By Sabina Khan
US President George W Bush had said right after 9/11 that God had told him to invade Afghanistan. Ironically, this righteous claim sounds similar to the ones made by terrorists under the pretence of jihad. After ten years of war to install a democratic government and free the men and women in the conflict ridden country, what has actually been accomplished in Afghanistan? Is the world a safer place now that the US is preparing to withdraw their forces? Has terrorism been eradicated? As the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline nears, these questions deserve consideration.
In response to the 9/11 attacks, Bush called for an invasion of Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda’s sanctuary. Long-term objectives of the effort comprised establishing a democracy and eliminating circumstances which led to terrorism. Being unable to convince the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, the US strategy evolved to include killing and capturing their leaders, Mullah Omar being high on that list. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency picked up and the death toll began to increase. Opium production flourished during this period as there were few other sources of income.
When US President Barack Obama took power in 2008, he shifted the focus back to Afghanistan and redefined the objectives. In 2009, he deployed an additional 30,000 troops and stated that his goal in Afghanistan was to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda”. In 2009, Defence Secretary Robert Gates stated that “at a minimum, the mission is to prevent the Taliban from retaking power… and turning Afghanistan potentially again into a haven for al Qaeda and other extremists”.
In his recent speech, Obama announced that 33,000 troops are being withdrawn by the summer of 2012 and that transition of power to Afghan security forces will be complete by 2014. Currently, Afghanistan’s newly-formed military consists of 150,000 soldiers but their ranks are scheduled to swell up to 260,000 in time for the 2014 deadline. Despite Nato’s efforts to train Afghan soldiers to read and write at the third grade level, almost 90 per cent of the recruits in the Afghan military are illiterate. High levels of desertion and infiltration also plague the Afghan security forces, which adds another aspect of uncertainty with the transition of power. Moreover, several insurgent groups remain firmly established in Kunar and Nuristan provinces, which border Pakistan’s tribal areas. Consequently, cross-border incidents have risen between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Several hundred militants crossed into Pakistan and conducted attacks in Upper Dir, Bajaur and Mohmand. In retaliation, Pakistan fired rockets on the border to target militants crossing over. Needless to say, relations between the two neighbours are troublesome.
This September marks ten years since the atrocious events of 9/11. Bin Laden is dead but al Qaeda remains very much alive. Conflict has spilled into Pakistan with death and destruction becoming a daily part of life. Meanwhile, the US has come full-circle and is now negotiating with the Taliban and preparing to allow them back into the official government. A recent and well-timed UN resolution draws distinction between al Qaeda and the Taliban. The pretext being that the Taliban only focus on conducting attacks in their own country unlike al Qaeda who carries out attacks worldwide. Thus, the Taliban have been removed from the UN sanctions list in order to help the US with their reconciliation efforts. These games do little to conceal the fact that the Afghan government is corrupt and poor. On top of that, their security forces can switch sides at any moment if enticed with money or threats. Despite the US government’s desire to keep Pakistan separate from their negotiations with the Taliban, it is time to face reality, the situation along the porous border remains and will continue to be a challenge for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Hence, a comprehensive regional solution is required for long-term peace instead of a rushed secret backdoor deal which will certainly be short-lived. Our neighbour has been in a state of continuous conflict since the late 1970s. The ultimate resolution involves education and economic development, which entails long-term dedication and commitment from interested parties that are directly affected by the war in Afghanistan.