by Imran H. Khan

Today is the ninth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan by US troops. It is time to reflect on the manner in which US got involved. It is also a good time to look at responsible ways to get out of the Afghan quagmire while ensuring peace for all the nations involved.  To re-phrase the line from the movie “Gladiator”, “Countries should know when the war has been lost”. This comment is not a reflection on the proud soldiers serving there, and has more to do with the policy. I had stated in a publicly broadcast show that the war in Afghanistan had been lost early last year.  Everything since then has gone downhill,  as was easily predictable to those who have the slightest sense of the region. It is already the longest war that US has ever fought. Churchill once said that “America will always do the right thing, but only after exhausting all other options.” It is now time to do the right thing as all the options have been exhausted.

I believe the main reason for hastily attacking Afghanistan after 9/11 was primarily a need to take revenge. This was abundantly evident by the expletive markings on the bombs being loaded onto aircraft aboard aircraft carriers to attack. Pakistani leader was begging for more time to work on Talibans to offer Osama bin Laden for trials. Had the Bush administration not been blinded by sheer hubris, we could have had him and his cohorts without resulting in huge human and monetary loss.

In my opinion the war was lost before it even started. The reasons have to do with the way it was planned. The fundamental long term mistake made then was that we wanted to do Afghanistan on the cheap. Then Secy Rumsfeld was obsessed with containing costs and wanted to do Iraq first. So we chose the easy way in the short term by using Northern Alliance and committed far fewer troops than were needed. These decisions were made in a rush and not enough long term thinking was put in. The result was that Osama got away in Tora Bora and we ended up working with  Northern Alliance, a group far more criminal than the Taliban. An important side effect of this association was giving India the back door space into Afghanistan, as they were supporting the Northern Alliance. We were forced into resorting to the blunt instrument of bombing from the air at the slightest provocation, since we did not have boots on the ground. This in the long run turned us into a brutal occupational force in the eyes of most Afghanis. This fact could be witnessed recently on CBS’s 60 minutes, where US soldiers ventured out only in their armored MRAPS and no Afghani was willing to work with them.

It does not serve anyone much to dwell on the past. What is essential is to do the right thing going ahead. I don’t think US can afford this war in the medium to long term when 40% of the US population is hovering around the poverty line, and the cost of getting one gallon of gasoline to Afghanistan is a whopping $800.

We need to immediately do the following things:

  • Training Afghan Army a lot more aggressively.
  • Distance ourselves from the Karzai gang of warlords and criminals. ( Read Taliban by Ahmed Rashid  for more details.)
  • Get a much larger (300,000+) peace keeping force in Afghanistan, from preferably muslim countries.
  • Give more representation to Pashtuns, who are the majority.

We must not do is

  • Talk to the Talibans.
  • Conduct criminal drone attacks on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Alienate Pakistan by military incursions and intrusive activities into their internal affairs.

I am no longer too sure about Churchill’s words. My prediction is that we will be in Afghanistan till well into the next century. I sincerely hope that I am wrong.

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7 Responses to “Doing the Right Thing in Afghanistan”

  1. Joe Briggs on October 8th, 2010 3:07 pm

    It is good to have someone such as Imran Khan who actually knows the subtlety of the situation and its many pitfalls. However, I am surprised that he argues a continued commitment. I think we (America) have screwed it up too far to repair. Why pour good money after bad? Why not just establish preferential trade and import laws (as we do for Israel) to encourage industrial development, and pull out? Why pour good money after bad?

    imran Reply:

    Afghan society is in shambles. Ever since the Soviet invasion, the elite or what I call the top soil has been lost. Letting them being totally on their own risks warlordism to flourish again. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past of allowing that region to remain essentially ungoverned.
    I agree with you that US tax payer should not be paying for what is essentially a global problem, precipitated by actually USSR.
    Rebuilding such a shattered society takes time and secure environment. Which is why talking to Taliban would be strategically a flawed policy.
    The whole world needs to chip in to rebuild Afghan society.
    Leaving Afghanistan in a hurry also has serious repercussions in the neighboring countries.

  2. Fatima Khan on October 8th, 2010 3:28 pm

    I am with you in that this war has been an impulsive and an ill thought out reaction. Where I don’t see eye to eye is how America can safeguard its interests in Afghanistan now that the battle to win hearts and minds has been lost.

    No amount of training of Afghani troops or a peace keeping force can protect American bases or the leaders the US wants to prop up without a strong military presence.

    I do not think that it will end up in withdrawal that can achieve either of those ends or result in a non-Taliban dominated country unless of course there is a lot spent and time given to build the material and human infrastructure of Afghanistan.

    imran Reply:

    America’s essential security interests will be safeguarded if Afghan society is secure and well governed. That would preclude smaller groups with money, to hijack Afghan interests.
    I think the current US strategy which calls for the maintenance of large based forever, pretty much guaranteeing continued turmoil in the region. This is why I think US has never wholeheartedly tried to train the Afghan Army even after Nine years of occupation.

  3. Salahuddin on October 9th, 2010 7:26 pm

    I would add a large Marshall Plan-like initiative to the four bullet points you identified, which I generally agree with. Such a plan would focus first on education and anti-narcotic agri-business, next on infrastructure and lastly on industry. I would let defense be in the hands of the Muslim multinational force which would train the Afghan army aggressively. American money would also benefit from being administered by one or more UN bodies but no doubt be directed by Americans. Give it 20 years to get into shape and another 10 to bear the full fruits of the first seeds of the plan relative to education.

    Based on the number of Taliban (always tough to estimate) it might not work to shut them out completely. This means finding a way to split the nut-jobs from the mainstream.

  4. Salahuddin on October 9th, 2010 7:57 pm

    As a further clarification, “infrastructure” in my last comment means: road, rail, air, digital telecom, energy generation and distribution. Given the less than 30 million population and the role that population plays in influencing costs more than geographic scale (75% to 80% of America’s road miles are in residential side streets), it should all still be much less expensive than wasteful military deployment which is a steady burn with no cumulative benefit.

  5. Imran Khan on March 4th, 2013 1:32 pm