By Abid Mustafa
“The West has already failed in Afghanistan, just as the Soviets failed in the 1980s and the British way back in the nineteenth century.”–John Humphrys
After having fought for more than a decade in Afghanistan, America has yet to show any considerable gains for its brutal occupation. Nonetheless, there are some diehard American strategists who beg to differ, and argue that America has achieved its primary objective, which was to establish a few military bases in Afghanistan to counter Russia, China and the future Caliphate state for the eventual supremacy over Eurasia. But, even this lofty ideal when measured against the reality on the ground appears too remote to be categorized as a worthy accomplishment. On the contrary, the rampant instability in Afghanistan not only puts into jeopardy the viability of such strategic objectives, but more importantly raises questions about how long can America afford to stay stuck in the Afghan quagmire and continue to report failure after failure.
Clues about this very prospect were provided at the NATO summit convened in Chicago back in May 2012. Speaking about America’s ubiquitous nemesis the Taleban, Obama candidly admitted that they were a hardened opponent and whatever gains NATO had made could easily be undone. He said,”The Taliban is still a robust enemy, and the gains are still fragile. But think about it. We’ve been there now 10 years. Ten years in a country that’s very different, that’s a strain, not only on our folks but also on that country, which at a point is going to be very sensitive about its own sovereignty.” Just how much time does the world’s lone super power need with all of its sophisticated weaponry to defeat a rag tag army of no more than 25,000 or so? Did America not assemble under its supervision 400,000 soldiers—not to mentions the tens of thousands of private contractors— on both side of the Afghan-Pakistan border? After several years of warfare, America is still unable to crush their avowed adversary. Outgunned and outmanned Talban are definitely proving to be more than a ‘robust enemy’.
Equally unfathomable is that it has taken several years for the US to accept the fact that NATO is not only fighting the Taleban but also the Afghan people. The reference to “be very sensitive about its own sovereignty” is an admission by president Obama that NATO faces a popular resistance which cuts right across ethnic fault lines and trumps traditional tribal loyalties.
Another fiasco of America’s Afghan war is its exorbitant cost, which has placed a huge toll on the defense budget and this has been further exacerbated by the economic crisis of 2008. America has spent circa $550 billion on the Afghan war since 2001. Other NATO member states like Britain have spent in the region of $20 billion. Yet despite squandering billions of dollars of tax payers’ money, NATO has very little to show. Karzai’s government is corrupt to the core and hated by ordinary Afghans. Karzai’s writ does not extend beyond parts of Kabul, and if it does exist elsewhere, it is totally reliant on foreign forces. According to some estimates Taliban controls around 80% of Afghanistan. This probably explains why it is so difficult for NATO to hold on to territorial gains. All attempts to coopt the Taliban into a political solution have likewise failed.
The Financial Times summed up West’s sorry state: “Five years ago the Americans were refusing to speak to the Taliban. Now the Taliban are refusing to speak to the Americans. That is a measure of how the balance of power has shifted in Afghanistan. The western intervention there has failed.” Added to this is the human toll on NATO forces, which cannot be quantified in monetary terms. So it came as no surprise to find that the joint communiqué issued at the end of the Chicago summit expressed the collective desire of all the NATO countries to draw the curtain on their Afghan misadventure. The statement read: ‘After 10 years of war and with the global economy reeling, the nations of the West no longer want to pay, either in treasure or in lives, the costs of their efforts in a place that for centuries has resisted foreign attempts to tame It’.
Whilst 2014 (a date revised several times) is the final withdrawal date for most NATO countries, America and her opportunist partner Britain both steeped in arrogance have still not learnt their lesson and plan to stay beyond this date. No doubt they will do their utmost to delay the inevitable collapse of Karzai’s government and try and save face with their domestic audience. Concluding, the writing is on the wall; America and NATO are heading for a catastrophic defeat and no matter how hard they try to dress up their failings— their only success will be to unite and embolden Afghans along with their brethren across the border in Pakistan to claim the scalp of Pax-Americana and deal a devastating blow to NATO’s first ever mission in Eurasia.
Abid Mustafa is a political commentator whos specialises in Muslim issues and global affairs