Will the U.S. Find Its Way Out of the Dead End in Afghanistan?
Nikolai BOBKIN | 04.02.2014 | OPINION

Will the U.S. Find Its Way Out of the Dead End in Afghanistan?

Several days ago, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an order to create a temporary organization within the State Department: the Afghanistan and Pakistan Strategic Partnership Office. The goal of this step was declared as reaching a ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, mediated by Pakistan, after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. After a 12-year occupation of Afghanistan, the U.S., not having been able to defeat the Taliban, has returned to square one, and the question of who is going to rule Afghanistan has arisen once again. Washington has been forced to acknowledge that without the Taliban it is impossible to ensure peace in the country; they will have to share power with the Talibs.

The resolution of this problem is clearly late in coming. American foreign policy makers have no strategic plan, and the efforts being undertaken are poorly coordinated with analogous steps taken by the Afghan government. Washington and Kabul do not have a unified understanding of where, in what and how much it is permissible to compromise with the Taliban. And now it seems that the creation of a new organization in the State Department is a tactical move on the part of the Obama administration, which is concerned with how to come to an agreement with the Taliban such as to minimize losses when withdrawing the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In itself, this will not bring stability to Afghanistan.

First, ISAF command is trying to convince everyone that the transition process in Afghanistan is proceeding normally. However, this optimism is unfounded. The possibility of Afghanistan's further development without the participation of the Taliban is the most preferable for Washington, but it is also the most dangerous, as it would inevitably lead to widespread rebellion after the withdrawal of international coalition troops. National reconciliation should be based on a broader spectrum of sociopolitical forces than the Afghan government on the one hand and the Taliban on the other.

Second, it is obvious that until the withdrawal of the troops, counting on a military victory over the Taliban by Afghan security forces is unjustified. The authority of the Taliban has been established over a significant territory in the country. Last year the twelve provinces with the greatest number of clashes were Helmand, Kandahar and Oruzgan (southern region), Ghazni, Paktika and Khost (southeastern region), Nangarhar and Kunar (eastern region) Herat and Farah (western region), and Kabul and Wardak (central region). According to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), the southern, southeastern and eastern regions form a practically uninterrupted battlefield. 70% of all security incidents were registered there. In 2012 there were over 10,000 rebel attacks here, and over 2500 civilians were killed. In 2013 armed clashes increased by 44%, and the number of fatalities increased by 63%; the absolute majority of these (73%) were residents of these regions.

Third, reports that there are no Talibs in the northwestern and western regions of Afghanistan are also inaccurate. The Taliban has to a significant degree regained its influence there in recent years as well. For example, while in early 2009 the military presence of the Taliban was visible on 62% of the country's territory, by early 2010 it was visible on 82%. As of early 2014 there are practically no provinces where there are no Taliban representatives or militant groups. The leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, who appoints shadow governors in 30 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, has not forgotten the north and northwest of the country. The situation in northern Afghanistan, in the provinces of Kunduz, Takhar and Badakhshan, is especially alarming; here the total number of fighters from various militant groups - the Taliban, Hizb-i-Islami, Hizb ut-Tahrir and others - has reached 10,000.

Fourth, throughout their time in Afghanistan, the Americans and their allies have not paid serious attention to the training of new leaders, placing their emphasis on creating defense and law enforcement agencies and farming out the creation of government organizations to Karzai. Now Washington speaks of this as a mistake. Corruption, cronyism and abuse of power seriously undermine the effectiveness of the Afghan government in the eyes of the populace, which has not forgotten its puppet status.

Fifth, for the country's religious minorities the pro-American leadership of Afghanistan has not been an alternative to the Taliban, with their religious intolerance toward minority confessions. The Afghan constitution establishes Islam as the official religion; other religions are permitted, but in practice everything remains as it was under the Taliban. Afghan Shiites, for example, are not protected from violence and persecution. They are subjected to discrimination by the Pashtun Sunnite majority, encounter oppression, do not have equal access to government service, do not have the right to educate their children in their own schools, and are subjected to physical attacks in public places.

Sixth, the presence of 160,000 foreign troops in the country has not ensured the safety of ordinary Afghans. The Taliban still organizes suicide bombings in public places, including civil government institutions, crowded marketplaces, mosques, weddings and tribal leaders' meetings. Terrorist attacks cause huge fatalities among the civilian population. The number of casualties from attacks in 2013 rose by 57% compared to 2012 and by 800% compared to 2011.

Seventh, the Americans have distanced themselves from protecting their supporters in the ranks of Afghan government agencies. Over the past two years, as the ISAF has ceased combat operations, the number of ground battles between government forces and anti-government groups has decreased, while the number of assassinations of officials, especially those connected with the Karzai regime, has increased. Potential victims of the Taliban include high-ranking government officials; generals and senior officers of the defense, intelligence and interior ministries; and provincial leaders. In 2013 the number of officials who were the victims of attacks rose by almost 30% compared with 2012.

Finally, the U.S. and NATO unjustifiably neglect the role of regional states in ensuring peace in Afghanistan. Russia is of interest to the U.S. and NATO as a transit country providing diversification of transportation to and from Afghanistan. Fearing that Moscow's role in Afghan affairs could become greater, the Americans are prepared to support only those Russian projects with regard to Afghanistan which do not touch on the strategic interests of the West (joint anti-drug-trafficking projects, prevention of the growth of Islamist terrorism, economic assistance). The Americans have also ignored the potential of China, which is an ally of Pakistan and a strategic partner of Moscow and plays a key role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Iran, which traditionally has a strong influence on a significant part of Afghanistan's population, has also been left out of America's policy. With regard to the states of Central Asia, it is planned to tie them more closely to U.S. interests, up to the point of moving NATO military bases from Afghanistan to the territory of some of them.

The tasks of ensuring security in the Northern Caucasus and in Russia's allies in Central Asia have made it a priority for Moscow to work toward counteracting the threats of extremism and international terrorism. Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the U.S. and NATO on Afghanistan remains perhaps the only area in relations between Moscow and the West where there have been no significant disagreements. This does not mean, however, that the West can continue to try the Kremlin's patience with its inability to find a way out of the military and political dead end which has resulted from the ineffective actions of the Western coalition for keeping peace in Afghanistan...