What was once deemed to be a minor military operation with the possibility of a quick victory has turned out to be nightmare for the America and the Western Allies and also a disconcerting affair to the whole of South-Central Asia. Although the initial motivation was to pursue and capture top al Qaeda operatives, none of this has been accomplished and instead Afghanistan remains a torn country with hopes of stability dimming with each dawning day. All manner of solutions have been laid on the table with most of these focusing on military solutions and on the escalation of foreign troops to help root out insurgents. For the last nine years since the war began, these strategies have either failed or have led to the exacerbation of the situation putting the relations between Afghans and the western troops at a rocky path. A critical analysis of the situation as it has been in the last nine years and also putting into consideration the locals’ sentiments about the war, the war forward for Afghanistan does not lie in escalation of troops but rather calls for a political solution combined with dialogue and compromise.The history of Afghanistan presents a unique read of a country that has for a greater part of its existence experienced numerous conflicts that have ravaged its people for ages.
The conflict between Afghanistan and the powers in Europe and America is not new but rather has become a recurrent phenomenon. Every time though, the country has demonstrated unmatched resilience and independence putting up a brave face in the face of heavy weaponry attack by the foreign powers. These external interventions and foreign backed aggressions have failed in their attempts to provide a lasting solution to the people. To understand the situation better and also the dynamism of the raging conflict, it is crucial to highlight the unique history of Afghanistan especially the numerous warring entanglements with the global powers.
The first glimpse of a conflict between Afghanistan and foreign powers dates back to the 19th century when British forces invaded Afghanistan in the height of rivalry between Russia and the British Empire. Having incorporated India into its growing empire, Britain felt that capturing Afghanistan too would have been a perfect strategy of halting any further expansion of Russia into the western frontier by installing a leadership in Afghanistan that was friendly to their cause. In what is referred to as the First and the Second Anglo-Afghan War, British forces were repulsed and devastated under the attack of Afghan fighters. This loss, despite Britain being the largest and the most powerful empire of the time, marked the beginning of resistances against foreign occupation and also the unofficial recognition of Afghanistan as a mass graveyard of foreign troops (Borer 233).The next major power to be locked into a conflict with Afghanistan over its interventionist streaks was the Soviet Union. Although at the request of the then Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, the intervention was a wider cold war ploy by the Soviets to consolidate their influence in the region. After the invasion, the Soviet troops found themselves against US backed insurgents resulting to immense deaths and wide devastations that slowly turned the public’s wrath against the Soviet (Zimmerman 106).
The Mujahideen fighters grew in strength backed by western financial and military aid until the Soviet forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan in 1989 having been dealt a devastating and humiliating blow that remains clearly etched into the memories of Russians and is a hallmark of the downsides of foreign interventions in Afghanistan (Saikal 209).A recap of these events and the various conflicts that have rocked Afghanistan sheds a light at the raging attitude that Afghans have against interventions and probably can be a pointer to the appropriate solution towards ending the war in Afghanistan. Indeed Afghanistan remains a war torn country after decades of conflicts both internal and external. The worst years in the Afghanistan’s history of governance have been recognised as during the Taliban era. This was a period that would witness fundamentalists take over the reigns of government and introduce strict Islamic laws that in the greater extent would alienate Afghanistan from its neighbours and also with the foreign powers. This group stayed at the helm of the country’s leadership until the invasion by the coalition forces.
Since the invasion by the American led forces, the situation in Afghanistan has moved from bad to worse and the numerous solutions have failed to bring hope to a people devastated by years of conflicts. The War on Terror that was the hallmark of Bush’s presidency has degenerated into a mammoth struggle as the people of Afghanistan push for their independence and sovereignty against the futile attempts by the United States to save its face. Most of the analysts of the situation in Afghanistan concur that Bush’s strategy though driven by good intentions was flawed from the start and that subsequent attempts to correct the situation have also led to the worsening of the relations between the foreign troops and Afghans over the formers claims of being subjugated in their own land (Crews & Tarzi 305).The decision to invade Afghanistan was made as a knee jerk response to the September 11th terrorist attacks, masterminded and executed by the Al Qaeda. Afghanistan hence was the first stop to Bush’s war against terror policy and was meant to root out the Taliban government which was considered to be the rock upon which the al Qaeda flung its actions. In addition to supplanting the Taliban government, the Afghanistan invasion was also supposed to facilitate the capture and eventual prosecution of the al Qaeda mastermind; Osama. While the Taliban government was successfully overthrown and replaced with a US friendly government, Osama remains at large and so do some elements of the former Taliban government who remain at large.
