The Afghan War: A Bird’s Eye View
“Celebratory gunfire rang out in the Afghan capital on August 31 as the Taliban took control of the airport after the withdrawal of the last American troops, marking the end of a 20-year war”, reports a daily English. After the last flight left, the Taliban spokesman called it “a historic day and a historic moment.”
“We are proud of these moments, to have liberated our country from a great power,” he added. It was indeed a day of rejoicing for the Afghans.
After 18 long years of bloodshed and procrastination, US leaders have come to recognize the improbability of finding any solution to the war in Afghanistan other than sitting around the table with the Taliban. The talks culminated in the February 2020 Peace Accord which paved the way for the evacuation of foreign forces from the country and the return of the Taliban to power.
The war not only brought disaster to the gates of Afghanistan, but also took a heavy toll on Pakistan in terms of human and economic losses. Brown University’s 2018 âCosts of War Projectâ report made painful revelations to the world. Even the American public who had remained largely indifferent to the loss of American life in the wars waged in the remote regions of Southwest Asia and the Middle East had to be shaken up.
The report states that the number of war-related killings in Pakistan has reached 65,000 in all these years. This included civilians and security personnel.
“The report added:” As of October 2018, the death toll in Afghanistan stood at more than 147,000 people, including Afghan security forces, civilians and opposition fighters. Some 6,334 American soldiers and contractors, as well as more than 1,100 Allied soldiers also lost their lives between 2001 and 2018. â
The actual number of Americans injured, disabled, or suffering from psychological illnesses has been kept secret for fear of causing public unrest; revive the bitter reminiscences of the indignation of the American public at the Vietnamese victims.
All the panting, buzzing and naked threats have not sidetracked Pakistan from its avowed policy of a solution “designed and owned by the Afghans”.
The United States remained involved in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and in many other countries; expand coalition support funds to its allies in counterterrorism wars, including Pakistan, over the past 17 years. However, this financial aid to Pakistan was halted in 2017 due to differences between the two countries over the Afghan conundrum. The Brown University report suggested that the United States spent more than $ 5.6 trillion in its war on terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
US funding for reconstruction programs in Iraq and Afghanistan was between $ 170 billion and $ 180 billion. Most of these funds were used to arm security forces in both countries, while money allocated for humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of civil society was lost due to corruption, fraud, of the waste and abuse of the rulers installed in power by the United States. There was no accountability system in place to ensure transparency in the use of funds. They got away with their booty unscathed.
Pakistan had consistently advised US leaders to recognize the reality on the ground and enter into direct talks with the Taliban to end the escalating Afghan war. The Trump administration has severely tested its policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” on Pakistan. Enraged voices were not lacking in the US Congress and Senate; calling Pakistan one of the main “enemies” of US foreign policy. This was due to his alleged tolerance of Taliban shrines on his soil, even though he cooperated with the United States in Afghanistan in other ways.
They had no qualms about cutting off aid to Pakistan by keeping more than 70,000 troops along the Durand Line to prevent the Taliban from using its soil as a springboard for attacks in Afghanistan. They even stopped the disbursement of coalition support funds to it. They also threatened to identify and punish Pakistani individuals and organizations, or to strike Taliban targets in Pakistan without restraint.
All these resounding, buzzing and naked threats did not distract Pakistan from its avowed policy of a solution to the war “designed and owned by the Afghans”. In Pakistan’s view, no lasting peace would be possible in Afghanistan without the involvement of the Taliban. However, America’s leaders have taken this long to understand the realities on the ground.
The quest for peace in Afghanistan was given a boost with the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as special envoy to Afghanistan with the mandate to launch the process of direct dialogue with the Taliban. The emerging consensus for a regional initiative called the “Moscow Format” led by Russia with the support of China, Pakistan and other countries for a lasting negotiated solution to the war in Afghanistan, was an important step to put pressure on American leaders.
Despite formidable differences, the peace agreement was finally signed between the United States and the Taliban on February 29, 2020, with a deadline for the withdrawal of American troops and NATO. However, the collapse of the Afghan National Army; the fall of the puppet regime of Ashraf Ghani and the chaotic withdrawal of American troops and NATO were all consequences of the mismanagement of the situation by the American political and military leaders. Unfortunately, the abrupt flight was reminiscent of the Saigon debacle.
What did the United States get from the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria after killing more than 507,000 people? Apparently, America’s main goals were to establish democracy, the rule of law, the protection of human rights, and the extermination of terrorists. Did the United States achieve these goals after suffering enormous loss of human life and American treasury? Afghanistan is still mired in political instability and teeming with militant outfits. Iraq is plagued by a Shiite majority under Iranian influence. Syria is trying to maintain a semblance of a viable and sovereign state, with Russia, Iran and Turkey deeply involved in keeping opposition groups trained and armed to the teeth by the Arab allies of the United States at bay. . Libya almost disintegrated into three warring power centers. Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are teetering with the lingering dire consequences of wars in the Middle East.
Would America’s leaders, with their short memories, learn a lesson from refraining from military excursions outside their borders? No chance!
The author was a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service and is the author of two books.