Free «War in Afghanistan: Possible Outcomes» Essay
Afghanistan is an unlikely country. A stretch of land that sits between the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and China has been invaded by imperial powers for more than two thousand years and incorporated into empires based in Persia, India, and to the north of the Hindu Kush by Uzbeks. The term ‘Afghan’ was originally another name for the Pashtun people. There are two branches of Pashtun: the Durrani confederation and the Chilzai confederation, which have always been in competition for political leadership and influence.
Historians cite 1747 as the beginning of the Afghan territorial state. However, to fully comprehend present situation in this region, it would be erroneous to delve in the history of Afghanistan of 18th and 19th centuries. For better understanding of current conflict, it would be prudent to link events of Afghan history of late 20th and Soviet-Afghan war of 1989-90 with the situation at hand with further expounding possibilities of the outcome of this war.
The Formation of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan
While Afghan nationalists generally looked to Turkey as a model, the political left was impressed by developments in the Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union. There, women had been liberated from conservative Islamic traditions: they had been given equal rights, and polygamy, levirate, child marriage, bride price, and the seclusion of women were banned. Secular laws and courts had been established.
However, educated Afghans were most impressed by the economic development that occurred after the success of the Soviet revolution. The feudal land system had been abolished. There were literacy campaigns and universal education and Medicare. Furthermore, there was significant industrialization and the development of a working class. By the 1960s, there was a dramatic difference in the standard of living between Afghanistan and the Soviet republics to the north.
In January 1965, a group of young people met to form the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). In April 1966, the party's publication Khalq (The People) reported the party's platform. It called for the development of a united national front government – an alliance of progressive forces, workers, farmers, intellectuals, and nationalists – in order to build an industrial country and an organized working class. In the 1965 elections, the PDPA fielded eight candidates, though running without party affiliation, and four were elected, one of whom was Dr. Anahita Ratebzad, a prominent Marxist from Kabul.
The party, however, had its factions. One, known as Khalq like the party's paper, was led by Nur Mohammed Taraki and Hafizullah Amin. They wanted to use the army and the political vanguard to seize power and implement a socialist state. This was the model Ataturk had used in Turkey. In 1970, it was estimated that this faction had around 2,500 members, which made it the largest party in Afghanistan. Its members were more likely to have a rural background and most spoke Pashto. The other faction, known as Parcham (The Banner), was led by Babrak Karmal. Its members were more likely to speak Dari and to include non-Pushtuns, and it was the strongest in Kabul. This group was more committed to the united democratic front road to power, which put it closer to the official position of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It had around 1,500 members in 1970. The PDPA moreover had a very strong presence in the officer class of the armed forces, hundreds of whom had been trained in the Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union.
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Beginning in 1975, Daoud started to remove Parcham members from his government and purged the armed forces. The Afghan secret police worked with Iran's SAVAK to identify Marxists in the government. In January 1977, a new constitution was proclaimed, central to which was a strong presidency with only one legal party, the National Revolutionary Party, to be headed by Daoud. Meanwhile, Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev, using the mediation of the Communist Party of India, convinced the two factions of the PDPA to reunite, and together they denounced the anti-democratic nature of the new constitution and government. Daoud responded with a major repression of the left (Saikal, 2004, 169-186).
On 17 April, 1978, Mir Akbar Khaibar, a prominent leader of the PDPA, was murdered, apparently by Daoud's secret police. Two days later, at his funeral, there was a major rally and protest march against the government by an estimated 15,000 people. Daoud moved quickly against the PDPA by arresting seven members of the Politburo. Hafizullah Amin, the only prominent leader to escape arrest, alerted the armed forces, which engineered a hastily planned PDPA coup. The Soviet Union was not involved (Saikal, 2004, 182-6).
The United States Backs the Islamist Resistance
Resistance to the PDPA government's programs began in the summer of 1978. At first, it took a relatively unorganized form, starting with the local murder of teachers and the burning of schools. The mullahs, however, led a broader revolt. The first large rebellion was in Herat in March 1979, again led by a group of mullahs who opposed education for women and changes in the marriage laws. The Herat revolt included the defection of most of the army's 17th Division led by Ismael Khan who was later to emerge as a major warlord. As Pakistan's Mohammad Yousaf recounts, officials from the PDPA government and Soviet advisers as well as their families were “rounded up, tortured, cut to pieces, and their heads stuck on poles for parading around the city” (Yousaf and Adkin, 2001, 57-8).
