Out of Afghanistan: Blood, toil, tears and sweat – but no victory!

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Context

150_m__taqiI have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs – Victory in spite of all terror – Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival. (Sir Winston Churchill)

There was one word missing from Mr. Barrack Obama’s 4,608-word subdued speech delivered at the West Point Academy: Victory!

The first part of Churchill’s above speech, however, resonated frequently in the President’s address.

Simply put, faced with an imminent defeat, Mr. Obama has presented his formula for a face-saving withdrawal for the US and the allied forces from Afghanistan. This was his Gorbachev moment.

Pandering to the Democratic left, Mr. Obama has laid out his plan to get out of Afghanistan with the gist of his message being that a 30 billion dollars a year war is economically not sustainable.

Analysis

While the Pelosi Democrats were willing to bailout the manicure-addicted CEOs of AIG with a $ 60 billion plus package, they would not support the effort which the President himself had described as a war of necessity.

Read in the Pak-Afghan context, the speech – and the conspicuously absent from it any reference to victory – spells many, many long years of struggle and suffering – for that region. A region that has seen nothing but blood, toil, tears and sweat for the last thirty years, is in for a lot more of the same.

The three point agenda presented by the President has done away with the lofty commitment of nation-building that had been announced by his predecessor at the outset of the war.

Afghanistan is not a graveyard of empires; it is a mass grave of international commitments. Those who don’t have the will to stay on cut their losses and get out – propagating in the process the myth and the mess.

Even though the West Point Academy was chosen to highlight the military significance of his message, Mr. Obama’s plan will obviously have political, historical and above all human consequences for Pak-Afghan region and the world at large.

The so-called civilian surge is nothing but a euphemism to prop up the Kabul government to allow the US forces a relatively dignified withdrawal before the Taliban unleashes its own surge.

The civilian surge professes to bring honest leadership in Kabul, bolster civilian law enforcement and raise or strengthen local and tribal militias. None of this could be achieved in the last eight years and its not going to happen now.

Mr. Hamid Karzai does sit atop a system, which is corrupt to the core, but this is what you get when you prosecute a national war through warlord proxies and buying off tribal leaders. The US wanted to do it on the cheap and got the thugs like Ismail Khan and Rashid Dostum to do the donkeywork while the Neocons could divert the resources to attacking a sovereign Iraq.

No so-called lean, mean fighting machine can secure a country as big and as complicated as Afghanistan. National wars require blood, toil, tears and sweat but the US wanted to outsource such ordeal to the Afghans while hoping to claim the victory for itself. By cutting corners in terms of the number and quality of troops in 2001, the US and in turn Karzai – himself a former small-time stooge of the ISI – have become hostage to the warlords.

Even now the reality has not set in. The US civilian planners have been calculating down to dollars and cents the cost of putting one trained US soldier vs. hiring a whole Afghan tribe for the same amount.

However, in a rentier state like Afghanistan the rent-an-Afghan formula, unfortunately, cuts both ways. With a tentative US withdrawal date looming, the notoriously fickle Afghan alliances will change in favor of the regional players.

In a replay of the 1990s, the regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran that have been hedging their bets against a premature US exit, by keeping their Afghan mercenary assets intact, are ready to throw their hats in.

For thirty years guns, God and global heroin trade have fueled the Afghan economy. A citizenry, whose only vocation for a generation has been war, will readily continue to fight as proxies – for economic reasons if not the ideological ones.

By denying Gen. McChrystal the 80,000 troops requested originally, Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel and Nancy Pelosi have set the stage for Afghanistan to return to a bloody civil war.

That peaceniks have guaranteed the continuation of a gruesome war is a foregone conclusion. But what is being underestimated is the political and ideological fallout of the US defeat for the region.

By failing to deliver a mortal blow to the Wahabist extremism of the Al-Qaida and Taliban, Mr. Obama has furnished it with a morale-booster that even the Soviet defeat didn’t provide them.

Compared to the near-unanimous and incredibly deep anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and the Islamic world the public opinion was not anti-Russia across the board at the time of the Soviet withdrawal.

One can already hear the pro-Jihadist media anchors crowing about the rout of another “infidel’ power in Afghanistan. The miniscule liberals who had cast their lot with the US are in for a bashing beyond their imagination. Unfortunately, a debacle due to mismanagement of the war is about to be painted as a divine intervention by the neo-Salafi intelligentsia, especially in Pakistan.

It is almost futile even to talk of a future political structure in Afghanistan but in Pakistan many had hoped that with realignment of the US policy favorably towards its civilian dispensation, the latter would be bolstered and reinforced. The uproar over the Kerry-Lugar Law eventually did fizzle out in favor of those who supported it against the Pakistan Army’s very public disapproval of the package.

However, with unveiling of Mr. Obama’s road map, the mighty ISI has reemerged as the most significant player in the region. To its credit, the ISI had calculated that the US would get out of Afghanistan sooner than later, because of a weak economy and a weaker resolve. No matter how much the US now leans on it, there is very little that it can do make the ISI deliver.

Political realignment in Pakistan had already begun this year with the center-right Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of Nawaz Sharif reestablishing its contacts with the Army against a perceived pro-American Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Already on the ropes, due to its leadership blundering into conflict after conflict and at loggerheads with the Army, the PPP appears to be heading towards the exit gates of power.

The Pakistani Islamist parties, a political front for the Taliban-Al Qaida militants, had been relatively quiescent lately in face of the universal disgust and anger at the Jihadist suicide bombings in the country. They are bound to be ascendant and buoyed with confidence for they are smelling victory in Afghanistan.

The sum-total of this would be the release of domestic pressure on the ISI to dismantle its Jihadist assets. With the US on its way out of the region and secular-liberal political forces barely keeping their head above water, the stage is set for a pious right-wing dispensation in Pakistan.

In an extremely unfavorable political milieu in Pakistan, Mr. Obama’s objective of disrupting the Taliban-Al-Qaida network and safe havens along the Pak-Afghan border is highly unlikely to be achieved. The authorized increase in the Predator UMAV attacks will meet growing political resistance that was not seen in the case of such operations as in Malakand and Waziristan. A march on the US embassy itself would not be a surprise.

There is little doubt that Afghanistan is about to go up in flames, which inevitably would burn the region. President Obama is optimistic that he would be able to keep the fire contained. The history of the region however, gives us very little to be optimistic about. The President has gambled on the human tragedy his decision may entail.

Churchill’s House of Commons speech noted above was his first address as the prime minister. It consolidated his position as perhaps the greatest wartime leader of the modern era. More than that he didn’t leave his people and allies guessing the way Mr. Obama did at West Point. Churchill did lose his reelection bid but won the war.

The question then is whether Mr. Obama is out to win an election or the war?

(Author teaches and practices medicine at the University of Florida and can be reached at mazdaki@me.com)(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of POLITACT.)
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