May 17, 2020

From a Formal to an Informal US-empire in Afghanistan

B Arjun

AFGHANISTAN’s seven-day “reduction in violence” plan negotiated by the US and the Taliban commenced on February 21. Subsequently, the two erstwhile warring parties signed a deal on February 28, to bring peace to Afghanistan. America promised phased withdrawal of its military forces from Afghanistan. It is hoped that this will mark the beginning of end of the American involvement in nearly two-decade-old Afghan war which began after the September 11 attacks.

The ambiguous US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, was negotiated for more than a year. It excluded the American-backed Afghanistan government and was a direct deal between the US empire and a non-government organisation, ‘the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ or the Taliban.

This so-called peace deal is rather ambitious. It aims to achieve reduction in current level of US troops from 12-13,000 to 8,600 and is “conditions-based." Secondly, the deal expects the Taliban to abandon the insurgency movement and snap its network with terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.

Despite some signs of acrimony within the Afghan political elite, the yearning for peace and an end to foreign rule by America is overwhelming amongst the people of Afghanistan. The Afghani people are looking forward to a comprehensive intra-Afghan dialogue to achieve a long-lasting ceasefire and a durable peace in their country.    

The day after the Doha agreement was signed, Taliban launched an attack on Afghan government forces. The attack shook the international community that was expecting the deal to usher in a new era in Kabul. After the initial shock, things seem to be returning to normal.

Taliban is claiming it as a victory of its nationalist struggle. However, it is foolhardy to imagine that America is leaving Afghanistan for good. Washington’s increasing involvement in Tehran and central-Asia to counter the Sino-Russian alliance just does not allow it to go back home.

It is likely that the character of the US empire in Afghanistan may undergo a change. From a formal colony, Kabul may become an informal colony of the US. The US military officials present in Kabul may come down to 1000 or even less, but America will continue to rule Afghanistan.

For many Americans, the Doha agreement is in some senses unsavoury. It does little to settle differences between the various Afghan warlords and the central government in Kabul, which for many years has been a US puppet.

Walking hand in hand with Taliban is a difficult proposition for liberal Americans. In the American minds, Taliban’s insurgency falls under the “unjust wars” category. It is a branded terrorist organisation around which the ‘war on terror’ narrative has been woven over the past  20 years.   

On the other hand, for Afghans it is equally disturbing to accept a deal with America that has been ruthlessly engaged in carpet bombing their cities and ruining their country.

The Americans have been able to overcome their aversion of Taliban for pragmatic reasons. As one scholar avers, “Leaving the Middle East may indeed mean more violence, rather than less, in the short-term. It may also mean that organisations like the Afghan Taliban wind up holding power in their own countries, rather than the liberals that Americans would prefer. But if one is serious about ending endless war, these are the trade-offs, sometimes painful ones, that have to be taken into consideration.”

Those who are saying that America is leaving because it could not win the war are refusing to understand that the US never occupied Kabul to build it and nor to win the hearts and minds of Afghan people. America basically came into Kabul to achieve its narrow geo-political objectives, to reinforce its hegemony and fatten its military industrial complex (MIC).

The elongated-war is neither necessitated by the American security interests, nor because the opposition is formidable, it has mainly continued because the US establishment needs continuous violence to justify its humongous annual defence budget of $700 billion.

The post-cold-war international politics gave Washington a wide-legroom to indulge into specious wars to appease its MIC.

Since only 3,500 American and coalition troops were lost in Afghanistan the America elite started enjoying the ‘endless war’ on which roughly US $2 trillion have been spent and some tens of thousands of Afghani people killed.

The question is why is America keen to negotiate with its enemy of last two decades? Why is America keen to appoint the Taliban as the guardian of its interests in Afghanistan?

One clear reason is that the American financial position is tight. There is a rethinking in America on the costs involved in a protracted war, especially when it is difficult to retain the interests of allies. Moreover, as the Sino-Russian challenge grows, America intends to achieve much more with much less and preserve its resources for other battles.

The signing of the peace pact in Qatar was witnessed by Indian ambassador to Qatar P Kumaran. However, it has been a setback for Indian diplomacy that had worked hard in ensuring that Pakistan-backed Taliban remained on the fringes of Kabul.

India is now left with no choice but to accept that the Taliban is no longer a pariah for the United States that cares little for Indian national interests.

Pakistan is certainly happy with the developments because it will now have a regime that will work to reduce Indian involvement in Afghanistan. 

Furthermore, the Pakistani diplomatic elite is giving itself a pat on the back for playing a crucial role in helping the Trump administration to strike a deal with Taliban.

Looking at the current state of geo-politics, it is difficult to be sanguine about the prospects of peace in the region. Taliban has promised to look after Washington’s security interests in the country, preventing any other non-state or state force from using Afghan soil to threaten US interests.

The question is how will a Taliban dominated regime behave in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and how it will react to Chinese and Russian overtures for infrastructural investments in Afghanistan. Will the US allow it to get close to China and Iran? For how long will the Taliban continue to serve American interests in the region?

And more importantly, for how long will the US MIC continue to sit idle without a war? Development of new weapons will demand new live-firing ranges, like Afghanistan, and the American strategy will continue to locate new sites for new wars.