When Donald Trump announced his administration’s strategy for Afghanistan, it was welcomed by Kabul’s leaders and other Afghan urban centers. Influential figures in politics, business, security and the media saw it as much-needed change from President Barack Obama’s stopwatch approach to the 16-year-long U.S. involvement in the nation.
Afghanistan has always been the graveyard of empires, and it will be no different this time for the US. It is just that successive American administrations have refused to concede defeat, believing that by maintaining a presence on the ground they can safeguard America’s broader strategic interests.
A new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) — a monitoring agency that oversees reconstruction projects and other activities in Afghanistan — has found that the security situation in the country continues to worsen as the Taliban manages to seize new territory, and civilian casualties and U.S military deaths rise ever more steeply. The report comes as the Pentagon and Coalition forces attempt to implement President Donald Trump’s strategy for the 16-year-old conflict.
There are several factors preventing the United States from successfully reaching its objectives in Afghanistan, but one that is consistently overlooked is the detrimental impact of identity politics on the nation’s governance. The Trump administration’s policy toward Afghanistan is primarily focused on three main points: increased American military presence and action against the Taliban, increased pressure on Pakistan to act against militant safe havens on the border, and an invitation for India to play a larger role. What this strategy lacks is an attempt to solidify the various ethnic Afghan factions, dominated by warlords-turned-politicians, into a cohesive and united front against the Taliban. However, this is much easier said than done.
Another official, Gen. Abdul Khalil Bakhtiar, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister in charge of the counternarcotics police, said the insurgents had used the growing insecurity of the past two years to establish more refining labs, and move them closer to the opium fields.
Despite the past week of violence that rocked Afghanistan, including a wave of major Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces, the Trump administration appears to still be holding the door open for a negotiated settlement. The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, recently credited President Donald Trump's commitment to an enhanced and open-ended military presence in Afghanistan with setting the conditions for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. And in his first trip to the region, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reaffirmed the United States would fight the Taliban and pursue "a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and [the Taliban's] full involvement and participation in government."
The latest round of the so called Great Game which has started recently, like the previous ones played in 19th and 20th centuries, has brought new troubles for South Asia in general and for Afghan/Pashtuns in particular.
In testimony before the House and Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, Secretary of Defense James Mattis unveiled his new Afghan strategy, which he called “R4+S” (regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconcile and sustain). The “new” plan Mattis presented is one part a regurgitation of select Obama policies and one part an increased use of air power that is tied to no observable political or strategic objective––and in toto will only lock-in long-term strategic failure.
To many, the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai may appear to have lost significance since he completed his term as Afghan president. Nevertheless, being a former executive head, he remains an insider to important developments in Afghanistan.