The Soviet Occupation and Military Stalemate
The Soviet Union had limited goals in Afghanistan: it wanted the country to remain a non-aligned friendly neighbor. While it did not believe that Afghanistan was ready for a communist revolution or a soviet form of government, it felt an obligation to support a fraternal Marxist regime that was under attack from ‘foreign imperialists aided by a local counterrevolution.' Their official goals included resistance to the creation of a ‘US sphere of influence on the Soviet border.’ There is no evidence that the Soviets were interested in pushing south to the Arabian Sea and threatening the US control of the oil industry in the Middle East. A policy statement of December 1979 declared that the Soviet Union would be willing to withdraw all its forces as long as ‘all forms of outside interference are fully terminated’, they supported the efforts by UN mediator Diego Cordovez to bring the war to an end (Cordovez & Harrison, 195, 17-4).
The Soviet armed forces in Afghanistan peaked at around one hundred thousand. As in the Vietnam template, they had an enormous advantage in firepower over the mujahedeen guerrillas. They used bombers, attack aircraft, and helicopters extensively and armored forces to try to keep the roads open. Later in the war, they also engaged in carpet bombing in an attempt to drive the people living near the border across into Pakistan.
As in Vietnam, the government and its Soviet supporters controlled the main cities and tried to clear the roads of guerrilla activity. However, in the rural areas the mujahedeen forces dominated, and representatives of the central government were killed and driven out as a matter of practice. For example, education expanded in the cities under government control, but virtually disappeared in areas under the control of the Islamists. The government reported that 2,000 teachers had been killed and 2,000 schools destroyed, while 9,000 teachers had been "physically assaulted" before the end of 1983 (Giustozzi 2000, 23). The mujahedeen engaged in guerrilla warfare against the national and Soviet armed forces, including large-scale ambushes. However, as it is pointed out, they “were never able to seize any garrisonwith more than a few hundred defenders, and that was even exceptional”. For example, in summer 1988 around seven thousand mujahedeen attacked the seven-hundred-strong garrison of Qalat, but failed to take it (Giustozzi, 2000, 114).
Beginning in 1986, the UN hosted negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States to plan the withdrawal of Soviet forces and end the war. An agreement was finally reached in April 1988, and the Soviet withdrawal was completed on 15 February 1989. The consensus of western Cold War observers was that the Afghan regime would fall within a month. In March 1989, the mujahedeen gathered their forces to launch an attack on the city of Jalalabad, one of the government's strongholds, but suffered a major defeat with ten thousand fighters killed. As Giustozzi reports, ‘with the Soviet withdrawal and the mujahedeen defeat at Jalalabad, fighting subsided throughout the country. Government sources in autumn 1989 claimed that 70-80% of the mujahedeen commanders were not fighting anymore’ (2000, 185, 187).
The war had a high cost. It is said that more than one million Afghans were killed and another six million went into exile in Pakistan or Iran. The educated and wealthy elite fled to the west. The Soviet Union reported 14,263 killed and 49,985 wounded. The US government admits that it spent over $10 billion on the war with Saudi Arabia matching that total. Over the nine-year period of the occupation, the Soviets reported that the war cost them between $32 billion and $3 billion per year (Cordovez, 1995, 181-3).
21th Century in Afghan History
Early in 2001, the US military had been asked to prepare a battle plan for the invasion of Afghanistan. In April, the US National Security Council recommended arming the Northern Alliance and forming a confederation of anti-Taliban warlords and tribes, and in July it approved a plan to destabilize the Taliban. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice approved a National Security Council Directive to be forwarded to President Bush on 10 September, and on 12 September CIA director George Tenant reported that an expanded plan had been prepared that would cost around $51 billion (Dorronsoro, 2011).
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell had been arguing that the general public would not approve an invasion of Afghanistan for the purpose of finding bin Laden and imposing a new government, but this all changed with the attacks of 11 September.
Attacks of 11 September
President Bush declared immediately that there would be no further negotiations with the Taliban government. Plans were revised for a new invasion strategy, using the Northern Alliance exclusively as the ground forces and limiting US participation to the aerial war. On 12 September, the UN Security Council and the General Assembly passed resolutions condemning the attacks on the United States and called on all states to work together urgently to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers, and sponsors of these terrorist attacks. The Taliban government pledged support. However, two days later Congress gave the Bush administration a blank cheque to use all necessary and appropriate force against those who were responsible for the attacks.
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On 20 September, President Bush addressed a joint session of Congress, declaring that we now faced a choice between two ways of life, “the civilized world” and “the forces of evil”.
