A few days back The New York Times published a story by Mujeeb Mishal on how the CIA was leading units in Nangarhar and Khost, operating ‘unconstrained by battlefield rules designed to protect civilians, conducting night raids, torture and killings with near impunity, in a covert campaign’. The story emphasises that these operations were actually the reason for the growing number of recruitments by the Taliban.
Such ruthless operations wherein common Afghans, their wives and children are struck violently in surprise attacks, their houses torched, their family members tortured and killed, creates the terror that remains in the hearts and minds of the affected, their extended families and their neighbourhoods. The relentless bombings throughout the years and the kill-and-run operations have only caused the hate that was refuelled in the form of revenge.
The phenomenology of this hate can be assessed through some hardcore facts, like the Physician for Social Responsibility (PSR) report in 2015, estimated war-related death count in Afghanistan to be ‘ten times higher than the number of registered civilian deaths and may well exceed 200,000’. Those who had not died, had their own stories to tell; within three months of collecting evidences for a possible war crimes case involving Afghanistan, the International Criminal Court has now collected 1.17 million statements from Afghans who say they were victims. Torture and abuse on conflict-related detainees has been a constant episode. In 2017, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, appealed to the US to end a pervasive policy of impunity for crimes of torture committed by US officials. When released, these detainees, who have suffered severe torture and abuse, are so burdened with foul memory that they prefer to die fighting their aggressors to living a life of dishonour.
Perhaps these were the reasons why the force of the Taliban has steadily increased, allowing more and more areas of Afghanistan to come under their control. So much so that the Taliban have ended up killing more of the ANDSF and US forces than vice versa. The US has made a policy to keep the death toll of their forces and of the Afghan forces that work under them a secret, but some Afghan officials have hinted an average 30 to 40 ANDSF personal being killed by the Taliban ‘every day’. This is embarrassing for the world’s strongest, most highly equipped and most well-fed army. The truth is that the way the US conducted its war against the Taliban was precisely the way to lose it.
But it seems that the Pentagon still can’t see the wood for the trees; their latest progress report to Congress (Dec 2018) still says that “the key to success remains sustained military pressure against the Taliban”. Trump’s closeness to Eric Prince is another worry. Eric wants a ‘private’ contract to fight the Taliban. Eric says privatising the war will save the US money, but the Americans know too well that war is a racket, and that Eric is in for two things only, the lust to kill and money. If one fine morning Trump wakes up to tweet that he is giving Eric the contract — just imagine, how many recruits that would give to the Taliban.
On Oct 7, 2001, president Bush, after ordering an attack on Afghanistan, said to the American people, ‘two weeks ago, I gave Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands. Close terrorist training camps, hand over leaders of the al Qaeda network… none of these demands were met. And now the Taliban will pay a price’.
By 2017, the US taxpayers had paid a $1.07 trillion price for their adventure in Afghanistan. Over 2,500 US forces have been killed and over 20,000 wounded and even more in PTSD. And in spite of all efforts, the Taliban are not ready to give in to any demands of the US and its allies, and are adamant that the US should completely leave Afghanistan. Terror could not be defeated the arms way, rather it is struck into the hearts of the foreign troops every day.
For many Afghans, terror is depicted in the foreign troops rather than the Taliban. In their own eyes, the Taliban are freedom fighters against an invading force, and the only one resilient enough to stand for 18 years, and the only movement wide enough to girdle in all freedom lovers around the country.
No one wants an extremist version of Shariah implemented in Afghanistan, we all believe in democracy, but the dread is, if the people of Afghanistan vote for the Taliban, what can be done of their democratic right. It is this ill-planning of the Pentagon that had led the Afghans to hoard behind the Taliban and to think of them as their saviours and heroes. Because if every tribe will have a martyr in the Taliban, they will be their heroes, and if every family has a recruit in the Taliban, the Taliban will be a family — and the US policies have only encouraged this process to go on.
Peace talks between insurgent groups, Kabul and the US have dragged since 2010. From the first formal peace plan presented by insurgent groups to the ones now, each has been based on the question of ‘a date for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country’. But Kabul knows that the moment the US withdraws, the Taliban will make an onslaught on Kabul and another chaotic state in Afghanistan is in no one’s interest. So before leaving, the US will have to do one moral thing — accept the Taliban as a true representative of their people and blend them in the democratic process.
We all know that democracy takes decades to mature in any society, it cannot be hammered on a people — the Afghans have the right to make their own choices and learn from their own mistakes like everyone else. There is no reason for anyone to assume that the Afghans are lesser in any way or not ready to take control of their own lives and resources as this false assumption has led them to make wrong decisions so many times before.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2019.