When Washington declares that its policy in Afghanistan is not working, the key question to ask is “what is the goal?” if the goal is to have peace, (desired equally by the regional players,) the American action towards the goal post is wrong. Battles in Afghanistan are an ‘occupation enabled’ phenomenon, and will continue while the occupation is in process directly or through Afghan proxies. Occupation is anathema to Afghanistan’s political eco system. Its distinct history has earned Afghanistan the title ‘grave yard of empires.’ The British, on whose Empire the sun never set, were content to have Afghanistan as the buffer between the Crown and the Tzar, occupied by neither. Outsiders who sought to occupy Afghanistan did so at their own peril.
Yet another goal, repeatedly declared by the US, is to put an end to ‘terrorism.’ Here too, the action taken for the purpose (war) is the most ‘terrorism enabling’ action. When regular armies wage war against irregular fighters, the latter’s inevitable choice of weaponry is terrorism. This lesson from history will stay relevant till the weak find another weapon.
Arrogance of power aided by technology can instigate the Americans to pulverize Afghanistan. After all, the victim can reach neither the naval fleet anchored in the Arabian Sea, nor the mainland where the US is situated. Afghans have no retaliatory power outside of Afghanistan. This is the most dangerously naïve assumption because of the political ecology of the region. Three of the world’s great economies and four of the world’s most significant countries lie inside the region that surrounds Afghanistan, i.e., India, China, Russia and Pakistan. In one of these countries bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan, Muslims include the second largest ethnic group of Pushtuns, almost 28 million. Pushtuns are the majority ethnic group in Afghanistan. The other three countries, China, Russia, and India, harbor Muslim minorities in great numbers. Large tracts of land within these countries are Muslim populated areas. Russia’s south, (Daghestan,Chechnya, Turkestan, comprising nearly seven percent of Russia’s population) China’s west, the Uighours, (twenty million Muslims) and india’s 172 million Muslims living all over India, are greatly significant population segments, with organized institutions that protect community interests. Genocide of the Muslims in Afghanistan will mobilize the Muslim minorities in Russia, China and India against their respective states in an unprecedented manner. China’s Uighur problem and Russia’s Chechyan problem can be exacerbated. The policy could produce a revolution in Pakistan whose anti US sentiment will be reminiscent of the anti US sentiment of the Irani revolution in 1979. Pakistani state may try to pre empt such a revolution by disallowing the US the use of its territory for military action in Afghanistan. If the US thinks it can turn to Iran as substitute it must know that such a policy on the part of Tehran could create a second revolution in Iran that seeks the over throw of a regime allied with the West – and the anti IRP revolution could be even more anti US than the anti Shah revolution spearheaded by the IRP itself. Central Asia would not be immune to political shocks of such a policy, if followed by the US. Hence, US’ military approach could destabilize the domestic equilibrium of largest countries in the region and most significant economies in the world. Even the most tightly knit narrative spinned by the US, that they are busy exterminating terrorism in Afghanistan, will be destroyed by the intrusive power of today’s electronic media.
In a nutshell, the war to end the Afghan population will initiate civil wars within many countries in the region. In such a scenario, terrorism will expand and flourish at humungous levels. The US needs regional territories to carry goods in and out of Afghanistan for trade purpose (their real purpose for being in Afghanistan is lithium). There will be no safe places to do so. Constant battle will make trade unsustainable.
US’ second option is to use the Pakistan military for exterminating the Afghan resistance – and it is currently exercising its leverage with Indian collaboration. For Pakistan, such a policy would mean a potential civil war within its own boundaries that will weaken the Pakistan military vis-à-vis India and undermine Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence. Pakistani generals have so far carried out successful targeted operations against militants. They prefer to confine their activities to intelligence enabled operations. That is why when the US accuses Pakistan of harboring terrorists, Pakistan responds by demanding that whereabouts be supplied so it can take them out. The US has no doubt Pakistan will take militants out if they are pin pointed because the threat to Pakistan is just as big. Pakistan is endeavoring to establish itself as a gateway civilization where all foreigners feel welcomed, not threatened. Yet, Washington issues vague pronouncements about Pakistan’s role, not real intelligence about terrorists’ whereabouts.
During the sixteen year long occupation, the US extensively checked the afghan territory for resources. It subsequently qualified Afghanistan as the Saudi Arabia of lithium. The significance of lithium, of which cell phone batteries are made, is doubly enhanced in view of climate change induced natural disasters the west is currently confronted with in rapid succession. If fossil fuel driven cars are inducing global warming, a greater need in the West will be felt to cut down carbon emission. Even rogue Presidents like Trump will come round to signing emission control treaties. This will greatly increase the demand for hybrid cars (rechargeable electronic cars). Lithium will be in much greater demand then. The US is destroying the trade potential of this resource by continuing to wage war in Afghanistan. US’s kinetic activity is making all trade routes out of Afghanistan un safe. Only and only negotiated settlement with Afghan resistance and the regional powers will allow the US to mine and transport lucrative commodities out of the region. US has learned its lessons regarding the power of a combative Asian population during the heyday of its power in the world (Vietnam). Now that the US is in a comparative decline, its stakes are even higher.
It is highly unlikely that Pakistan military will agree to a policy of joining hands with the US for extermination of the Afghan resistance and enabling American occupation of Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. Such a policy is not in the interest of Pakistan’s ally and long term economic partner China. The US could use the Afghan territory to foment trouble in China’s restive Muslim province. It could do the same for Russia’s south. Initially, trump looked like he could be a President free of Cold War era prejudices. He has since knuckled under the US military and intelligence establishment, who seem incapable of shedding the prejudice. Hence Pakistan is not likely to follow a policy the US, in cahoots with India, is pressurizing Islamabad to follow.
The best way forward for the US is to shed its Cold War era animosities. Extend a cordial hand out to China with a view to becoming its trade partner, not its trade rival. There is much the US can gain economically from such a policy. US also needs to Reset its relations with Russia and utilize the rapidly warming Bering straits for greater trade ties with Eurasia. Sustainable trade ties can not be built upon perpetual petulance and paranoid eavesdropping on friends and perceived foes alike. Neither can these be built on settlements the Europeans could afford to have on foreign lands five centuries ago. The world has changed. Centers of innovation and industry are no longer confined to the west only. Human resource development is more likely to be evenly spread across the globe than ever before as states learn to apply the power of information technology innovatively to human resource development. India’s real relevance to the US is as a trade partner, not as a security partner. When it comes down to brass tacks, It is foolish to think India will wage battle with the regional nuclear powers to protect the US’ military hold in the region. India can be a better trade partner for the US if Indo-Pak enmity is settled through a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Such a settlement has never been more plausible than at present.
Making peace between India and Pakistan through resolution of the outstanding Kashmir issue, negotiating the terms of withdrawal with the Afghan resistance, and instituting a trade regime that involves the regional powers is the best way forward for the US and the only way forward for effective, unhindered trade in and out of region. Waging war to have peace is like trying to stop an earthquake from happening.