Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Is the West losing the Afghan War?
PAKISTANI President Asif Ali Zardari’s bleak assessment that the international community is losing the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan created ripples this week, but it is perhaps better seen as a riposte to Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron questioning Islamabad’s willingness to choke support for Afghan Taliban insurgents.
Cameron’s barb came last week after leaked U.S. military documents said former and current intelligence officers in Pakistan were for years collaborating with the Taliban, who are intensifying bloody attacks against President Hamid Karzai’s government and around 150,000 foreign troops.
“I believe that the international community, which Pakistan belongs to, is in the process of losing the war against the Taliban,” Zardari said. “And that is, above all, because we have lost the battle for hearts and minds.”
Whatever Zardari’s motives may have been, if one looks closely at events in Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001, you would likely agree with him.
Zardari said what Afghan officials have felt privately for a long time. Former spy chief Amrullah Saleh, who Karzai sacked in June over security lapses, spoke after his departure about the president’s lack of confidence in Western forces winning the war.
Despite bristling with technology and spending billions of dollars, coalition leader the United States not only hasn’t been able to defeat the Taliban, but insurgents are now reaching areas once thought secure. A New Zealand soldier was killed in an ambush on Tuesday in Bamiyan province, in the central highlands, marking the country’s first combat death in an area regarded as the Afghanistan’s safest region.
Last week, there was a deadly attack on a road leading to the province, which is a popular tourist destination lying on the ancient Silk Route.
I always questioned the need for New Zealand to have a base in Bamiyan where the Taliban have had zero presence in recent years after their perceived brutal rule over the ethnic Hazara-dominated province and destruction of two huge and ancient Buddha statues.
Given its exceptionally secure situation, Bamiyan nine years after the war began should be an example of efforts by the West to win hearts and minds among Afghans through reconstruction and development. Yet there have been protests in recent months about the lack of progress there.
If ordinary Afghans are frustrated in a secure, isolated and impoverished part of Afghanistan like Bamiyan, then the task of winning support in the restive south and east, where the Taliban are resurgent, will be immeasurably more difficult.
The United States has not been able to stop the spread of insurgent influence, or capture either Taliban or al Qaeda leaders, which Washington said was its top priority when it invaded Afghanistan.
Some NATO nations are reluctant to send soldiers for battle against the Taliban in the face of rising casualties among their forces while some are questioning if the Afghan war is worth.
The Netherlands this week began to pull out its soldiers and several other alliance countries plan in coming years.
Conspiracy theories, like rice and bread, are an Afghan staple. So you either have to agree with Zardari’s comments, or perhaps subscribe to views widely held among ordinary Afghans that the U.S. wants to keep Afghanistan unstable in order to maintain a long-term presence in the unstable Central Asia region.