The Afghanistan Conundrum

Since 2001, the Americans and their allies have been fighting war in Afghanistan. They succeeded in toppling Taliban government and dismantling al-Qaeda network, but have been unsuccessful in crushing Afghan Taliban insurgency and unable to prevent the assembling of radicalized fighters of Daesh or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Afghanistan. They are successful in introducing the democratic political system in the country, but incapable to transform the Afghans political culture. The parochial cum subjective political culture not only thwart the smooth function of the elected Afghan government, but also cause corruption and nepotism in the Afghan society. The debauched governance endures anarchy within the country.

The United States led foreign troops and Afghan National Forces are incapable to restore the writ of President Ashraf Ghani government in the entire Afghanistan. According to the American reports nearly 43 percent of Afghanistan territory is not under the control of the Unity Government. So, today, Afghan Taliban, the ferocious and imposing warlords command large areas of Afghanistan. The disturbing reality is that despite losing several leaders in recent years, Taliban has become more sophisticated in its attacks. It was reported, last year, Taliban created a new Special Forces unit known as the ‘Red Unit’. This Unit has been conducting attacks on checkpoints manned by Afghan forces. “The unit is using U.S.-made weapons and Russian-made night-vision headgear to launch the surprise attacks.” Precisely, Taliban’s are successfully conducting raids even inside the fortified areas of Kabul.



Afghanistan’s deteriorating situation and unending asymmetrical warfare have frustrating impact on the Americans. On August 21, 2017, President Donald Trump stated “we must also acknowledge the reality I am here to talk about tonight:  that nearly 16 years after September 11th attacks, after the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure, the American people are weary of war without victory.” Perhaps, the Afghan war fatigue obligates Trump administration to revisit the Afghanistan strategy. The critical examination of 16 years Operation Enduring Freedom verifies the powerlessness of military machine to overwhelm the insurgency steward by the Afghan Taliban. Instead of searching an alternative to resolve the Afghanistan conundrum, Trump administration continues with the faulty counterinsurgency strategy. Recently, it sanctioned a few thousands more troops to secure a military victory in Afghanistan.



The Americans have been encouraging India to play a decisive role in Afghanistan. Though New Delhi is reluctant to send the Indian troops in support of American forces in Afghanistan, yet it is investing economically in Afghanistan. The Indians are providing training to Afghan National Intelligence. The increasing role of New Delhi in Kabul’s affairs bothers Islamabad. The former uses Afghanistan territory for conducting terrorist activities inside of the former. Islamabad informed Washington about the destabilizing activities of India. Despite Pakistan’s apprehension, the Trump administration is supporting India to takeover the regions leadership role. India’s Great power role in South Asia poses serious challenge to Pakistan’s independence and sovereignty. Therefore, Islamabad is working on various options to thwart India’s destabilizing role on its western border.



Today, the coalition residing in Afghanistan consists of about 16,000 troops from the U.S., NATO, and its partner nations. Even the 4000 American troops addition in the coalition forces in Afghanistan, has not changed the ground realities. They are unable to inhibit the presence of ISIL led terrorist syndicate. The radicalized transnational terrorist syndicate is not only having sanctuary in Afghanistan, but it is spreading and growing. The recruitment of radicalized terrorist organizations alarms the neighboring states of Afghanistan. Hence, Moscow, Beijing, and Islamabad are contemplating for restoring peace in Afghanistan.

The recently publicized National Security Strategy of the United States of America categorically declared “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.” It also pointed out that United States would facilitate India’s “leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region” to balance China in the Asian strategic setting. Pakistan’s opposition to India’s domineering role in South Asia and collaboration with China and Russian Federation to restore durable peace in Afghanistan has fractured Islamabad and Washington strategic partnership.



From the President Trump’s perspective, the United States and its allies are failing in Afghanistan due to double-dealing of Pakistan. Instead of acknowledging Pakistan’s immense cooperation and sacrifices in the war on terrorism, Trump administration accuses Pakistan of harboring terrorist groups, including the Afghan Taliban. President Trump said: “For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror.” Conveniently missing the fact that foreign troops only conduct air raids and refrain from capturing and holding the ground targets due to the fear of casualties.

The infamous New Year tweet of President Trump agitated Pakistanis. He wrote: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” The Pakistani ruling elite instead of ignoring the tweet gave a befitting response. On January 6, 2018, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua said, “Haqqani network is not working inside Pakistan. However, on the contrary, the enemies of Pakistan are gaining foothold in Afghanistan,” Islamabad and Washington counterarguments or allegations on each other have not only exposed both sides weary of Afghanistan situation but also marked that Pakistan and United States are gradually drifting apart.



The Trump administration has adopted punitive measures to coerce Pakistan. For instance, it had withheld $255 million in FY 2016 foreign military financing to Pakistan. It is failing to realize that the foreign troops and 26.000 military contractors working in Afghanistan are highly dependent on ground and airlines of communications (GLOC and ALOC) passing through Pakistan. If it continues with its unsubstantial accusation and punitive measures, Islamabad may close GLOC and ALOC. Admittedly, the United States can use the so-called northern distribution route for supplies in Afghanistan. But Russia dominates the countries involved in northern distribution route. The 2011-2012 experience reveals that the Russians would not permit to move lethal goods through that corridor. The Americans can use India to move goods from Iran’s port in Chabahar to Afghanistan. The Indians have helped Iranians to develop the port along with the road and rail lines connecting it to Afghanistan. Nevertheless, President Trump’s policies are equally unacceptable to the Iranians.



To conclude, political infighting, massive corruption, phenomenal growth of drug production and expansion of transnational terrorist syndicate and above all increasing influencing of Afghan Taliban in the country validate the continuity of anarchical situation in Afghanistan. In addition, President Trump’s policies are creating rift between United States and Afghanistan neighbours. Hence, the United States seems in an unwinnable position in the Afghanistan conundrum.

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About Dr. Zafar N Jaspal 13 Articles
The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad & Member Advisory Board at ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’ and Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR).