Discerning US Design in Afghanistan and Repercussions

Discerning US Design in Afghanistan and Repercussions

EURASIA REVIEW 11/17/13
By Brigadier (Retd.) Dr. Ahsan ur Rahman Khan

At long last, after more than a decade of extreme human misery in Afghanistan and adjoining Pakistan inflicted by the US in the name of ‘war on terror’, there had been some hope of an end to this ‘human holocaust’ when the US government announced its plan to withdraw its military occupation of Afghanistan.

The debate, however, remained whether it would be a ‘negotiated’ partial withdrawal, or a complete withdrawal. In the case of the partial withdrawal the US demanded to retain its politico-strategic ‘hold’ on Afghanistan through continued retention of five or six military bases by its military, its security ‘management’ of the post-withdrawal Afghanistan government through its training ‘assistance’ for organising operation-worthy Afghan military and police, and legal immunity of US military personnel from the laws of Afghanistan.

In return of the acceptance of these demands the US promised to arrange an annual aid of about $4 billion. The US also indicated that if these terms for partial withdrawal were not accepted by Afghanistan authorities it would go for a ‘zero option’, i.e. a complete withdrawal leaving the country to the chaos of infighting. And still worse now, the latest US’ politico-diplomatic maneuverings clearly indicate its designs to go for a ‘dictated’ partial withdrawal, which is bound to cause much more human sufferings for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and further ‘war-mongering miseries’ for the US’ public.

After meeting repeated failures in eliminating the Afghanistan Taliban’s resilient resistance, and realising the ‘corruption-laden incapacity’ of Karzai and associates’ government to hold the country together on their own during and after US/NATO military withdrawal, the US tried to make the Afghanistan Taliban agree to its ‘negotiated’ partial withdrawal terms. In that scheme, the Afghanistan Taliban were required to accept their role in the post-5 April 2014 Afghanistan government in partnership with the other groups (now forming the current Karzai and associates’ government), as also the US-Karzai strategic partnership and other agreements reached till the 5 April 2014 elections. That US effort with the Afghanistan Taliban did not work, because of certain US demands. The non-acceptability of three of those was certainly a foregone conclusion, i.e. (a) granting immunity to US’ military from any legal action in Afghanistan; (b) US’ retention of the military bases and its ‘control’ on Afghanistan military and police in the name of organisation and training; and (c) asking the Afghanistan Taliban to accept forming a government in partnership of the current ‘Karzai associates’.

To anyone who has knowledge about the history and psyche of Afghans, it was obvious that the non-acceptability of these three US demands in that form was clearly discernible right from the outset. Granting required immunity for any crime committed in Afghanistan from the law of the land, being a clear violation of Afghans’ deeply entrenched pride in their sovereignty and their Islamic and traditional values, could hardly be acceptable to the Afghan masses. Similarly, giving ‘control’ of country’s military bases and security forces to a foreign country, or any such action which may appear to the Afghans as ‘surrender’, is also bound to be rejected by Afghan masses. And, any idea of politically working with Hamid Karzai — his close relatives and other associates allegedly known for corruption — could hardly be acceptable to the Afghanistan Taliban. Very obviously, compromise by the Taliban on these US demands would have been akin to their committing ‘political suicide’.

In that context it is also worth noting that in its unnecessary insistence on Afghanistan Taliban to accept its mentioned ‘terms’, which clearly cut across the well-known deeply entrenched psyche of Afghan masses, the US missed out the available chance of utilising the aspect of pragmatism of the Afghans in getting the Afghanistan Taliban’s agreement, which could have been still advantageous to US. That aspect is reflected in the fact that the track record of the Afghanistan Taliban government in 1994-2001 clearly shows their pragmatism in handling diplomatic issues provided the aforementioned aspects of Afghan psyche are not tampered with. The cases of their diplomatic and statecraft dexterity in pragmatically handling of the ‘flash point’ issues of the Indian airliner high-jacking and the severe military stand off with Iran are the well-known examples. It is, therefore, more likely that rather than trying to ‘bulldoze’ its demanded terms, if the US had ‘softened’ its negotiation demands to include such aspects like a credible assurance of the Afghanistan Taliban’s disconnection with Al-Qaeda, the granting of certain economic and even ‘strategic’ privileges to the US in Afghanistan etc, many of those could have been achieved with a much more reliable assurance of post-2014 sustenance. The hard-line rigidity of US policy-makers was, therefore, certainly non-realistic.

