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Afghan lessons

Highlights

The Taliban have not been beaten. America and its NATO allies were either unable, or were unwilling, to stamp them out of their safe havens in Pakistan.

The Taliban have not been beaten. America and its NATO allies were either unable, or were unwilling, to stamp them out of their safe havens in Pakistan. After denouncing the Taliban for years, Washington forsook its man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, and began ‘secret’ talks with them in Doha without being clear about its goals

The end of NATO mission in Afghanistan and beginning of the country’s army and police taking over the responsibility has happened with 20 killed and 50 injured of a wedding party. The new era in Afghanistan and in the region is bound to be full of uncertainties and challenges. That the Kabul ceremony marking the official closure of NATO’s mission should have been held in secret speaks volumes for the end-result of America’s 13-year war in that country. What began as the “global war against terrorism” cost nearly a trillion dollars and human lives whose number is yet to be assessed. Launching Operation Enduring Freedom in the wake of 9/11, then US president George Bush wanted to stamp out Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.

That did not happen. The world grew weary of his Iraq and Libya misadventures and began to lose interest in Afghanistan. Thirteen years on, the bloodshed and destruction outweigh Washington’s measly, but expensive military successes. The Taliban have not been beaten. America and its NATO allies were either unable, or were unwilling, to stamp them out of their safe havens in Pakistan. After denouncing the Taliban for years, Washington forsook its man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, and began ‘secret’ talks with them in Doha without being clear about its goals.

Last month, close to the ‘drawdown’, which in effect is evacuation, the Pentagon announced it would not target Mullah Omar, the man whose head had a prize and other Taliban so long as they didn’t pose ‘a direct threat’ to the US. Who is going to determine whether an attack on Afghan security forces and civilian targets falls within the category of ‘a direct threat’ to the 12,500 troops the Pentagon has left behind? Will this small number achieve what 130,000 NATO troops couldn’t? Fearing body bags’ impact on their society in a ground war, Washington chose to fight the war from the air-conditioned control rooms dispatching drones. The other reality is that Pakistan, like the Afghan Taliban, set out the war. Both knew the US could not have been in Afghanistan indefinitely.

They are the net gainers, especially Pakistan, which kept destroying Kabul-bound American supply lines – and got paid for it. It is another matter that the non-state actors nurtured during this war have now turned against their sponsors. It is very easy to condemn the US and fear the worst from Pakistan, even apprehend loss of interest in Afghanistan in the world community. What is there for India that has helped in the Afghan nation-building, investing over two billion dollars? A review is called for, but not in a hurry. Ashraf Ghani, the new president seems neutral towards India. He chose to visit Beijing, Washington, Islamabad and Riyadh, but not New Delhi. His presence at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration has had little by way of a follow-up. India had been without friends in Afghanistan before, when the Soviets quit and when the Taliban came in. It cannot afford a repeat.

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