By: Shaili Shah, SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai University
Afghanistan has been mired in conflict since the past 40 years.
In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to support the Communist Afghan regime under the guise of the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of 1978. The United States saw the infiltration of the Soviet in Afghanistan as an integral Cold War struggle, a rivalry where the Soviet had to be weak. The thrust of U.S. policy for the duration of the war was determined by Carter in early 1980 when he initiated a program to arm mujahideen rebels through Pakistan’s intelligence services and aided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and fight a proxy war. The Soviets were soon met with fierce resistance from these mujahideen rebels who saw the infiltration as a defilement of Islam and incongruent to the Islam traditional values. Proclaiming a “jihaad” or holy war, they gained the support of the Islamic World. In 1985, Gorbachev came into power in the Soviet and there was a shift in foreign policy as he inherited a deteriorating war in Afghanistan. He launched the plank policies of perestroika and glasnost. Gorbachev saw the Afghan intervention as an increasing drain on the Soviet economy and socialism in the country was simply illusory. The guerilla tactics in ploy and the introduction of U.S. shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, the demoralized Soviet army retreated with no victory in 1988. The Russian withdrawal led to the disinterest of the American forces in Afghanistan. The absence of a structured government led to instability and a political vacuum in Afghanistan. This war created the breeding ground and harboring of terrorist entities in Afghanistan, which further led to the rise of Osama Bin Laden.
RISE OF TALIBAN
The mujahideen were fragmented politically into a handful of independent military groups, a transitional government in Afghanistan became quagmire of the consequent proxy war. The chaos led to the usurping of power by the Taliban in 1996 where they seized control of Kabul and established themselves as the rightful government. The former civil war predicament also gave the Taliban an edge of legitimacy and the readiness of forming a government establishing further political stability. In 1999, the nexus between al-Qaeda and Taliban is legitimized under Resolution 1267 as adopted by the United Nations Security Council. The Taliban that rose from the ashes of Afghanistan’s post-Soviet civil war extended al-Qaeda sanctuary for operations.
SEPTEMBER 11 AND THE TALIBAN
In 2001, al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four commercial airlines and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. About 3000 American lives were lost in these attacks. Consequently, George W. Bush Jr. declared a “war against terrorism” and signed into law a joint resolution further authorizing the use of force against those responsible behind the 9/11 attacks in the United States of America. The War on Terror was the first instance where the head of the State had accepted the existence of terrorism on American land and addressed it at all. The War on Terror represented a new phase in global political relations and enforced an obligation on member States to act against Violent Non-State Actors, especially those in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
INVASION OF THE TRANSATLANTIC ALLIANCE
Thus, began the invasion of the United States and NATO in Afghanistan, initiating a strategy to overthrow the Taliban regime. Subsequently, the Taliban retreated and found relief in Pakistan. As a consequence of American intervention, the first democratic government of Hamid Karzai grabbed the reins in 2004 but the Taliban still had a lot of support in the areas around the Pakistan border. They made hundreds of millions of dollars from the trading narcotics and mining. The failure of Karzai government was attributed to Taliban’s increasing territorial expansion along with their added finances from the drug trade. Moreover, as the Taliban continued to carry out suicide attacks, the international coalition working along with the Afghan troops failed to counter the threat posed by the re-energized group.
2014 was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since 2001 and NATO’s international forces were wary of staying indefinitely. They ended their combat mission and transferred the responsibility for security in Afghanistan to the Afghan national defense and security forces. This gave Taliban the long awaited momentum they needed. They left no stone unturned in seizing territory and detonated bombs against government and civilian targets.
THE ENDLESS AFGHAN WAR
It’s been nearly 20 years and the war has achieved very little. Every President has tried to win the war in their own ways, bringing troops in or drawing troops out. However, there has been no fundamental change in the course of this war. The American presence in Afghanistan has fostered the values of democracy and guaranteed some sort of semblance of human rights. However, till what extend does the United States have the responsibility to guarantee these values and principles in Afghanistan by troop presence? Does the United States carry on the same narrative of troop presence in countries deficit of women’s rights or the fundamental rights to enforce democracy? It all boils down to whether committing another generation of American lives to an unwinnable war, that’s more than half the world away, fruitful anymore.
The Taliban today is much stronger than it was in 2001. It has withstood counterinsurgency operations from more than three U. S. administrations in a war that has killed over 2,400 Americans and 1,100 NATO troops. More than 43,000 civilians have died and an approximate 45,000 Afghan troops and police officers have been killed just in the past five years. With an estimated sixty thousand fighters, the Taliban controls 398 districts of the country.
THE DOHA AGREEMENT 2020
History took a front seat in February 2020 when the United States signed an Agreement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. The objective was to set the path of peace after more than eighteen years of war. The agreement entails a significant withdrawal of U. S. troops from Afghanistan and guarantees that the Taliban will not provide a safe haven for terrorists.
