By Rafiullah Anwari
I remember my childhood in the village. My family has just returned home-Afghanistan from a Pakistani refugee camp. I could see the grimy picture around- which the Soviet-Union and Civil war left behind there. But there was still hope and joy for a better future and better change on the faces of villagers- as the U.S. led allies ousted the Taliban who gave home to the al-Qaeda leader and hundreds of fighters- and the initiative welfare projects were launched to benefit the residents.
The village lacked school building for the students. The building of the school was destroyed as a result of years of wars. The ruins and steels of the buildings were looted. The students had no place but to study under the trees or in open areas under the hot sun.
I don’t really remember which organization had begun construction of the school but we luckily studied our next year years’ schooling in a highly constructed building that was well-furnished. In the inauguration ceremony of our school, there were four foreigners- all of them white people including three women and one man. However they quit soon, they appeared so relaxed and calm. There was no threat to anyone- no Taliban- no any other militant group. Many of our villagers had once fought the Soviet-Union but they were so friendly with these foreigner guests.
It might have been the latest time that I felt peace and harmony in life. The children and youths of the village celebrated the holidays and even normal days so happily and joyfully.
But as time was passing, the situation had become challenging for everyone that also forced my family to leave the village and settle in capital Kabul. The same village I have just talked about is now under the Taliban control.
What U.S. did wrong?
The U.S. has spent billions of Dollars to implement construction projects, support Afghan security forces, ensure human rights and particularly rights of women as well as education during the 20 years of its presence in Afghanistan but despite all, it didn’t have ample understanding of the country, people and region.
Indeed it started with a wrong policy at first place. The U.S. relied on Mujahideens and notorious warlords who had once turned Afghanistan into a bloodbath in a bid to pursue their personal interests. They engaged in the civil war after the government of President Mohammad Najibullah collapsed in 1992 in Kabul. The war left hundreds and thousands of people dead, maimed and millions others displaced.
The U.S. needed the support of Mujahideens to oust the Taliban and wipe the al-Qaeda out of the country but it shouldn’t have relied on them for most. Many of the Afghans don’t hold a good memory from these warlords or so called Mujahideens. Plus, almost all of these groups had once enjoyed safe havens and training camps in Pakistan- a country that is currently backing the Taliban to reach its proxy goals in Afghanistan.
Second, The U.S. should have focused on ruling out the roots of the terrorists. It could have taken a dynamical and strategic advantage of its 20-year presence in the region. It is crystal clear that Pakistan has been supporting the Taliban since the group’s foundation. The Taliban have been enjoying safe havens, training camps and their leaders even have businesses there. The U.S. owes a strong Air Force and developed military technology that could eliminate the epicenters of terrorists in Pakistan- but it didn’t.
It wasn’t something that the U.S. was not aware of. The leader of al-Qaeda network, Osama bin Laden was killed in American Special Forces’ raid on May 2, 2011, inside a private residential compound in Abbottabad of Pakistan, a city that was home for top Pakistani military officials as well as military academy.
For whatever reason it devoid the intention to confront these terrorists on the epicenters rather than fighting it in Afghanistan, where more than 2,300 American Service Members were killed and over 20,000 wounded since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001.
If Washington had put real efforts to eliminate the terrorist groups in Pakistan, the Taliban and other militant groups- including those posing threats for the U.S. and allies- wouldn’t have been as emboldened as they are now- the West wouldn’t have feared any terrorist threat from the region-and Afghanistan wouldn’t have plunged into crisis. These misunderstandings of the U.S. towards Afghanistan and the region have underestimated its credibility worldwide.
Those, who suffered the most of this wide of the mark, are the Afghans. According to the human rights watchdogs more than 47,600 civilians have been killed in the two decades of war. A much more fatality inflicted on the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. In January 2019, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that more than 45,000 Afghan security forces had died since 2014. Giving a look at the high level of violence at the moment, the current tally of the Afghan forces’ casualties should be way higher.
As the U.S. is on track to exit Afghanistan following the U.S. incumbent President, Joe Biden’s announcement- with giving the Taliban group a high privilege- leaving the peace process in uncertainty- those Afghans who relied on West and touted for democracy, freedom, women and human rights, are now in fears of being left alone behind.
The Taliban has a biased-background of treating democracy, freedom and civil rights with cruel behavior. In their regime of 1996s, the group put women into caves and treated them with less freedom and they were deprived of education and work. Only the female doctors were allowed to go to work.
On the other hand, the Afghans owe the mindset of Talibanism have already declared the U.S. as foe. What the U.S. doing now is leaving this nation to those, whom it had fought for 20 years, shoulder to shoulder alongside the Afghans. The Taliban hold an absolute hatred towards those Afghans who voiced for freedom, rights and stand for the U.S. type of policy in Afghanistan.
This slip-up policy of the U.S. will also spark hatred among those Afghans who supported and appreciated the U.S. led mission in a bid to bring essential tweaks in this society. If Afghanistan plunges into more crisis- at a point that the lives of this circle of the society will be under serious threat as the insurgent group is not so virtue- then the U.S. would lose its credibility not only among Afghans but in the whole world.
For whatever reason the U.S. made a rapid withdrawal; it is on the verge of making another big and unregrettable mistake. On one hand, Afghanistan is surrounded by countries that hold severe vibes with the U.S., including the Central Asians, Iran, China plus Pakistan.
On the other hand, the threat to U.S. and allies are still highly envisaged as the Taliban are getting stronger overtime and group failed to fulfill its commitment based on the peace deal it signed with the U.S. on 29 February 2020.
A recent report of the UN and top Pentagon officials confirmed that the Taliban and al-Qaeda remained close in ties. The UN said that the emboldened Taliban group has been posing drastic threats to the Afghan government. “The Taliban and al-Qaeda remain closely aligned and show no indication of breaking ties,” the report added.
Addressing a congressional hearing on June 17, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Llyod Austin sounded alarms that the international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda will pose a threat to the U.S. and allies. “It would take possible two years for them to develop that capability,” Austin said.
A responsible withdrawal would have given well-known legacy of trust and respect to the U.S.. In such a critical time, leaving all behind in a war torn country-the possible collapse of the government- lack of strong security forces amid feeble economy and political controversies- Afghanistan needed the U.S. more than ever.
The Afghans are currently scrambling with an unabated high level of violence ragging on across the country. The rapid pullout would bring the U.S. credibility down globally. 20 years ago, the Afghans trusted the U.S. and joined it in ousting the Taliban regime but now Afghanistan is left alone like a sheep in a wild jungle. The ridicules matter of concern is that the U.S. leaves at place, where it has once started- there is nothing much forward in countering the terrorism- no guarantees at all.
If the U.S. had reached a peace deal with the Taliban that could also secure the past achievements or at least observe the merely reality of the current Afghan society, the Afghans would have been in debt of the U.S. and therefore, it would have never been worried of any future threat from this region to the world.
The U.S. must not take its hand off so easily from Afghanistan and the efforts it made in this country. Washington must also remember that the Afghan forces have fought shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. led allies to eliminate the terrorist groups that pose threat to the world not only to Afghanistan.
If Biden doesn’t behold these values in his policy towards Afghanistan, the U.S. with spending all of hundred or billions of dollars will be described as a failure to its rivals in the region and as a matter of fact, it will no longer hold its credible reputation in the world.