US policy and the war in Afghanistan
The American campaign in Afghanistan ends with a panicked and ill-organized mass exodus from Afghanistan. This US-led military adventure came to a head when the US abandoned this “never-ending war” and heartlessly abandoned Afghanistan. It was tantamount to accepting defeat in the face of the United States and its confused allies.
What caused this debacle for the United States?
Clausewitz had formulated the famous phrase: “war is the continuation of politics by other means” – widely acclaimed as a universal truth. Perhaps the unspoken caveat, however, is that politics and the war that ensues must necessarily always remain balanced, on the same level, with the same goals, objectives and end state in sight. If the political objectives change and the nature / conduct of war / strategy does not change (or vice versa), then this strategic disconnect will always result in failure and overall political defeat. The United States, through their Afghan campaign, have just demonstrated this to the world!
The American policy in Afghanistan and its derivative, the American campaign in Afghanistan, has been embodied in very poor design and formulation from the start and even more deplorable conduct. There was no clarity in the upper direction of the campaign at all. Persistent reports were of continuing disagreements between the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House over the conduct and prosecution of the war. At the regional level, they could only coerce a predominantly hesitant and unwilling Pakistan to align with their goals. (The Wars Within, by this scribe, The Nation, December 24, 2011). The military campaign suffered from a lack of strategic direction, constantly evolving operational strategies (counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, nation building, imposition of a Western parliamentary democratic system, etc.) and therefore ‘a persistent slippage of mission. The unrest has been compounded by militarily inexplicable troop increases and withdrawals, operational pauses to pursue other military objectives (Iraq) and virtually no well-defined end state or exit strategy. This damaged the credibility of the United States’ engagement in the Afghan campaign and must have created serious doubts in the minds of the soldiers as to the correctness of their cause and of the war. So, the continuum of this questionable policy and war predicted the predictable and calamitous end it ultimately met. The American soldier on the ground had no chance of winning the war. The fickle and fickle orientation of politics and higher (flawed) warfare ensured the ultimate defeat of the American soldier. These incompatibilities, inconsistencies and incongruities between American policy and strategy have proved fatal. The United States ultimately lost the balance, the plot, and the war with them.
On the other hand, the Taliban have shown remarkable focus, firmness and consistency in their policy and execution, with a political and military sense to gain the upper hand over the United States and its countries. allies. They not only foiled them on the battlefield, but also at the negotiating table. They have shown patience at the strategic level to break the political will of the United States and its allies and to outlast their economic endurance. As the United States and its bewildered allies got away with chaotically, the Taliban followed suit. In an astonishing maneuver, the Taliban juggernaut swept through Afghanistan, occupying urban areas and international trading posts thanks to the momentum of sustained military advances, a dominant military presence and posture, and negotiations to from a position of relative strength. They encountered little or no resistance from the ANDSF (deprived of critical air and ground support by the US military) or the various civilian administrations en route to Kabul. As a result, President Ashraf Ghani’s NUG simply collapsed and collapsed. Resistance to the Taliban onslaught was embodied in the despicable desertion of the Afghan people by Ashraf Ghani and his coterie of baggage handlers.
The United States could have simply declared mission accomplished, won, and left the region when it ostensibly killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 and allegedly decimated Al Qaeda into a non-threatening non-entity. However, he became entangled in the lofty, albeit self-defeating, ambitions of nation building and imposing Western-style parliamentary democracy in an essentially very traditional conservative tribal culture. Unsurprisingly, he failed on both counts. Soon after, other geopolitical imperatives began to weigh heavily on the United States’ decision to end its Afghan campaign in a proper and timely manner. The disturbing emergence of China (and its BRI-CPEC) in the Central and South Asian region and its assertive policies in the Indo-Pacific region have created new challenges for the United States. Surrounding China’s rise to power quickly became a decisive strategic constraint. This should have required a consistent change in US policy towards the region and its consequent strategy. However, the United States persisted in its inexplicable obsessive compulsion to defeat the Afghan Taliban, anticipating the emergence of an Islamic emirate, instead installing an Islamic republic and thus retaining a dominant influence in the country. Suddenly, he may have wanted to keep his grip on Afghanistan and prevent the Chinese and Russians from entering the region. It was far too complex an undertaking for the United States and its allies to understand, plan, and execute successfully.
The United States could also have achieved the same goals through another ploy. He could have made peace with the Taliban at the right time, brought them to a shared power deal in a malleable all-Afghan coalition and ensured them international recognition, credibility and legitimacy, economic, military and diplomatic support. Thus, they could then have achieved what is literally happening today at a much lower cost, with less loss of face, reputation, credibility – and a sustained presence in the region.
A massive paradigm shift in US policy toward the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is now inexorable. Will he be friends with the new government or will he (with India and Terrorism Central as spoilers) set the Panjshir Valley on fire, destabilize Afghanistan and the region to hold the Chinese and the Russians at a distance? How will he encourage neighboring RACs to play ball? Pakistan will therefore remain crucial for all the conceptions that American strategists now conceive for the region. In addition, Pakistan will remain inevitable for the future development of the region – geopolitically, geoeconomically and geostrategically.
Pakistan (and the United States) must recognize its central role in the future of the region and formulate mutually beneficial policies accordingly.