By: Michael Hughes
T.S. Eliot once posited that “war is not a life: it is a situation, one which may neither be ignored nor accepted”. Yet U.S. policy in Afghanistan, borne out of ignorance and/or willful neglect, appears bent on doing both as America’s miscalculations continue to breathe life into a rag-tag acephalic insurgency – misbegotten strategies that shall likely yield a foreign military presence in Central Asia until the end times.
This same carelessness or purposeful pretermission is evident in recent U.S. efforts to shepherd the negotiations process between the Taliban and the Afghan government, as American policymakers make decisions without weighing predictable blowback and without understanding the core tribal values of Afghan society.
The American public has been trained by the media and U.S. policymakers to digest the world in Manichaen sound bites primarily driven by the election cycle as decision-makers and members of the press seem to be operating based on their own political agendas rather than on finding the most sound and peaceful resolution to the war, which has enabled policies based on unfounded predications to prevail.
It is past time for these false underlying assumptions to be shattered. The biggest of which is the belief that the U.S. must continue its lockstep support for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, for he is the crux of the problem. Allowing Karzai to lead negotiations is an exercise in futility considering his regime’s illegitimate ascension and consolidation of power via fraudulent elections in combination with rampant corruption has fed the insurgency, hence he is seen as a viable and trustworthy authority by neither the enemy nor the Afghan people.
The U.S. has also somehow failed to project the negative implications of safely escorting certain Taliban elements from their sanctuaries in Pakistan to Kabul to negotiate with Karzai and his newly-appointed peace council, specifically how the overreliance on Karzai to run this show has caused the proceedings to be perceived as a Pashtun power grab.
It’s hard to comprehend how the U.S. would fail to forecast that its enthusiasm for a Taliban power-sharing arrangement might trigger angst amongst the warlords of the Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek minority groups in the north. Former commanders from Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance told theThe Sunday Telegraph that non-Pashtun warlords were rearming their militias in response to these discussions for fear their old enemies might return to power.
U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke himself denied that this initiative would prove to be any sort of panacea. He accused the media of falsely portraying recent reconciliation talks with Taliban contacts as a formal peace process. Holbrooke explained how the enemy’s composition is so frighteningly labyrinthine the situation defies the construct of a standard settlement process. A typical negotiations framework will not suffice to bring stability to the region like it did in other conflicts he named, each complex in its own right.
“There’s no Ho Chi Minh. There’s no Slobodan Milosevic. There’s no Palestinian authority,” Holbrooke said in reference to well-known peace negotiations involving Vietnam, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Middle East. “There is a widely dispersed group of people that we roughly call the enemy.”
Holbrooke listed a few of the main disparate components of the opposition including al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), the Haqqani Network and Laskhar-e-Taiba. In a disarmed moment of honesty Holbrooke then uttered:
“Now, I’ve just listed five groups. An expert could add another 30. So the idea of peace talks … doesn’t really add up to the way this thing is going to evolve.”
One would hope Holbrooke would be such an expert, underlining the gist of the dilemma which is, namely, that U.S. ignorance of Afghan history and culture has caused it to prescribe contraindicative remedies, once again, to conditions it helped create in the first place.
Unfortunately, the predilection to internationalize the negotiations process while Afghanizing the war, although understandable considering the Karzai regime’s illegitimate status, is not the answer either because the Afghan people will not accept a foreign-designed settlement.
The biggest misunderstanding on America’s part is found in their inability to grasp that neither Karzai nor the Taliban are seen as indigenous, because Karzai is viewed by Afghans as a U.S. puppet and the Taliban movement is perceived as a Saudi-Pakistani phenomenon. Hence, the only political solution feasible is one that is Afghan in nature.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures; hence the New World Strategies Coalition (NWC) has submitted a white paper that outlines an Afghan solution in which a game-changing approach is prescribed that turns convention on its head by advocating a series of All-Afghan Jirgas be held to decide a new leader and a new form of government and to restore Afghanistan’s sacred tribal structure.
The first couple of rounds would be conducted offsite in nonaligned unoccupied countries and the finale held in Afghanistan to announce the new government. This native solution would be 100% designed, developed and implemented by Afghans, for Afghans with zero involvement from any other foreign power.
NATO presence is required not for offensive purposes but to serve as an interim protective force only. As noted by everyone from Holbrooke to Petraeus, the U.S. cannot capture and kill its way to victory. If anything, the current military onslaught is serving to only strengthen the enemy.
The final conventional thinking that must be addressed is this near unanimous obsession on a “regional” agreement that should include countries like Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia. First things first – let the Afghans choose their own destiny. Regional economic pacts will be critical to Afghanistan’s long-term future but let’s not make the same mistake made at Bonn, in which Afghanistan’s future was architected under UN auspices which allowed other global actors an opportunity to dictate Afghan affairs.
The bane of Afghan existence for the past 30 years has been the meddling of foreign powers that have imposed non-indigenous ideological and religious doctrines beginning with the U.S. and Soviets using Afghanistan as a Cold War chessboard in the 1970s. Saudi Arabia took advantage of Afghan dislocation from this conflict to fund the rise of Wahhabi Islamic orthodoxy by erecting countless madrassass in Pakistan’s border regions which led to the birth of the Taliban and the flourishing of Al Qaeda, while Pakistan’s intelligence agency used U.S. funds to create themujahideen which eventually led to the warlord avarice that plagues Afghanistan to this day.
The key to Afghanistan’s future thus lies not in forging an unholy alliance after breaking the back of the Taliban, but rather in first smashing asunder devastating assumptions beginning with the misnomer that Afghans would ever choose to live under a regime of corrupt Westernized bureaucrats and religiously psychotic warlords who espouse belief systems anathema to thousands of years of Afghan tribal sensibilities.