And now the latest Karzai-Kerry deal, on an ‘almost concluded’ Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between US and Karzai governments, shows the US decision to apply a still more hard-lined approach in ‘dictating’ its withdrawal terms through their implanted Karzai and associates government.

It was, therefore, no surprise that the Afghanistan Taliban opposed that deal indicating its disastrous consequences and appealing to Afghan masses to boycott the forthcoming April 2014 elections in the country. Though the US and Karzai government have not revealed the BSA details to their respective public, yet the media — including those traveling with US Secretary John Kerry — have divulged at least the broader framework of the agreement. In general, the BSA implies the Karzai government’s acceptance of the aforementioned US terms, with only the aspect of US troops legal immunity remaining unresolved. According to a Fox News report published on 12 October 2013 “both sides said everything had been agreed except continuing immunity for US military personnel from the Afghan courts”; and that, Secretary Kerry noted that if that issue was not resolved there would be no agreement (1).

However, there are clear indications that Karzai and associates are more likely to subsequently accept the US demand of US troops legal immunity too, albeit in a ‘veiled’ form. That probability is indicated from the fact, as mentioned in the same Fox News report, that Karzai has asked the assembly of tribal elders (Loya Jirga) to be assembled within a month to give their opinion regarding approval or disapproval of that US’ demand; and that, Karzai then intends to send Loya Jirga’s opinion to the Afghanistan parliament for final decision.

Factually there is a ‘catch’ in that arrangement; i.e. the Karzai and associates government intends to manipulate the approval of that US demand from both these tiers – and such manipulation is possible in Afghanistan’s political system. That probability has also been highlighted in many publications.

In that context, excerpts from two would suffice. Kate Clark’s lengthy report dated 14 October 2013 published by Germany-based Afghanistan Analyst Network (AAN) mentions that AAN has reported in the past that such jirgas give respectability to sensitive decisions taken by the government while the hand-picked nature of the delegates pretty well ensures ‘the people’ take the right decisions.; and “Both jirga and parliament should go the way of the government, but their agreement is not in the bag.” (2). Similarly, Michael Shank, Ph.D. who is Director of Foreign Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Adjunct Faculty at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, indicates in his article published on 28 October 2013 by Huffington Post, “In fact, it will be interesting to see how much tampering happens in choosing the delegates for the Jirga”; “The U.S. and Afghan government are making sure that the deal’s language doesn’t go public too far ahead of the Jirga, because the Afghan press would seize upon it and the public would protest loudly against troop immunity; and “Karzai, consequently, is engaging in smart political strategizing. By having the Jirga accept the deal — and he can use his influence to bring enough tribal and political delegates that favor a deal with U.S” (3).

Both these publications highlight a number of serious difficulties due to which this latest US-Karzai agreement is most likely to fail in producing the ‘proclaimed’ results of peace and stability in Afghanistan in the post-withdrawal scenario. In fact, Michael Shank categorically asserts, “The Bilateral Security Agreement deal, forged by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, will be quickly undone since the US is not focused on the right kind of settlement.” (4). It should be noted that the core reason given by Michael Shank for the sure failure of BSA is that “U.S. is not focused on the right kind of settlement”. That contention is strongly supported by a number of undeniable realities. Those are clearly reflected from a critical analysis of the discerned US design.

It appears probable that the premise upon which the US design is based is the hope that by showing the threat of total withdrawal leaving Afghanistan to the chaos of infighting, the US would be able to successfully pressure Karzai and associates to accept the US terms of partial withdrawal, and then it might be easy to compel the Afghanistan Taliban to accept that ‘fait accompli’. That premise is linked with the weakness of Karzai and associates who know that, unlike the case of the post-US survival of Iraqi leadership, their political survival in Afghanistan critically depends upon the continued presence of the US military in the country and US aid.

