Why the US Can’t Win Afghan War?

Why the US Can’t Win Afghan War?
us-war-deathsThe growing rift between the American regime and military became evident with the upset of General McChrystal but more importantly, it reminded us of something bigger: the American war strategy in Afghanistan has largely failed and American military is fast losing its confidence in the Afghan war. Indeed, for war experts and strategists, it was (and is) an upset of great magnitude because it isn’t everyday you see a general resigning growing unhappy of war and regime policies. Of course the incident was nicely covered up by making it an issue of demeaning remarks but that doesn’t change the reality or does it?

As a saying goes, “I was born intelligent but education ruined me”, is probably what happened to American war planners in Afghanistan. You don’t have to be a PhD in International Relations to understand why the American strategy is flawed in Afghanistan – inherently flawed, tremendously flawed. I say inherently and tremendously because Afghanistan is a very different piece of land than Iraq, Somalia and Yemen. Chances are what you succeeded with in Iraq will not nudge anything in Afghanistan (but unfortunately everyone wants to experience it for themselves). This is because the country is literally rich with history of foreign invasions and afghan people are very unusual than people in Iraq or say Yemen. To them, almost nothing matters (except freedom) and therefore at the end of the day for outsiders, chances of success remain slim.
So turning to the war, the COIN strategy was co-invented and implemented by two American generals, General Stanley McChrystal and General Petraeus. In essence, the COIN is not very much different from classical American strategy of divide-and-rule. To put it nice, the strategy is based on winning hearts, minds and support of locals to fight and defeat the enemy (unwanted locals, the Taliban in this case). The strategy in quintessence focuses on turning locals against locals than fighting a war the traditional way. The COIN is essentially a name for answering insurgency with bigger insurgency by causing internal destabilization and conflict in local population (by use of money and arms). Traditionally and in Iraq, the strategy saw some success but very obviously flopped in Afghanistan. There are reasons to it.
First off, the COIN strategy it itself bad suited to the Afghan country. The USA has wrongly assumed that it can “win” the locals support and turn them against other Afghan people by arming them or giving them hefty monies. Because the strategy assumes (and wrongly) to portray Americans as friendly forces than invading forces, USA is drastically wrong in first place. Again, it requires not education but mere common sense to understand that to Afghans everything outside from Afghanistan is an invading force and where you can pay them to not fight you; you really can’t win their loyalties because in their hearts outsiders (Americans this time) remain invaders and it is widely known that Afghans do not reconcile to invaders. The obvious reason for US continuing with this strategy was probably its apparent success in Iraq. But Iraq is an altogether different piece of land. Iraq does not get invaded every so often. Priorities for Iraqi people are not really the same as of Afghans. The Afghan terrain is very different and most of all, Iraq had a fundamental drawback of Shiite-Sunni conflict which the USA could easily manipulate and exploit. For Afghanistan, religion is part of people’s culture. At the end of the day, what matters most for them is their freedom and in this, history tells they never accept outsiders in their hearts and minds. And because religion is a part and parcel of their culture, the only natural association Afghans accept (other than themselves) can only be with Muslims (Pakistan in this case).
The USA also probably thought it had a successful experience of using Afghans against Soviet Union. But here again, the USA overlooked a crucial aspect: Pakistan. When USA came to the region against Soviet Union, it really worked on winning the hearts and minds of Afghans and Pakistanis. Because of that it showed sincerity in its alliance. The real blow that Soviet Union then received was in fact from Pakistan and Afghans and not the US. This isn’t the case anymore. US, this time, has not come as a friendly force. So it would be fundamentally wrong and absurd to think that you can invade a country as unusual as Afghanistan and end up using strategies such as COIN to win friends. In fact, because of this flawed strategy, USA has not only failed it own self but also the NATO alliance (which is too faltering now) and most of all, its critical ally, Pakistan. USA has failed to win Pakistan’s trust and every passing day makes it more evident.
Then also, in Iraq the events were naturally in favor USA. The country had a minority (Sunnis) ruling the country for long. All USA had to do was to empower the majority (Shiites) by allying with them. But in that too, the Shiites allied with US not because of love for US but their natural disagreement with Sunnis and therefore, USA was considerably successful in empowering the people it wanted. The things are 180 degrees opposite in Afghanistan where US is fighting with a majority (Sunnis) already in power. All USA has to its alliance are handful of anti-Taliban elements and warlords (which already have been defeated once by the Taliban). The US naturally cannot implement and win what went right for it in Iraq. Also, in Afghanistan you cannot divide what’s already divided. Afghanistan is and has remained home of wars and rivalry. The Darwin’s law of survival of the fittest fits best in Afghanistan. The only way Afghans rule is by the way of sheer power or sheer love and US is up to neither.
So now, in retrospect, considering that a decade of US-led war in Afghanistan has failed to produce desired results, what is the solution for USA and more importantly who can provide a solution? Before anything, USA has to realize that a time for solution has come. In this, US will first have to realize that Pakistan is local and US alien to the region and therefore, Pakistan has experience as well as capability (as has been proven unquestionably by Pakistani military operations) to lead the war and bring stability to the region. Therefore from this moment on when US has evidently failed, unless USA takes a role of fighting the war on Pakistan’s lead and strategy, the war on terror will see no logical end. Unless USA does so, things will only get worse inside and outside US.
Even for an exit, very obviously, the only country that can provide a solution of graceful exit to US is Pakistan. It is not India, it is not NATO, and it is not UN and there should be no difference of opinion on this. This is true for many reasons but mainly because historically and as a Muslim country, Pakistan enjoys leverage on Afghans and Afghan Taliban (the force really in power in Afghanistan). It is only Pakistan that can broker an exit deal between Afghan Taliban and USA and it is only Pakistan that can guarantee that USA exits the region on schedule without mishaps. You can agree to it or you can imagine taking Pakistan out of the loop and then imagine the consequences of disaster. The second thing US has to consider is India is as much alien to the region as US is (besides India having no experience or know-how of Afghanistan). If USA believes that India will be able to create miracles or replace Pakistan by winning Afghan friendship, then there wouldn’t be a better phrase to describe it than ‘living in a fool’s paradise’. The best solution for USA is therefore to sincerely engage Pakistan on finding an exit strategy, leave out bringing more alien forces to the country, and start looking for genuine withdrawal. Time is running out for USA and as long as it has Pakistan on its side, it will not only provide an exit to USA but also stabilize the country post-withdrawal. Otherwise and as the history tells us, it will only be a matter of time before which Afghanistan becomes anther memorial park for USA and countries it has invited to Afghanistan.

By Ahmed Shahid | PKKH

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