On 7 October, 2001, the United States launched a massive aerial attack on Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance began to move south against the Taliban with close support from the US air forces. By the middle of November, most of the major cities in Afghanistan had surrendered to the Northern Alliance and on 12 November the Taliban forces and government fled Kabul. By early December, Kandahar had fallen. The remains of the Taliban government and Afghan Arabs with Osama bin Laden fled into the mountains and then into Pakistan (Dorronsoro, 2011).
The Taliban Claim to Justice and What Danger it Possesses to Obama’s Withdrawal Plan
The Taliban’s primary asset, its religiosity, was also a liability because its Deobandi brand of Islam is not native to Afghanistan. It was rather the product of the hundreds of madrassas that had been set up in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, where several generations of Afghans with little or no experience of their native land had been educated during and following the war with the Soviets. Sponsored by fundamentalist Pakistani religious parties, these madrassas inculcated in their students a puritanical view of Islam that excludes ideas that are not obviously Islamic and brooks no compromises with modernity. It is also antithetical to mystical Sufism, which has traditionally enjoyed a broad and deep following in Afghanistan, and to folk Islam, also popular among Afghans.
Unlike any other Muslim country, Taliban Afghanistan banned kite flying, card games, girls’ schools, dolls, music at weddings, most sports, clapping at sports events, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogs, pictures, Christmas cards, priceless Afghan historical art treasures, Sufi shrines, photography, and television among other things. Imitating its Saudi supporters, the Taliban initiated a Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the officers of which ensured that men were not shaven, that women wore full burkhas, and that no female would be seen unescorted by a male relative. They also made sure people were at prayers. As for a social and political program beyond this, the Taliban thought it presumptuous as Allah would provide everything else, including food to those whom He wished to feed. These strictures alienated many Afghans whose version of Islam was less radical and more accommodating to folk and Sufi ways. Many began to chafe under the strict Taliban version of shari'a rule and became disillusioned because the Taliban had no program beyond the literal imposition of its ideology.
The ease with which the Taliban was overthrown in 2001 and the jubilation in the cities over its downfall would seem to make its return in the past several years hard to comprehend. As late as 2006, ABC News polls showed 88 percent of Afghans said that it was good that the United States had invaded Afghanistan, though that figure declined to 74 percent in late 2010. Nonetheless, the Taliban’s resuscitation, again sponsored by Pakistan, has been in the same terms as its initial rise: Islamic justice.
Causes animated by righteousness are not as easily subject to the normal forces of exhaustion as purely political ones. This is because of what is at stake in them. Wars of ideas concern the very reason for existence. They touch upon the source of meaning in life. When that source of significance is threatened, people take arms, either metaphorically or literally, to defend it. Rather than live without it, they prefer to kill or be killed.
The Taliban’s success in delivering justice is perhaps its single most effective means of undermining the Karzai government and appropriating legitimacy. Every judgment rendered by a Taliban court is a successful usurpation of sovereignty. It is such a powerful symbol and exercise of legitimacy that it is the first thing the Taliban undertakes when it moves into an area. Sometimes, it is the only thing it does. By itself, it is enough to establish its control and split the people away from the government, and by just doing this one thing well, the Taliban gains allegiance. Whoever administers justice will be the state. The Taliban knows this and it is why the issue of justice is stressed so prominently in its propaganda
In short, Afghans believe that under the Taliban, despite the negatives, their property will be safe and they will have access to fair trials. The Taliban is also saying that it has learned from its past errors, which made it so broadly unpopular. &lddquo;The Taliban that will return will not be like the old Taliban,” claims a Taliban leader.
Unless the government of Afghanistan finds a way to compete in this area, it will be impossible for it to establish legitimacy or to gain allegiance. By default, the Taliban will win. Unless this issue is addressed in a compelling way, the buildup in Afghan security forces, including military and police, to roughly 305,000 by late 2011 and possibly as many as 378.000 by 2012 will not be enough to ensure the government’s survival or the United States’ successful withdrawal. To whom or to what will the security forces owe their allegiance? Will the army disintegrate when its foreign sponsors leave? Or will it be tempted to take over in a military coup? The ICOS report (Afghanistan transition and Kabul university: Winning minds, losing hearts) notes that there is a clear “potential for the switch sides" after being trained by NATO” (May, 2001). As it is, according to one report, “the ANA (Afghan National Army) is now evaporating every year through desertions (18%) and non-reenlistment (60%)”.