That aspect is amply clarified by Bob Dreyfuss in The Nation of 21 October 2013. He highlights, “The difference between Iraq and Afghanistan, though, is that while Iraq has oil revenues to keep it solvent, Afghanistan has nothing, and it’s totally dependent on the United States and other Western allies to provide aid. That aid, the Obama administration is not-so-subtly telling Karzai, depends on Kabul allowing the United States to keep troops in-country”. (5)

However, the following unmistakable realities clearly show that this US design is bound to fail:

Karzai, his close relatives, and many of his associates in the government are alleged to have made illegal financial fortunes through massive corruption of US/NATO financial aid, and are despised by Afghan masses. That aspect has been succinctly highlighted by Matthew Rosenberg and Graham Bowley in The New York Times published on 7 March 2012. They mentioned that members of the corrupt Afghan elite include people tied to President Hamid Karzai’s inner circle, many of whom have profited from the crony capitalism that has come to define Afghanistan’s economic order; that, this business and political elite is defined by its corruption, and despised by most Afghans for it; and that, this pervasive graft has badly undercut the American war strategy, which hinged on building the Karzai administration into a credible alternative to the Taliban. However, they also indicated that Obama administration was rather reluctant to press on that corruption issue because it could further alienate Mr. Karzai and others around him whom Washington is relying on to manage a graceful drawdown. (6) It is thus obvious that any government ‘managed’ by the US to be formed with the inclusion of this Karzai associates group will not be able to keep Afghanistan peaceful during and after US/NATO partial withdrawal; because it will be vigorously opposed by the Afghanistan Taliban and other segments of Afghan masses alike; as also, because this corrupt group will only add further to the financial aid burden on US/NATO.

Even the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police, which are being organised and trained by the US as the backbone of the US design for the post-US/NATO sustenance of US ‘managed’ government, are not showing any signs of coming up to that required standard. Ben Farmer and James Kirkup mentioned in The Telegraph of 14 July 2010 that the Afghan National Police is widely regarded as corrupt and unreliable, and that ANA too is not coming up to the required standard. In that context they have quoted the report of US Defense Department’s Inspector General for Afghanistan, who had concluded that the capabilities of many “top-rated” ANA units have been “overstated” by NATO commanders and several units have not proved their capability of operating without NATO’s support; and the observation of Labour’s Paul Flynn, who described ANA as “a group of drug-addicted mercenaries” that could not be trusted and “Its members have little or no loyalty to their election-rigging president, their own government or international governments. (7) The New York Times editorial published on 20 October 2013 has also highlighted very recently, “Even in Washington, officials acknowledge that once American forces depart, the Taliban likely will gain ground, at least in rural areas. And the competence of Afghanistan’s 350,000-member security force remains in doubt, even after a $40 billion investment in American weaponry and training.” (8)

Besides that, the continuation of US funding for the Afghan National Army and Police cannot be assured. The same editorial of The New York Times of 20 October 2013 clarifies, “Proponents of a residual force say it is needed to protect Kabul and to pressure the Taliban to negotiate a settlement. They also argue that Congress is unlikely to keep paying for the Afghan Army and police, at a cost that could range from $4 billion to $6 billion, unless Americans are deployed there”. (9) That serious problem of maintaining the Afghan National Army and Police has also been highlighted by Stephen Bidden, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University and Adjunct Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, in the September/October 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs. He informs, “I recently spoke to a gathering of almost 70 senior congressional staffers with an interest in Afghanistan and asked how many of them thought it was likely that the ANSF aid budget would be untouched after one of these crises. None did”. (10)

The secret report of NATO, “The State of Taliban 2012″ dated 6 January 2012, published and commented upon by The New York Times on 1 February 2012, brought to fore many significant facts reported by the NATO experts. Those included (a) the report “abounds with accounts of cooperation between the insurgents and local government officials or security forces, as well as accounts from Taliban detainees who claim that in areas where coalition soldiers are withdrawing, the Afghan military is cooperating with the insurgents”; (b) many Afghans are already bracing themselves for an eventual return of the Taliban, many of Afghan government personnel have secretly reached out to insurgents, seeking long-term options in the event of a possible Taliban victory; (c) “Though the Taliban suffered severely in 2011, its strength, motivation, funding and tactical proficiency remains intact”; (d) “In most regions of Afghanistan, Taliban leaders have no interest in associating with Al Qaeda”; and (e) “the report covered extensive efforts by the Taliban to improve their relations with local people”—–”The report, which also included interrogations of non-Taliban civilians who were arrested after sweeps of their communities, cited the high marks the insurgents received for their judicial activities, which in contrast to many government court actions, were offered to people without demands for payments or bribes”. (11)

