US Failure In Afghanistan: Possible Way Out – OpEd


After 10 years of war in Afghanistan, the United States has no credible plan or strategy to make its way out. Although NATO has announced that it would finish its military operations by 2014 at a summit in Lisbon to achieve quick goals in Afghanistan and start withdrawal in next four years it is uncertain to achieve any considerable gains in Afghanistan in such a short span of time.

The US led alliance has failed in Afghanistan. In the last nine years they could not achieve any considerable success in Afghanistan. The security situation is worse than ever before, drug trafficking has touched record levels, civilian casualties have soared in the recent past, and there has been a rise in attacks on US led alliance that has deteriorated security situation in Afghanistan. Now the question arises whether the US led alliance can achieve what they claim in next four years? Can America and its NATO allies clear nine years of mess in next four years, such claims are beyond reality.

In reality America and its allies are looking for a respectable way out from the Afghan impasse.

First their military strategy has failed in Afghanistan, with the Al-Qaeda and Taliban now calling the shots in Afghanistan. Secondly public opinion in the United States and NATO is widely against the war in Afghanistan. Thirdly the Taliban has clearly conveyed this message that they will never negotiate with the US and its allies. Fourth most of the Pushtun community in southern Afghanistan supports the Taliban. Fifthly global , the economic recession has also compelled US and Europe to end its occupation in Afghanistan and avoid further economic and human losses.

There is no relative peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban are stronger than ever before. The overall safety and security situation is volatile and unstable in Afghanistan. Lack of basic infrastructure, government services and health facilities, a decrease in human resource development, drug trafficking, rising attacks on civilians and the US led alliance and corruption are the main characteristics of today’s Afghanistan.

Insurgency in Afghanistan is gaining momentum, making things worse for the Afghan Govt and US led alliance. From 2001 to 2010 the US- led Alliance has suffered 2,169 casualties. In the last two years more than 7,400 attacks had taken place in Afghanistan resulting in more than 2,400 civilian casualties. Public support of the US war in Afghanistan is also waning in the US, Afghanistan and regional countries. According to a recent CNN poll, only 37% percent of Americans favor the war in Afghanistan, and more than half of Americans believe the war has turned into a Vietnam-like quagmire.

On the other side Pakistan’s has paid a huge price in the shape of cross border militancy, drug trafficking, instability and turmoil in FATA, Khyber Pukhtun Khuwa (KPK), and Balochistan, suicide attacks across Pakistan, illicit refugees, drone strikes, IDPs, fragile economy and to some extent radicalization in Pakistan. Pakistan has always tried to deal militancy and terrorism in a pro-active manner. The Pakistan military has carried out successful operations in Swat, Malakand, and South Waziristan areas. It is currently engaged in Orakzai, Bajaur, Mohmand and other volatile agencies of FATA.

According to official sources, Pakistan has deployed almost one hundred and fifty thousand (1, 50,000) troops in FATA to cover almost twenty-seven thousand, two hundred and twenty (27,220 km)  kilometer area. If we compare it with the US led alliance, it has deployed almost 100,000 thousands troops for the whole of Afghanistan to cover almost six hundred and fifty thousand (652,230 sq km) area. (This is much higher than FATA). Such low level allocation of force would never stabilise Afghanistan. But Pakistan’s efforts had been irrefutable in the war against terror.

In addition to that Pakistan has carried out more efforts to curb the cross border insurgency and militancy from Afghanistan. It has installed almost 821 check posts, along the border with Afghanistan to curb cross border militancy, terrorism, drug trafficking and insurgency. But US led alliance and Afghan forces have not established more than 200 check posts, along the Afghan border.  The US and its allies in Afghanistan must do more to safeguard Pak-Afghan border, increase vigilance and surveillance at the border to curb possible infiltration from Afghanistan to Pakistani tribal areas.

Moreover, Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war against terror can never be forgotten. The Pakistan Army has lost more than 2,273 of its soldiers in last nine years, and the US Led coalition collectively suffered less than 2,238 casualties in last 9 years.

This shows Pakistan’s colossal efforts and seriousness in meeting the challenges of militancy and terrorism. US war in Afghanistan has also affected the relations between the US and Pakistan, one of the reason, is drone strikes on Pakistani tribal areas. American drone strikes are hampering the war against terrorism.

These strikes killed more civilians than the real targets. Drone strikes are counterproductive, because Pakistani people consider it as hostile move and violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan.

More than 106 drone strikes have taken place in 2010 alone, in which more than 800 people lost their lives. From 2004 to 2010 drone strikes have killed 67 high profile suspected militants and almost 2,000 innocent civilians. These strikes killed more civilians than the real targets. Civilian casualties will fuel more insurgency and militancy. In addition to that, these drone strikes are in sharp contrast to the “Pushtunwali code” of conduct of these areas. In the Pushtunwali code of conduct “Badal” (Revenge) is closely related to the notion of honor. “Badal” (Revenge) is the most important, dominant and greatest of all Pathan traits.

