Friday, September 16, 2011

Afghanistan: End-game or outright humiliating defeat?

Bin Laden is a rational actor who is fighting to weaken the United States by weakening its economy, rather than merely combating and killing Americans. Michael F. Scheuer

Afghanistan end-game will lead to the world to square one. With US economy in shambles, China rising both militarily and economically, South Asian region totally destabilized, the only thing the super power should have done now but is allergic to is: introspection. No one seems to have realized that the Afghanistan misadventure has left the world more insecure and unsafe than it was before 9/11. The endgame now looks like retreat with no honors. It is now clearly being seen as outright humiliating defeat. The weakened America will disturb the world order and the sight on the horizon is not a pleasant sight; chaos is writ large all over. This chaos will no more be the usual destiny of poor and poorly governed nations. This chaos is spread across the globe. The remaining period of the century now clearly belongs to insurgents, extremists, terrorists and hate-mongers.

The Afghanistan misadventure has not only changed the world; it has distorted its civil and human face.

The latest Taliban attacks, multiple and coordinated, in Kabul and most notably on its “ring of steel” protecting strategic enclave were surprise attacks. But these did not come as a surprise as those watching the development were expecting massive blows like this one to the world’s mightiest forces. The area houses NATO headquarters, the U.S., U.K., and other embassies, and offices of major Western NGOs. The security cordon attacked involves concrete barriers and is equipped with state-of-the-art apparatus - including CCTV and metal detectors. It is manned round the clock by heavily armed personnel and police sniffer dogs, specifically deployed to stop suicide bombers and attackers from bringing explosives and arms into the city.

Taliban’s ability to carry out this multi-target and multi-location but finely coordinated operation in the Afghan capital lays bare the depth of the U.S.-NATO failure in the country. Nearly a decade into the U.S.-NATO occupation of Afghanistan no section of the country is secure; not even the heart of the capital. Apparently only six Taliban fighters kept Afghan and NATO forces engaged for over twenty hours in the Wazir Akhbar Khan district.

Do these attacks suggest that fate of the NATO forces in Afghanistan is not going to be any different from that of the USSR?

Shrewd Taliban strategists are employing the same tactics which were used to economically bleed the Soviet Union. Michael F. Scheuer, a former CIA intelligence officer, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst, depicts bin Laden as a rational actor who is fighting to weaken the United States by weakening its economy, rather than merely combating and killing Americans. He challenges the common assumption that terrorism is the threat that the United States is facing in the modern era, arguing rather that Islamist insurgency (and not "terrorism") is the core of the conflict between the U.S. and Islamist forces, who in places such as Kashmir, Xinjiang, and Chechnya are "struggling not just for independence but against institutionalized barbarism." He lost his job for stating the obvious that US-Israel relations were a threat to America’s national security.

In his latest article which appeared in The National Interest, Michael F. Scheuer says that there is no way to obscure our defeat as Obama, Hillary Clinton, McCain and others have labored to do in Iraq. The Taliban-led insurgency has spread across Afghanistan, and the pattern of their operations has grown familiar and apparently unbreakable. The insurgents are ascendant in any area of the country they choose to occupy until NATO forces arrive. At that point, they move out of NATO’s path to another region and establish ascendancy there. All Petraeus and his counterinsurgency advisers were able to do with the troop surge is what had been done before: U.S. and NATO forces dominate any piece of ground they stand on out to a distance defined by the reach of their weapons. Beyond that small area the insurgents are in charge, and as soon as coalition forces depart they reacquire control of the ground on which NATO stood. Interestingly, this is exactly the reality the Soviets encountered in the 1980s and that the British encountered a century earlier. Perhaps Petraeus’s counterinsurgency gurus—John Nagl, David Kilcullen, etc.—should have read a little history pertinent to their task.

When the Obama administration decided troops’ surge, they had two goals in mind. These may be well-meaning goals but were largely unattainable. One was to train Afghan military, security, intelligence and police forces so they could maintain stability without the aid of foreign forces. On 13 September, all those services failed: they had no intelligence that warned of the attack; they did not detect Taliban fighters moving into position for attack; and they could not repel the attackers without the help of U.S. and NATO troops. The surge’s other main goal was to attach the loyalties of Afghan citizens to Karzai’s government. The goal itself was impossible to achieve as the attacks suggest that these could not have been carried out without active cooperation of the Afghan citizens. The Taliban could not have deployed in Kabul for the 13 September attacks without logistical assistance and intelligence provided by some of the city’s inhabitants as well as from its penetrations of the regime’s police and security services. Five years of hearts-and-minds campaigning by McChrystal and Petraeus have yielded failure. Period.

Is there anything that the world can do to reverse the tide and defeat the forces of extremism, bigotry and terrorism? With the present hegemonic mindset, the dream of a pre-9/11 world will remain a far-cry. But for those who still matter, it is still time for introspection. The neocons and crusaders and Obamas and Osamas of this world must be pushed aside. The world should reinvent its core human values, eradicate international injustices and barbarism, treat all humans equally and not as collateral for a select few. Justice for all is the catchphrase to turn the tide.

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