The Afghans Have to Find Their Own Way

Photo: Women of Afghanistan stand outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Credit: Eric Draper | The White House.

Viewpoint by Jonathan Power

Sweden (IDN-INPS) – It’s the most repeated maxim in all the reportage
on the war in Afghanistan: “The Americans have the watches, we, the
Taliban, have the time.”

it again, Sam” was said in “Casablanca”. It should be played, said and
listened to in Kabul and Washington today. This is America’s longest war
ever – 18 years and counting. It has cost over one trillion dollars and
taken 2,500 American lives. President Barack Obama, blind-sided by the
generals, he confided later, pumped up the numbers of troops to 100,000.

very long, Obama came to realize that even if he did a Lyndon Johnson
and sent in half a million troops it would end up as it did in Vietnam
with stalemate. (Still unanswered is why, after 18 years, the Afghan
army isn’t trained to do the job themselves.) Obama then rolled back the

years ago, President Donald Trump, admitting he was reversing his
campaign call for pulling out, announced he had decided to stay in,
sending to Afghanistan another 3,900 troops to reinforce the 8,400
there. But after that policy failed, he returned to his earlier
conviction and announced that he wanted to wind down troop numbers.

recent negotiations with the Taliban the U.S. suggested a step-by-step
but severe reduction in troop levels, which the Taliban appeared to
accept before the negotiations failed. For their part, the Taliban
pledged not to host any organization that would launch attacks on

the Taliban killed an American soldier while the negotiations were in
their last phase in September, Trump impetuously cancelled the finale
which was scheduled to bring all the parties together at Camp David.

could be the Taliban don’t trust Trump on this issue of troop numbers.
After all, there are more U.S. troops in the Middle East than when he
took office. Since May he has sent to the Persian Gulf region 14,000
additional troops including 3,500 to Saudi Arabia which with U.S. and
European arms is fighting a nihilistic and all-destructive war in little

Meanwhile, the Taliban gain territory and the number of civilians killed rises. The Taliban effectively control the countryside.

seems ever more vulnerable to attack. The government is unable to get
on top of the country’s three curses – vicious infighting by the
warlords, corruption and poppy growing for heroin manufacture. Hundreds
of thousands flee their homes each year. A thousand schools have been
closed because of security concerns – most of them the hard work of
western government aid programs and NGOs.

cynics wonder if the U.S and its NATO allies hang in only because they
have their eye on the apparent $1 trillion worth of minerals waiting to
be mined.

is the same as it was in Vietnam. If the insurgents are not losing,
they are winning. This is their home. The U.S and NATO are far from
home. This is what the Soviet army found in its war in the 1980s. Only
when Mikhail Gorbachev became president did the Kremlin have the guts to
order a retreat. If one wants to know how terrible things came for the
Red Army soldiers one should read the Nobel Prizewinning author,
Svetlana Alexievich’s book, “Zinky Boys”.

which for so long has supported the Americans, even allowing war
materials to be transported on its railways, is now hedging its bets and
talking to the Taliban. Pakistan plays both ends against the middle. On
the one side it is the main logistics route for America. On the other
it tolerated until relatively recently the Taliban operating in parts of
its northern territory.

dualism reflects its obsession with the growing Indian influence in
Afghanistan which Trump added to by announcing what Richard Nixon would
have called a “tilt” towards India.

the U.S. and NATO left Afghanistan the Taliban would take over. As
happened after the Red Army left there might well be some internecine
warfare, with warlords competing for territory. But Kabul could be
quiet. Maybe girls’ schools would be limited in what they could teach,
but not closed. As before, when the Taliban ruled, poppy production
would be banned.

fact is the Americans have already won the war they said they went into
fight. It’s true that the Taliban had played host to Al Qaeda which
used it as a base to attack the Twin Towers. But since then the Taliban
has gradually grown weary of Al Qaeda, even seeing it as a threat to
their cause. Ambivalence has given way to rejection. Isn’t that victory?

the starry eyed have thought over these 18 years that this ancient,
remote, mountainous country could be made into a democracy that
implemented human rights including women’s liberation and universal
schoolgirls’ education. The Afghanis have to find their own way on these
issues. The West cannot ram these ideas down their throats.

feel sad for the women. When America withdraws, they will be pushed
back half a century. But the greatest human right of all is to have a
safe life. That means ending the war. That means all the American
soldiers coming out.

Jonathan Power was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and
commentator for the International Herald Tribune. Copyright: Jonathan
Power. Website
[IDN-InDepthNews – 29 October 2019]

Photo: Women of Afghanistan stand outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Credit: Eric Draper | The White House.

Source: South Asia Journal
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