Upon this backdrop, it is clearly shown that the US design as reflected in the latest BSA is not workable. Factually, as mentioned by Stephen Biddle in the aforementioned issue of Foreign Affairs, the US has only two options to get out of the self-created quagmire in Afghanistan: “One is to get serious about negotiations with the Taliban. This is no panacea, but it is the only alternative to outright defeat”; and “The other defensible approach is for the United States to cut its losses and get all the way out of Afghanistan now, leaving behind no advisory presence and reducing its aid substantially”. He further commented, “Outright withdrawal might damage the United States’ prestige, but so would a slow-motion version of the same defeat — only at a greater cost in blood and treasure. And although a speedy U.S. withdrawal would cost many Afghans their lives and freedoms, fighting on simply to postpone such consequences temporarily would needlessly sacrifice more American lives in a lost cause”. (12)

However, the latest (5 November 2013) VOA report of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s address to the gathering of officials and strategists at a global security forum put on by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, clearly shows that US government is still inclined to pursue its rigid design. Secretary Hagel announced that “United States should use all of instruments of power, not just its military, to lead the world against terrorism and other threats”; and ” That strategy rests on operating with a smaller footprint, relying more on precise strikes by special operations forces and drones, training and assisting partner nations to deal with regional security challenges, and engaging in more humanitarian efforts”. (13) Those assertions unmistakably show that the US is still not prepared to stop causing the blood bath and wide spread human misery in Afghanistan. Though in the face of its coming deepest budget cuts in decades amounting to nearly a trillion dollars in the next 10 years, the US strategy involves reduction in the number of its deployed forces in Afghanistan, yet still continuing with increased precision strikes by special forces and drones in conjunction with the “partner’ (managed Afghan government) to keep the country subjugated.

It is obvious that the application of this US design/strategy in Afghanistan in conjunction with its managed Afghan government will surely result in vigorous infighting in the country. That scenario in all probability will entail retention/induction of more of US troops than the now estimated number of about 10,000, and continuation of de-stability in the region. The pertinent question, therefore, arises as to what benefit the US government expects to draw through the application of this design/strategy in Afghanistan against all aspects of logic? Surely the US public cannot be the beneficiary – a large number of US families are already suffering mental agony because thousands of their sons and daughters have been killed, wounded, and maimed, or have committed suicide, or have become mentally sick due the strains of this useless war. Very obviously, the only beneficiaries of this US design/strategy are the US elite controlling the US military industrial complex and their war-mongering associates.

References

1. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/10/12/kerry-karzai-to-have-third-round-
afghan-talks/ Accessed 28 October 2013

2. http:// www.afghanistan-analysts.org/not-signed-and-sealed-just-yet-kerry-and-
karzais-deal-on-the-bilateral-security-agreement Accessed 28 October 2013

3. http://ww.hufingtonpost.com/michael-shank/why-thekerry-karzai-afgh_b_ 4115010.html Accessed 28 October 2013.

4. ibid.

5. http://www.thenation.com/blog/176758/getting-good-enough-afghanistan#
Accessed 22 October 2013.

6. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/08/world/asia/corruption-remains-intractable-in-afghanistan-under-karzai-government.html?_r=0 Accessed 14 November 2013

7. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/7888751/Reliability-of-Afghan-army-called-into-question-by-Pentagon.html Accessed 21 July 2012.

8. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/21/opinion/an-exit-strategy-from-afghanistan.html?ref=opinion&_r=1& Accessed 14 November 2013 (Hereinafter cited as The NYT editorial. 20 October 2013).

9. Ibid.

10. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139644/stephen-biddle/ending-the-war-in-afghanistan Accessed 25 October 2013 (Hereinafter cited as Stephen Biddle. Foreign Affairs).

11. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/02/world/asia/nato-plays-down-report-of-collaboration-between-taliban-and-pakistan.html Accessed 15 November 2013

12. Stephen Biddle. Foreign Affairs. op.cit.

13. http://www.voanews.com/content/hagel-warns-against-too-much-reliance-on-military-power/1784115.html Accessed 6 November 2013