endgame in Afghanistan is well underway, but various versions of it are prevalent. Let us briefly examine the US version, since it is the major perpetrator of ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’, the code name used by the US government for the war in Afghanistan, together with a number of smaller military actions, under the umbrella of the global war on terror (GWOT). The operation was originally called ‘Operation Infinite Justice’ (often misquoted as ‘Operation Ultimate Justice’), but as similar phrases have been used by adherents of several religions as an exclusive description of God, it is believed to have been changed and the reference to “crusades” was also dropped to avoid offence to Muslims, who are the majority religion in Afghanistan and the region.

In its initial assault, the US unseated the Taliban, the ruling group in Afghanistan and assumed control of the war ravaged country, torn by strife and turmoil following the Soviet occupation in 1979 and later internecine wars among the various tribal lords. Unfortunately for the US and its allies, the Taliban were defeated but not destroyed. After surviving the heavy bombing of Tora Bora, the use of daisycutter bombs and wearing out the initial euphoria of “victorious” George W Bush, the Taliban reorganised and waged a series of guerrilla campaigns and have virtually defeated NATO, ISAF and the US, forcing the alliance to seek dialogue with the Taliban. Following fits and starts, which saw the Taliban imposters hoodwinking the US and absconding with cash bribes as well as assassins in the guise of Taliban interlocutors eliminating former Afghan President and Head of High Peace Council Burhanuddin Rabbani, the US has adopted fresh measures. These include Vice President Joe Biden making a U-turn and declaring that the Taliban were never USA’s enemies and facilitating them to establish a political office in Qatar to negotiate “with the international community.”

Although the choice of Doha for Taliban’s political office is curious, since the Afghan President Hamid Karzai was keen on Turkey or Saudi Arabia as perspective sites, yet the US will prevailed! The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) wants an Afghan solution for resolving the country’s ills, with input from all neighbours. The SCO’s top members Russia and China, as well as prospective members Pakistan and Iran, are opposed to US bases as well as its sponsored solution in Afghanistan.

The US, of course, is driven by domestic politics for enforcing an endgame in which it can control the outcome. It is a crucial election year, where the beleaguered President Obama is seeking re-election; economic meltdown; and the prolonged presence of US troops in Afghanistan have raised public ire. The Democrats seek to turn adversity into opportunity, but the US version of the endgame in Afghanistan is bound to fail, since it is sidestepping Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan - all influential players in the region.

Pakistan has blocked the NATO supply routes following the 26/11 unwarranted attack on a Pakistani military checkpost killing 24 soldiers; while Russia that controls the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) is flustered by irresponsible statements from US politicians, including Hillary Clinton regarding Putin, is likely to put impediments in the supply route, rather than give more concessions. If the US is under the illusion that the Taliban will permit it to retain its bases in Afghanistan beyond 2014, it is mistaken. The only concession they are likely to afford is severing links with Al-Qaeda and nothing further than that. It should be understood that the US ousted the Taliban’s sitting government. By conducting a dialogue with them they should not be surprised if the Taliban demand the restoration of their government in Afghanistan and declaring the current government of Karzai as illegal.

Pakistan, which can play an important role in the Afghan endgame, is being ignored at the peril of US interests. By not apologising to Pakistan for the ghoulish attack on its military checkpost and instead demanding to “do more” and interfering in its domestic affairs has really piqued the country. The US is twisting Pakistan’s arm to abandon the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, and its two Republican Senators John McCain and Mark Kirk as well as independent Senator Joe Lieberman voicing concern about the treatment meted out to former Pakistani Ambassador to USA Hussian Haqqani, are a few examples. The US needs to think through its endgame in Afghanistan and also take cognisance of the sensitivities of its neighbours.