Afghanistan has been an area of military conflicts and rivalries between world powers, non-state actors and other interest groups during the past decades. Ever since the military intervention of former Soviet Union in December 1979, the country has witnessed an array of deadly battles, destruction, human rights violations and destitution. The endless war which is not at all in the interests of the people of Afghanistan but for the hegemonic gains and profits for certain powers, has become the blight for the social, cultural, religious and economic basis of the country.
Both the interventions [first of the Soviet Union in 1979 and then of United States in 2001] have certain similarities which make it more significant for the intervening nations. The 1979 intervention, according to the Soviets, was the result of a request placed by the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan regime (PDPA) for immediate military assistance against a rebelling ‘Mujahedeen’ and therefore for the survival of a puny Marxist government in Kabul. The 2001 United States intervention was quite different in this respect. It was originated from the revenge and retribution of 9/11 and aimed at toppling a Taliban regime backed by al-Qaeda. The interventions espoused by both the powers ultimately resulted in an eternal war which put them in a state of dither from where a winning retreat was almost impossible.
It is revealed in the 90s that the stage was set by the U.S defense mechanism for the Soviet intrusion months before it actually occurred. In June 1979 itself, President Carter has signed secret orders to fund the ‘Mujahedeen’ against a possible Soviet military intervention. As the then U.S National Security Advisor Brezhenski put it, the U.S administration eagerly waited for the Soviets to come to Afghanistan where they could trap Soviets for almost a decade. Soviets had to pay a heavy price for their misadventure as the Afghan trap was a bleeding wound for Soviet Union, economically, militarily and politically. On the other hand, the bogey created from the malicious intrigue of C.I.A and I.S.I, the Mujahedeen, in the new shape of Taliban, has vowed to bedevil their own creater, which is the U.S itself. The former Soviets are laughing with glee.
We could, but only suspect, hidden plans of al-Qaeda about an Afghan trap for the United States. It is of no doubt that Afghan intervention was the bane of an already impotent Soviet Union. Some of the Mujahedeen leaders, who frazzled the Soviet Army through guerilla tactics and exploiting the geographic, ethnic and religious peculiarity of the region, were at the top of al-Qaeda and Taliban in 2001. In that decade, the United States had abandoned the shibboleth of ‘Islam in danger’ which was deliberately used for exploiting the religious feelings against a Communist aggressor. After emerging as the self-styled official government of Afghanistan, Taliban with the help of al-Qaeda, seemed to be in a position to strengthen itself through the resources obtained from the nation under control and massive strategic backing from the I.S.I. For the next five years, after attaining power in 1996, they tried to consolidate their resources and cadre through a spirited campaign against United States portraying the Americans as the ‘Enemies of Islam’. Now was the turn of capitalists after the dire end of the more dangerous Communists.
All these years, the Taliban fought a poignant war with the more liberalists, the Northern Alliance led by Barhanudeen Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Massoud. The Northern Alliance, in fact, was weak against a vigorous Taliban but succeeded in persuading a perennial campaign against Taliban. It is probable that al-Qaeda, led by the infamous Bin Laden, was of certain belief about a possible US military intervention in Afghanistan after their deadly attack on the twin structures. Taliban strongly believed that United States will surely strengthen the Northern Alliance cadre against their regime and understood the inevitable but immediate necessity of liquidating the military arm of Northern Alliance. Two days before the 9/11, two al-Qaeda suicide bombers, in disguise of a TV crew, murdered the most efficient military commander of Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud. On the contrary, Massoud has warned the United States of a possible attack before his untimely death.
The destruction of twin towers and enormous blow to the so called ‘American Pride’ made the US administration to take an intransigent approach to the non-state actor who boasted of committing the crime. The United States was in a trap and brought itself to the pandemonium of conflicts. Even though the US succeeded in replacing the Taliban with the liberal but a puny democratic government in Kabul, it is not clearly winning the war. Afghan war has weakened its economy but unlike the Soviet Union, which was already in abyss before the Afghan campaign, the US is strong enough to keep its status as a sturdy nation but not as the sole world power. But the enormous vitality and impetus shown by the Taliban, even after their failure to recuperate the power in Kabul, in continuing the combat against a technically and militarily far superior army, has dejected the morale of the US defense policy makers. Although the US military authorities are reciting about the military triumphs achieved in Afghan soil, it is crystal clear that they have been at the receiving end throughout the whole decade.
The thorny question is whether the US diplomats failed to foresee the probable result of a war in Afghanistan where they had witnessed an ominous end of Soviet Union just a decade ago. It was an old art of maneuvering, effectively used by the United States itself in the same country under almost same conditions. But when a visibly powerless non-state actor like al-Qaeda used the same tactic against the sole lasting world power, it was defenseless. 9/11 is seemed like a trap created by al-Qaeda to bring the United States to their stronghold forcing them to wage a continuous but un-winning war and eventually compelling them to their knees.
The Afghan war has changed the entire world arena. The much discussed unipolar world view has vanished into viblion. A new world order, a multipolar world, where even the non-state actors like terrorist organizations and other interest groups have a clear say is in the making. The United States, the sole world power after the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991, has espoused unnecessary military obligations and engaged in wars that cannot be won. It has been the result of the failure of US policy makers in making a constructive and long standing defense policies in place of short term agendas and decisions based on vanity. The lack of sagacity and pragmatism in the shaping of foreign and defense strategies of the US during the embryonic years of the 21st century has prompted them to formulate a bashful compromise with their enemy number one, terrorism.
Even though tensions continue to flare, the US military authorities must concede to a mutual concession without which peace would be a distant hope in Afghanistan. Taliban may be considered as an organization of bigots and religious fanatics but they are in possession of the key to the strategic and constructive dialogue process to ensure peace in Afghanistan. However, if the US would agree to invite Taliban to have a discussion in return for ending the lethal attacks against government troops and institutions, it will be the failure of United State’s Afghan strategy. Anyway, above the failures and gains of outside powers and parties, the people of Afghanistan and their aspirations for a stable, peaceful and prosperous state is more vital. For this to happen, an environment of hope and optimism must be created where negotiations may be conducted. We hope for the best.
By Ganesh Hari Prakash