Afghanistan has long been marred by foreign invasions and civil wars, but never have we seen adoption of such an interesting blend of periodically transitioning roles, by the invaders. Almost four decades ago, Afghan Mujahideen were being trained and equipped by the contemporary invaders i.e. the United States against Soviet Union. More than a decade later, the Taliban regime was overthrown through American invasion of the country. Currently, the same outfit which was overthrown is negotiating with the US for gradual withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and an end to the prolonged 18-year conflict. This article looks at the reasons for American failure and argues that negotiating parties should not repeat the mistakes of the past while negotiating the final settlement for ending the conflict that has stretched to almost two decades now.
The American invasion has quiet visibly failed. The diversion of America’s focus towards Iraq during the Afghan invasion is regarded as a fundamental reason that provided a stimulus for the re-emergence of the Afghan Taliban. Furthermore, America never went all-out to win; primarily because they realized much earlier into the invasion that the level of resources and commitment that are required of them to be invested, in order to meet their objectives in Afghanistan, not only were they not worth deploying, but also, even if they ended up winning the war, the stakes were rather modest as well.
The failure of the nation-building campaign was due to many reasons: division of the country into many ethno-national groups, no historical traditions of democracy and a corrupt Afghan government which immensely hindered the disbursement of aid money towards the training of the armed forces of Afghanistan. Had all of this not occurred, America would certainly have been in a better position, from where it stands right now. Also, if the nation-building effort had been successful, resentment which is currently amounting to huge levels against the invaders would have subsided to some extent. Moving further, the evident disparity between America’s interests, its goals, and resources is by far the real reason why this war has lingered on for such a long period of time.
The failure of the nation-building campaign was due to many reasons: division of the country into many ethno-national groups, no historical traditions of democracy and a corrupt Afghan government which immensely hindered the disbursement of aid money towards the training of the armed forces of Afghanistan.
There is not much to look forward to for the foreign forces in this conflict. Bear in mind that this is not much different from the Soviet invasion that ended in 1989. Invaders might be different, but the agenda essentially remains the same: removal of an unfavorable government from power that poses a threat to the promotion of the intruding nation’s interests in the region.
Following the end of the Soviet invasion, Americans left hastily after breeding Mujahideen groups, hence creating a vacuum for instability and violence to occur. Had the wellbeing of the Afghans been a major concern of the great powers instead of their own self-centered interests, it should have been termed a miscalculation on their part. The Geneva Accords of 1988 not only pledged to completely cut-off all outside aid for the Mujahideen but also entirely disregarded them as a stakeholder in the future of their country. All of a sudden, the groups involved in ending the Soviet invasion were abandoned.
One can argue that due to the lack of foresight, the seeds of 9/11 were sown during this time when the Mujahideen were deliberately marginalized which essentially created room for radicalization and in-turn also caused the four years of infighting (1992–1996) among rival Mujahideen groups. This period of conflict ultimately brought the Taliban group to prominence. Regrettably, it took the Americans thirteen long years and two deadly civil wars (1989-1992) and (1992-1996) shattering Afghanistan along with 9/11 attacks to realize the extent of the mess they left behind. Consequently, the Global War on Terror was launched to overthrow the Taliban regime and eliminate safe havens of Al Qaeda, the outfit responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
However, 18 years later, the fight is still on with no end in sight. The situation on ground has changed a lot ever since, except that the Afghan people are still suffering from a brutal war that has brought them immeasurable deaths, dislocation and destruction. The peace process has stalled once again following President Trump’s announcement of cancelling meeting between the US officials, Afghan Taliban and Kabul regime at Camp David. There still appears no alternative, apart from negotiations for the conflicting parties, so peace talks are bound to resume.
Regrettably, it took the Americans thirteen long years and two deadly civil wars (1989-1992) and (1992-1996) shattering Afghanistan along with 9/11 attacks to realize the extent of the mess they left behind.
At this stage, resumption of dialogue should be the sole objective of all sides. Dealing with factors that are consistently contributing towards the widening of trust deficit amongst the negotiating sides and complete avoidance by all stakeholders in taking unilateral decisions concerning the future of Afghanistan would certainly set the stage for the resumption of peace process.
Furthermore, inclusion and appointment of arbitrators with the purpose of acting as guarantors for implementation of the agreement in letter and spirit and to avert cases of non-compliance should set the ball rolling. Regional powers such as China should be engaged to exert maximum pressure on the negotiating sides to seriously pursue talks.
Terms of a final agreement must include the recognition of the present Afghan government by the Taliban as an important stake holder and should in turn call for final negotiations between the two sides. The final settlement should be facilitated by regional countries and great powers. A final agreement should be aimed at formulating a new system of governance based entirely on consensus and the creation of a coalition government by the all-important stake holders of the country. If not anything else, one can only hope that it doesn’t end the way it did back in late 1980s.
Shahmir Niazi is currently pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in International Relations at National Defence University, Islamabad.