The urge to take revenge on his enemy, is infused in the very blood of a Pathan. So with Drone strikes Americans are provoking unending war in this region. According to latest survey report by Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training, 67% people of Swat believe that drone strikes have caused anger among the people and fueled extremism and terrorism. In an another survey by Pew Research Centre in Washington on July 30, 2010, two-third of Pakistanis oppose the US-led war in Afghanistan and roughly six in 10 think the US is an enemy.

The expansion of drone strikes would shatter Pakistan’s national consensus against militancy. This would endanger Pakistan Army’s efforts in South Waziristan, Swat, Orakzai, Khyber and other agencies. Technological imprecision in US drones has also resulted in the rise of civilian casualties in tribal areas. According to Rich Zimmerman, CEO of Intelligent Integration Systems, the targeting system is inaccurate by as much as 40 feet. And also suggest that the unmanned planes’ weapons aren’t as accurate as the agency claims. Such an inaccuracy would seriously result in higher number of civilian casualties in Pakistani tribal areas, provoking these people against Pakistan Govt and military. A UN report says that, “Drone strikes are against International Humanitarian law,” and the CIA operatives could be charged with war crimes for their participation in drone strikes.

There is a requirement that given the huge stake in the war against terror and the counter insurgency efforts, sufficient public policy space is created so that counter terrorism strategy can be employed and sink with domestic aspirations and opinion rather than in strong opposition. The US has to reconsider this policy because it would have terrible implications for the US and Pakistan in future. Afghanistan needs a regional solution, without the support of regional countries like, Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Central Asian States it is very difficult to bring long term peace and stability in this war ravaged country.

Regional states must contribute to the development, reconstruction and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. In addition to that, there must be joint task force of all these regional states to counter any threat to their national security. Intelligence sharing and cooperation between regional states will improve the overall security situation in Afghanistan. Moreover, Afghanistan and ribal areas of Pakistan did not see any major development in last six decades. Most of the people are illiterate and economically very poor. There is a need of a massive develtopment plan to create job opportunities for the youth and provide better education and health facilities to them. It is the only way to wipe out terrorism and extremism from this region.

Overwhelming reliance on military strategy must be abandoned. Up until now, and following numerous military operations, Afghanistan stands no closer to the immediate aftermath of the 9/11. There must be negotiations and dialogues between all the warring groups in Afghanistan. All ethnic groups should be given their due political role in Afghan government. The international community should come up with all out support and aid to help Afghanistan, before it could fall again in the hands of warlords or other criminal gangs. A long term solution of the Afghanistan crisis can only be brought by its own law enforcement agencies such as Army and Police. The international community and Pakistan must train Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, so that they can defend their country from any internal or external threats.

Stabilization in Afghanistan is a big challenge which needs lots of effort from international community. The security and stability of Pakistan is directly linked with the stability of Afghanistan, unless or until there is no peace in Afghanistan, we cannot expect peace in Pakistan. Sincere efforts are required by the US led alliance, and regional states to bring long term viable peace in Afghanistan. The US has to change its policy in dealing with Pakistan; it has to respect and honour the sovereignty and independent stature of Pakistan. America must trust Pakistan’s efforts and provide Pakistan with unconditional aid to combat terrorism and extremism in a more effective, constructive and a proficient way, only then long term peace and stability can be expected in the region.

Masood-Ur-Rehman Khattak

Mr. Masood-Ur-Rehman Khattak is working at the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) Islamabad as Research Fellow. He did his M.Phil in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad. His major research areas are Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia, Terrorism, Non-Proliferation issues, FATA, Afghanistan and Regional Security issues. Mr. Khattak is author of a book, US War on Terrorism: Implications for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has been published by German Publishers, Lap Lambert Academic Publishing on 31st August, 2010. Mr. Khattak has also written a Research Paper on “Indian Military’s Cold Start Doctrine: Capabilities, Limitations and Possible Response from Pakistan” - 2011, published by SASSI. He has organised/presented in scores of international conferences/workshops. Email: [email protected]

One thought on “US Failure In Afghanistan: Possible Way Out – OpEd

  • March 29, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Part of the problem is that Obama isn’t telling the truth about the real (strategic) reasons for the expansion of the US war on terror into Pakistan – nor about the CIA training and funding Baloch separatists in the tribal areas. In fact, many Pakistani analysts see Pakistan – not Afghanistan – as the real target.

    The Pentagon/CIA make no secret of their desire to see energy and mineral rich Balochistan secede from Pakistan to become a US client state – just like energy and mineral rich Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and the other former Soviet republics. Moreover it’s impossible to distinguish terrorist acts by the Baloch Liberation Army from those by the Taliban or Al Qaeda – especially around the Chinese-built Gwadar Port in Gwadar, Pakistan (the energy transit route for Iranian oil and natural gas destined for China). Given that both China and Iran are both major political/economic rivals, it’s a pity the US media doesn’t report on any of this.

    I blog about this at “Our CIA freedom fighters in Pakistan”


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