Asia Times Online- Why NATO cannot win the Afghan war
M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years, with postings including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and to Turkey (1998-2001), so his regional sense of events is devestating, echoed by Sen. Bill Frist’s remarks this week to incorporate the Taliban…
When the US brought up Hamid Karzai’s name in Bonn, there was widespread opposition by Afghan groups. In the perceptions of the Afghan participants at the Bonn conference, Karzai simply didn’t have enough standing as a political leader in the Afghan scene, having sat in exile in the US for the past several years, and being at a serious disadvantage insofar as he did not belong to a major Pashtun tribe.
But the United States pressed ahead regardless with Karzai’s name, given his closeness to the US establishment and his total dependence on US support. The US brought immense pressure to bear on Afghan groups present at Bonn to accept Karzai’s leadership. It was with extreme reluctance that the Northern Alliance leader, president Burhanuddin Rabbani, finally handed over the levers of power to Karzai.
While abdicating from power in Kabul in early 2002, Rabbani said he hoped that it was the last time the proud Afghan people would be bullied by foreigners. Anyone familiar with Afghan ethos and character could foresee at that juncture that Karzai would find it next to impossible to consolidate his grip on power, let alone establish his authority over the entire country. Indeed, that is exactly what has happened over the past five years.
US attempts to consolidate a Pashtun power base for Karzai have virtually failed. Equally, the episodic attempts to create dissension within the Taliban have also not worked. In turn, these failures led to large-scale Pashtun alienation. US efforts to marginalize the Northern Alliance and to enlarge the ethnic-Pashtun representation in Karzai’s cabinet have not had the desired effect of meaningfully tackling Pashtun alienation, either. Arguably, they may have created latent resentment among Northern Alliance leaders, which lies below the surface for the time being.
In other words, there is a fundamental issue of the legitimacy of state power that remains unresolved in Afghanistan. At a minimum, in these past five years there should have been an intra-Afghan dialogue that included the Taliban. This initiative could have been under UN auspices on a parallel track.
The inability to earn respect and command authority plus the heavy visible dependence on day-to-day US support have rendered the Kabul setup ineffective. Alongside this, the Afghan malaise of nepotism, tribal affiliations and corruption has also led to bad governance. It is in this combination of circumstances that the Taliban have succeeded in staging a comeback.
What lies ahead is, therefore, becoming extremely difficult to predict. Even with 2,500 additional troops it is highly doubtful whether NATO can succeed in defeating the Taliban. For one thing, the Taliban enjoy grassroots support within Afghanistan. There is no denying this ground reality.
Second, the Taliban are becoming synonymous with Afghan resistance. The mindless violations of the Afghan code of honor by the coalition forces during their search-and-destroy missions and the excessive use of force during military operations leading to loss of innocent lives have provoked widespread revulsion among Afghan people.
Karzai’s inability to do anything about the coalition forces’ arbitrary behavior is only adding to his image of a weak leader and is deepening his overall loss of authority in the perceptions of the Afghan people, apart from strengthening the raison d’etre of the Afghan resistance.
Third, it is a matter of time, if the threshold of the Taliban resurgence goes unchecked, before the non-Pashtun groups in the eastern, northern and western regions also begin to organize themselves. There are disturbing signs pointing in this direction already. If that were to happen, NATO forces might well find themselves in the unenviable situation of getting caught in the crossfire between various warring ethnic groups.
Fourth, at a certain point it becomes unavoidable that regional powers will get drawn into the strife. The fact remains that all Afghan ethnic groups enjoy a contiguous presence across the borders in neighboring countries. There is considerable misgiving among regional powers already over Washington’s hidden long-term agenda to bring Afghanistan, which has been historically a neutral country, under the NATO flag.
No amount of pious homilies about NATO’s role and objectives can obfuscate the geopolitical implications of the Western alliance’s occupation of a strategically important country far away from the European continent, which lies at the crossroads of vast regions that are becoming the battleground for global influence.
Without doubt, in the perceptions of regional powers, NATO’s defeat in Afghanistan can only mean the scattering of the US blueprint of domination of Central Asia, South Asia and the Persian Gulf.