Afghanistan: Never Again
The title of this article is part of a quote from the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Ivanov. Attending a seminar in Singapore on regional security, he confided that his government was rendering useful help to the ISAF and the US in Afghanistan, including intelligence input. During the question-answer session with the delegates in the Shangri-La Dialogue, it was insinuated if such help could include committing Russian forces to join other allies against the Taliban. The Russian Deputy PM promptly retorted: “Never again a Russian soldier would enter Afghanistan.”
I think you understand why. It's like asking the US whether they would send troops to Vietnam. Emphasising his point he followed it up by stating: "It is something like that. It is totally impossible." In between, he also conceded that he could not disclose the scope and pace of cooperation between his country and the US on Afghanistan to the media. However, he had had serious discussions with his counterparts at this forum like the others.
Considering the quagmire effect which the US is experiencing in Afghanistan, such conferences or dialogues are regular exercises all over the world wherein politicians and intellectuals from the ISAF generally project their mental prowess with analysis relying on media coverage and a reference to history. More often than not, most of them have not even a nodding acquaintance with Afghanistan and FATA, and their culture. Thus, while such exercises are scholastically and for projection purposes in the media, they yield precious little information about the ground realities and the sufferings of the people either due to atrocious use of force, 'collateral damage' or 'friendly fire'. Like all foreign forces, the US often takes a long time to concede that it has committed an atrocity.
Perhaps, accepting responsibility for a miscalculation or overreaction to an assumed threat induces such self-defence mechanism. No wonder arguments are always found to confound any crisis which may have been crime in some other situation wherein no US personnel is involved. In nine years, no US trooper has been held accountable. Hence, war communications are utilised to whittle down what would be a war crime for killing innocent civilians, per se. The only ones who paid for their sin were the Germans whose costly mistake in Kunduz made the then Defence Minister to resign.
Despite all the media hype and help from the former enemy, Russia, which finds a way to avenge the loss of the Soviet Empire from the principal enemy - the Pashtuns, a US policy-shift appears to be on in Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton had recently claimed that the US was fully braced for interacting with a multipolar world. The way Hamid Karzai went ahead with his peace jirga, despite the US silence, indicates that he had acquiesced to his mentors in Washington DC. It touted the old charm offensive propagated by the Afghan President for quite some time by way of befriending the "alienated brothers."
In this context, Karzai has already ordered the release of all those innocent people, who were imprisoned at Bagram on the US diktat. This will set into motion a process whereby some of the sins of the Ancient Regime would get whitewashed, which may promote some understanding. While it is yellow phosphorus for the neocons, being freely used by the Israeli pilots in bombing civilians in Palestine - thanks to the US support, it remains a very efficient tactic as per the Afghan culture. As per the tradition, if death is caused by an aggressive act, the surviving male members of the departed soul must take revenge by killing the murderer or a close relative.
However, if the aggressor repents publicly and offers to sue for peace or settlement, then a jirga gets convened. The binding provision is a public apology for the sin or offence of murder, followed by a settlement in terms of blood money. As for the timeline for taking revenge even a century is not considered enough; it can get prolonged if so warranted by the circumstances. It is because of such a tradition and mindset that the Taliban believe that the US would have to withdraw or come to terms to end the “occupation” as time is on their side. Something that is almost impossible to understand for an American 'good guy' just as it was for the last US president, who was a Texan and who had not even seen London or Paris before he was hustled into the White House by special interests. Now it is very easy to see what his legacy is and how the US is paying for its electoral follies due to the ignorance or disregard for the world.
Accordingly, Richard Holbrooke admits that the US, with all its fire power and 'misuse' of air force, cannot score a conventional win in Afghanistan. Attending an international conference in Madrid on non-military ways to end the war in Afghanistan, he went on to say: "Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory." What a sea change from the arrogance in the bragging of Dick Cheney, who may suffer from another heart attack for what he did to the US by misguiding a charlatan President to promote vested interests. This endorses openly the policy being pursued by President Karzai with the backing from the Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. A follow-up also took place in Istanbul as the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan met to give a boost to Karzai's project.
Unfortunately, the Taliban treated the peace jirga as a ploy. So far this has been their consistent stand. Their belligerence also got reflected in the violence, which killed five NATO troops and by the lobbing of missiles at the peace jirga during last week. The IEDs are proving to be a dangerous nuisance for the foreign troops, despite their incomparably superior technology.
The US will have to proclaim openly that it is suing for peace with the Taliban, and word it the way it is politically expedient for it. As time goes by, the hole dug by the neocons will get deeper. Pakistan's help would be invaluable, despite the spectre of Indian conflict of interest with the new policy.
The writer is a former Secretary Interior of Pakistan.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010