If the Afghan government fails to develop legitimacy, why should security forces give it their fealty? Though the words “irreversible transition” are used by the US military to justify the increased numbers of Afghan security forces, the term itself contains about as much political wisdom as did “government in a box” when applied to the surge in Marjah. Government does not come in a box, and there is no such thing as an “irreversible” transition secured by sheer numbers of security forces. Regarding the increase in police, Jukka Savolainen, the head of the European Union Police Training Mission in Afghanistan, cautioned that “Policing is ineffective until you have rule of law. You need courts where you can have a fair trial and a fair and functional corrections system” (Dorronsoro, 2011). In other words, there could be no justice, no legitimacy, and no “irreversible transition”. The lesson from the failure of the Afghan government to secure a minimum of justice is that you cannot establish legitimacy with the aid of strategic communication if you are not acting legitimately.
On Wednesday of June 22, 2011, President Obama announced his plans to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. According to those plans, 10,000 American troops were to be withdrawn by the end of 2011. By the summer of 2012, 20,000 more troops will be withdrawn. By 2014, all remaining American troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan.
President Obama’s announced troop withdrawal from Afghanistan did not receive support from the military or civilian hierarchies that are supposed to provide expert opinion on such strategic issues. From leaks planted in the media by different factions of the president's leadership team, it became the public knowledge that key advisers to the president would have preferred a different plan of military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Members of Congress also voiced their reservations over the pace and timing of the troop withdrawal announced by President Obama.
From the House of Representatives, Buck McKeon (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, reflected opposition to the timing and pace of the troop withdrawal. In the Senate, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) also expressed representative opposition to the plan. The concern in Congress was that Obama's plan did not reflect the considered opinions of the military commanders in the war zones in Afghanistan.
Opposition argument against Obama on his decision to withdraw American troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan on the terms he did was corroborated by negative developments in those two countries. As soon as the last American troops left Iraq, tensions rose. More bombings and threats of violent outbreaks were recorded.
Reports emerged that the Obama leadership had been engaged in back door negotiations with Taliban leaders. The Taliban originally provided sanctuary for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan. It was the cozy relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda that empowered al-Qaeda to use Afghanistan as their operational base in their attacks against the World Trade Center towers in New York in September 2001.
The liaison between the Obama leadership and Taliban leadership became an embarrassment for the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karlai, who appeared not to have been consulted or sufficiently involved. More troubling in the public view was the revelations in December 2011 that the Obama administration was contemplating releasing some high value Taliban detainees from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in exchange for a Taliban cease-fire in Afghanistan.
At this critical time in the long American intervention in Afghanistan, we conclude that a strategic review that cultivates a range of options is far more likely to point to a productive pathway ahead than adherence to originally preferred ends and means. If there is a willingness to think in terms of an outcome that sees greater local capacity and control and a reduced role for the government in Kabul and that contemplates smaller-scale, but “smarter” military actions, then it will quickly become clear that the answer lies not in a single strategy, but in the skillful blending of several strategic elements.
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Therefore, by combining various ideas, the following list of elements that should inform the development of sustainable policies and strategies for Afghanistan is offered:
Overall theme: Much less is more
1. Demonstrate long-term US interest in Afghanistan by substituting qualitative, customized military approaches in place of today's primarily quantitative approach.
This will allow troop strength to fall dramatically, resulting in a minimized US presence.
2. Go local. Go small. Go long.
Going local means that Afghan stability will depend on local political arrangements rather than on control by the government in Kabul.
Going small means relying on Special Forces, probably numbering under five thousand, rather than on a conventional force presence of tens of thousands. Forces will be distributed working by, with, and through legitimate local governments.
Going long means not publishing or announcing a withdrawal date and being prepared to stay as long as necessary (i.e., indefinitely).
3. Close most bases and downsize Kandahar and Bagram to the size of their 2002 “footprints." The large existing infrastructure fuels both the insurgency and corruption.
4. Stop expensive development projects, including the one associated with building massive centralized security forces. When investments are made, they must first be matched by some type of investment by locals. Identify and nurture young Afghan leaders who are committed to Afghanistan. Assist in pushing out the “old guard” (even by means of a civil/military coup if necessary) (“Measures of progress in Afghanistan in the Spring of 2012: The need for strategic focus, transparency, and credibility”,2012).
5. Drastically reduce efforts to build infrastructure and increase efforts to identify young, nationalistic, legitimate Afghan leaders who will cut deals that will lead to stability. Moderately reward individuals and locales for good governance (“Afghan style” governance is tine, probably preferred) and invest only in those areas where violence is neither tolerated nor exported (“Afghanistan: The failed metrics of ten years of war”,2012).
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