These talks are “truly momentous” because this is the first direct dialogue between the Talibans and the Afghan government. The militants up till now had refused to engage with the government, calling them powerless and branding them as sheer American “puppets”. The U. S. and NATO allies agreed to withdraw all troops within 14 months while the Taliban committed not to allow al-Qaeda or any extremist group to operate in the areas that are under their control. The US also agreed to lift sanctions against the Taliban and work with the UN to lift its separate sanctions against the group, as well as cutting its troop numbers in the country from about 12,000 to 8,600 and closing several bases. The deal also provides for a prisoner swap of about 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 detained Afghan security personnel.
The challenges posed during this agreement were how to include Taliban, who has rejected the legitimacy of any Western-backed government, in various governing arrangements and how to safeguard the rights of women and minorities under their stringent Islamic regime. There is a lack of significance on the endeavor with regards to the intra-Afghan talk. Under the sheer guise of an attempt to secure American forces out of Afghanistan, which could eventually allow the Taliban to regain control while guarding America from any further loss and any lasting peace in Afghanistan. For the Taliban, “peace doesn’t mean an end to the fighting, it means an end to the U.S. occupation,” says Bill Roggio, an editor for Long War Journal. “After the United States is gone, the Taliban will work to settle its scores and reestablish the Islamic emirate.”
Does the Trump Administration have the will to stay in Afghanistan until a power-sharing government is established? The intra-Afghan negotiations that began in September are painstakingly slow and complicated. For the U. S. troops to stand ground until an intra-Afghan peace deal is secured would be the best hope for securing a favorable outcome for both the Americans and the Afghans. Staying beyond May 2021 would be in violation of the February 29 Agreement between Washington and the Taliban. However, both the intra-Afghan peace negotiations, which began months after they were supposed to begin, and the Taliban’s continued relationship with al-Qaeda already violate the agreement. More substantively, Ambassador Khalilzad, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, has publicly said that American troop withdrawals beyond those currently scheduled for November 2020 will be based on “conditions on the ground.” This phrase is usually understood to imply an evaluation of whether the Taliban has kept its counterterrorism commitments, and also an assessment of levels of violence on the ground between the Taliban and the Afghans (violence that has, tragically for so many, continued unabated). Khalilzad often indicates the essence of the February 29 deal that establishes four parts as interrelated: the U.S. withdrawal, Taliban counterterrorism commitments, a lasting ceasefire, and a roadmap for the intra-Afghan deal.
At this juncture, the international community cannot remain inactive or passive, as there is much at stake. The withdrawal of US-led forces should not result in a situation where the Taliban consolidate their hold over the Afghan society. This will defeat the very purpose of external intervention in Afghan’s domestic affairs. This is the best shot at supporting the Afghans and their government, shedding the farce of neutrality that the Washington has been maintaining. Invigorating the Afghan government is the last resort to uphold women’s rights, human rights and democracy— all the ideals that we hold dear and the backbone of this 19-year-old war, everything that cannot be imposed. Leaving the battle before an intra-Afghan deal is reached, the risk is pushing Afghanistan into an unremitting darkness that will only lead to the annihilation of democracy in Afghanistan and the eventual victory for the Taliban. Everything that has been achieved in the past 19 years will be reduced to nothing and there could be no greater disservice to humanity. To believe that the international community has no responsibility to safeguard these gains is simply disingenuous.
 Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soviet-tanks-roll-into-afghanistan, 27 October 2020
 United Nations Security Council, S/RES/1267(1999), 15 October 1999, https://www.undocs.org/S/RES/1267(1999), 27 October 2020
 Joint Resolution, 107th Congress Public Law, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/PLAW-107publ40/html/PLAW-107publ40.htm, 27 October 2020
 North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO and Afghanistan, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_8189.htm, 27 October 2020
 Watson Institute, Human Cost of Post-9/11 War, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2019/Direct%20War%20Deaths%20COW%20Estimate%20November%2013%202019%20FINAL.pdf, 27 October 2020
 Council on Foreign Relations, The Taliban in Afghanistan, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/taliban-afghanistan, 27 October 2020
 Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States, as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Agreement-For-Bringing-Peace-to-Afghanistan-02.29.20.pdf, 27 October 2020
 Mail Online, Keith Griffith, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8726101/Mike-Pompeo-arrives-Qatar-Taliban-Afghan-peace-talks.html, 27 October 2020
 Order from Chaos, Madiha Afzal, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/10/13/america-should-stay-in-afghanistan-until-an-intra-afghan-deal-is-reached-not-forever/, 27 October 2020
One thought on “THE UBIQUITOUS PRESENCE OF THE UNITED STATES IN AFGHANISTAN: A CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE”
Thought provoking article.
There is definitely challenge to humanity and i am sure this article will be read by all the responsible world leaders and they will ensure that corrective steps are taken.
Congratulations to writer for this article.
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