Implications of US mistakes in Afghanistan

With the Taliban claiming to have taken control of the whole of Afghanistan, it is time to engage with all the stakeholders to pave the way for an elected government

It is surprising to witness how the sole superpower lost the control of Afghanistan after staying in the country for 20 years, building infrastructure and installing pro-US pawns in government. Taliban, after 20 years, regained the reins of power in Afghanistan as Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund became the country’s supreme leader, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi are set to serve as Akhund’s deputies in the interim setup.

The blunders of the US include a lack of understanding of the situation, misreading the history of the Soviet invasion, wrong selections of heads of state in Afghanistan, corruption of the puppet rulers, weak Afghan security forces, and ignoring the key stakeholders in the formation of various governments in Afghanistan.

Some tragic scenes were seen as the Taliban entered Kabul, and how President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the Taliban took control of Kabul. Although the US succeeded in evacuating its staff from the US embassy and many other citizens, a chaotic situation gripped the entire country when the news broke regarding the Taliban getting control of Kabul and the presidential palace. Thousands of people gathered at the Kabul airport, wanting to leave the country amid the uncertainty and fear of being killed by the Taliban.

History repeats itself. Once upon a time it was the US that helped the Afghans to expel the USSR from Afghanistan. Now the same Taliban have compelled the US to sign the deal with the Taliban who were once branded as terrorists by the US. Time changes the course of action, and the deal was made final before Joe Biden became the president.

It is appalling how the superpower lost control of Afghanistan after 20 years despite spending millions of dollars on infrastructural development and training the ground forces. Regrettably, they could not stop the Taliban from getting control, and all their investments went in vain.

The US attempted to overhaul the entire system without understanding the complications, circumstances, and the culture of Pashtuns. Afghans are born warriors and kings of the mountains and have fought a war with the Soviet Union. The US failed to equip the ground forces to defend the country against the invasions of the Taliban.

For the last several years, the US appeared to be busy in engagement with the Afghan governments, first with Hamid Karzai, and later with Ashraf Ghani, but none of that helped to produce the desired results. Afghanistan remained disintegrated as it lacked unity and equal representation of all the stakeholders.

One wonders how the two-decade-long stay of the US and NATO forces on the Afghan soil could not maintain peace. It is evident that the US did not understand the social, economic, and cultural dynamics of Afghanistan. The tribal nature of Afghans has been their driving force for long, and their engagement in feuds and civil wars could have boosted their morale and capacity that the American investment of billions could not defuse. Many analysts are of the view that selecting the wrong people for the job was the main reason behind such a humiliating retreat that prompted the Taliban to take control without any resistance.

The former US Ambassador to Afghanistan P Michael McKinley admits in an op-ed that although the US was successful in eradicating the al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, it failed miserably to end counterinsurgencies in Afghan politics and nation building.

Given the circumstances in Afghanistan, the delay of a year or two for the withdrawal of the US troops would not have had any effect since the internal security of the country was volatile without any real writ of the state. Afghanistan remained a target of suicide bombings, bomb blasts and other terrorist activities as the rule of law was never formally established. The longest-serving president of Afghanistan did not win the hearts of people and made no efforts for unity. His government had no power, and it was just confined to the presidential palace.

Millions of Afghan refugees still reside in Pakistan and other neighbouring countries. They have no plans to return to Afghanistan owing to the uncertainty and violent activities of the previous Taliban regime.

The US also made a very striking miscalculation regarding the most nurtured and trained Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. Trillions were spent on their training, equipment, salaries, and perks, but it was all in vain as they could not defend the capital from the Taliban.

It is also arguable why the US despite their longest stay in any country could not develop a deterrent force that could guard Afghanistan after the US troops’ withdrawal plan. It was another of the serious blunders of the US that it weakened its control over the Taliban who only depend on ground artillery as they do not have any aerial equipment except some anti-aircraft guns of the Russian origin.

The Afghan soil has always remained a battlefield of the superpowers – the erstwhile USSR and the USA. Each tried to strengthen its foothold in the region. Asia is the biggest continent full of endless possibilities to explore if only these economic giants ever had a development angle. The world powers – be it the UK, the USSR, or the USA – played their dominant role in many Asian states but the result was always alarming.

The Soviet occupational forces tried to impose their regime by modernising Afghanistan, but the same big players came in to drive the USSR out of Afghanistan supporting anti-Russian forces.

There was another player that used the Afghan soil against Pakistan, and that was India. It was evident from the coverage of Indian news channels crying for Indian nationals and their families stuck at the Kabul airport in their bid for evacuation. It is lamentable that the peaceful neighbour Pakistan was also maliciously maligned for the mayhem at the Kabul airport. It was Biden administration’s wise decision to send more ground forces so that American nationals and diplomats could be evacuated without any problem.

The mess of the last two decades cannot be attributed to the Biden administration that has been in power for only a few months while forgetting the signatories of the peace deal and the perpetrators of the war on terror in which thousands of US and NATO soldiers, diplomats, and Pakistan army soldiers, officers and civilians lost their lives for being allies in the war.

Pakistan offered its soil for NATO supplies and military equipment as Afghanistan is a landlocked country, and all supplies are routed to Afghanistan from Pakistan. The Trump administration asked Pakistan to play the role of the peacemaker, and Pakistan did that willingly as a peaceful Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan and the region.

According to some security experts and leading opinionmakers, the US entered Afghanistan aggressively to trace the perpetrators of 9/11. The US had not studied the warrior nature of Afghans who have fought wars and faced civil conflicts. The US had not studied the geographic conditions and geostrategic locations, and that was one of the main reasons that despite their longest stay in Afghanistan they could not win the hearts of the people, barring some loyalists with a sound academic background who feared the violent Taliban behaviour.

The US favoured funding mostly through various financial institutions without engaging the people to have some form of a participatory government. Their handpicked leaders miserably failed to secure even their presidential palace as President Ghani fled at midnight, leaving the whole nation in a disarray.

There was also a leadership dearth to run affairs of the state in Afghanistan. The US having been stationed there for 20 years along with NATO forces could not develop a constitution that ensured the sustainability of human, civil and women rights, and a solid justice system. They kept on supplying fish instead of a hook, depriving the people of means to be self-reliant.

Taliban stayed alongside the US forces waiting for the right time to regain control of Afghanistan, and that became clear when Trump signed the peace accord and announced the US troops’ withdrawal.

President Joe Biden saved the lives of hundreds of Americans, Indians, Afghans and US diplomats as the US forces took control of the Kabul airport until its complete evacuation. Some casualties occurred as countless Afghans, uncertain of their future, rushed to aircrafts to flee a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Now when the Taliban claim to have taken control of the whole of Afghanistan it is time to engage with all the stakeholders to pave the way for an elected government. The new Taliban leaders seem to be composed and prepared to run the country, but they will face a serious economic crisis as time goes by. The world is watching with concern the changing situation in Afghanistan.

It is quite uncertain what the future of Afghanistan will be given its chaotic present and its tumultuous past. But it is hoped that the Taliban will establish a moderate government and pave the way for winning the trust of all the stakeholders of the country by protecting human, women, and minorities rights.