The original objectives of the Afghanistan invasion hence remain partly unaccomplished and the laid down exit plan have not been successful (Lansford, Watson & Covarrubias 115).The major headache to the coalition forces has been the increased incidents of insurgency and the regrouping of the Taliban elements in Pakistan. The post- Taliban government finds itself at the receiving end due to the increased disillusionment of Afghans with no prospects of peace and security coming their way. This is a fact exacerbated by the presence of Taliban’s and Taliban sympathisers in the western region of Pakistan. Western military strategists have in the last years concentrated on vanquishing the Taliban in Afghanistan while diplomatically pressurizing Pakistan to stamp out Taliban in its region.
The ushering in of Obama’s presidency was met with optimism that his administration would seek to pursue a lasting solution to the problems bedevilling Afghanistan. The surge in the number of American troops in Afghanistan has remained a controversial topic with military strategists maintaining it is the only prudent way to beef up the counterinsurgency efforts while others see the conflict as a play out of the situation in Iraq (O’Hanlon ; Sherjan 37).Indeed what most of these strategies pursued by the western strategists fail to recognise is the political aspect of the conflict and have failed to exhaustively pursue the political solution that may be the key to unlocking the deadlock. The enactment of a new constitution and the subsequent two elections held in 2004 and 2009 can be hailed as the steps in the right direction but they failed to accomplish the desired objectives due to the claims of irregularities in the electoral process. A superficial post-mortem of the 2009 presidential election indicates that they were marred with claims of voter intimidation and open election malpractices that greatly invalidated the results in the eyes of the public (Niblett 105). Allegations of the US involvement in the process also shaped the perception that the validity of the results was lacking and that the formed government was a puppet of the western powers and indeed the administration of President Harmid Karzai continues to be perceived as such. Such growing negative perception of the government and also of the western troop’s presence has led to the public’s disillusionment and formed a perfect breeding ground for insurgency (Institute for Social and Cultural Communications 12).A political solution to the raging conflict has been echoed by a number of leaders both in the region and also western political analysts.
British foreign minister David Milliband for instance holds the view that there is a need for a negotiation between the various ethnic and tribal groups in Afghanistan to strike a workable deal that will see the end to the conflict. Such a deal should also incorporate retired Taliban militants who have since severed links with the group (Barkin) Similar sentiments have been echoed by a former head of UN in Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi who sees the need for a comprehensive approach that encompasses the views of the neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan as the best approach. Indeed it is crucial that the western powers pursue a strategy that recognises the role of political negotiation bringing together the major players in Afghanistan and also the Pakistan government which has been directly affected by the war. A solution brought forth by a coalition government should also be explored to enable all warring factions to be fairly represented so as to pave way for the gradual withdrawal of the foreign forces (Wafa).
A political solution to the conflict however though tenable fails to capture the favour of most western military and political strategists. Though still committed to seeing a successful completion of the process initiated in 2001, they hold the view that any negotiation with the insurgents would be counterproductive and will have watered down the gains made in the recent years in the fight against terrorism. A negotiation with the Taliban for instance has been singled out as an attempt to bring back the dreaded regime through the back door. Civil and human rights groups in Afghanistan for example have been adamant in their criticism of any negotiations with the Taliban (Wafa).The sentiments expressed in opposition to pursuing a political process especially one anchored on negotiations with the insurgents are understandable. The Taliban, as above mentioned, represents one of the darkest regime in the history of Afghanistan and there was a sigh of relieve after its structures were brought down by the coalition forces. A negotiation and a probable compromise with the group hence evoke images of gross human rights abuse and the return of al Qaeda. However, it is crucial to point out that the increased offensive in Afghanistan by the coalition forces left the Taliban greatly weakened and helped root out the existing terrorist cells of al Qaeda.
The remaining Taliban elements and leaders might not be able to pose a major threat to the coalition forces but they will remain a thorn in the flesh and a quagmire to the peace process if they are not recognised and incorporated into the mainstream.It is without doubt that the issue of Afghanistan will continue to dominate the global arena for a number of years to come. The last few years of war and increased efforts by America and the western powers have not borne the desired fruits. Instead, the situation seems to be worsening with security of the civilians and also of the coalition forces greatly threatened by the rising cases of insurgency. Efforts that should be directed to reconstruction and maintenance of peace have been channelled towards counterinsurgency. It remains obvious that the problem will escalate further. It is also apparent that strategies employed to curb the situation have gravely failed.
As a way out hence, America and other western powers should seek for a political solution to bring the warring factions to the negotiating table while initiating a process of gradual scaling down of their troops to pave way for an Afghanistan-led peace process.