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Will US fury work in Afghanistan?
October 06, 2006
Five years after the invasion began, Rahimullah Yusufzai, perhaps the only journalist in the world to have interviewed both Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban chief Mullah Omar, examines the situation in Afghanistan now, and worries that the war on terror could go on forever.
The first feature in a week-long series to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan.The open-ended war on terror being waged by the US is continuing five years after America was attacked, and it could go on forever.
Our planet has become unsafe than it was prior to the extraordinary terrorist attacks targetting American symbols of military and economic power in Washington and New York.
The situation has been particularly unstable in and around Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda is believed to have conceived the unique plan to use passenger planes to bomb the Pentagon and World Trade Centre.
Five years after 9/11, the US is still in a revengeful mood. It has spent its fury on waging two full-fledged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and is reportedly preparing to launch a third one against Iran. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has already stated that the US possessed the capability to fight a third war along with the two it is fighting in the Middle East and Central Asia.
American connivance is visible in the Israeli attacks against Lebanon and the Hamas-led Palestinian authority in Gaza. Along with military offensives and occupation of foreign lands, the US has also formed an irritating habit of weighing in through unwanted interference in the affairs of weaker nations. The doctrine of regime change and pre-emptive strikes against so-called 'rogue States' for advancing American objectives is increasingly becoming part of international diplomacy.
Those opposed to US policies have also become more violent and determined while resisting occupation of their countries or indulging in terrorist attacks. Their tactics have become brutal and their propaganda focused and sophisticated. While exacting revenge, both the US and its allies and their Islamic rivals have surprisingly adopted almost the same approach, by justifying civilian deaths as 'collateral damage.'
Whatever happens in rest of the world, success or failure in Afghanistan would largely determine the course of the US-led war on terror.
It was in the rugged Afghan mountains that the Soviet Red Army found itself bogged down during the Afghan 'jihad' and had to pull out in disgrace after a failed 10-year attempt to put down a revolt spearheaded by the West-backed mujahideen. Earlier, British imperialists gave up after failing to impose their will on freedom-loving Afghans.
Despite initial successes, the US and its allies are now confronted with a growing Afghan resistance movement led by the resurgent Taliban. There is now talk of indefinite presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan to deny sanctuaries to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and thus prevent a repeat of 9/11.
Such a move would surely provoke further violence as more and more Afghans start objecting to the deployment of foreign forces in their homeland. In parts of the country, the foreign soldiers are facing daily attacks and they would also be unwelcome elsewhere in Afghanistan if Western governments and organizations failed to provide resources to bring improvement in the lives of the Afghan people and offer them better security.
Of the two stated US objectives for invading Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the secondary one was achieved relatively easily with the removal of the six-year-old Taliban regime. The Taliban wisely retreated after realising the futility of their cause in the face of relentless US aerial strikes and a subsequent ground offensive centred on the irregular force made available by the Northern Alliance.
But though they were defeated, the Taliban were able to save much of their assets in terms of manpower and weapons. This was to become handy while reorganizing and reinforcing their fighters from 2002 onwards. By 2005, the Taliban resistance had become lethal and is now a cause for concern in Washington and other Western capitals.
Analysts who had written off the Taliban and AlQaeda by describing them as 'remnants' are now eating their words and conceding the stubbornness of fighters belonging to the two outfits. On numerous occasions, the US and NATO military commanders have admitted that the Taliban resistance was beyond their expectation.
Their response to the challenge was to ask for more troops, warplanes and stronger body armour and desperate appeals to the 42 countries contributing troops to NATO to stay the course.
The major US objective for going to war in Afghanistan was to destroy Al Qaeda and kill or capture its leader Osama bin Laden.
There is no doubt that Al Qaeda has suffered losses and was evicted from its headquarters in Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taliban regime. All top Al Qaeda leaders are on the run and, therefore, unable to plan and coordinate major attacks on the scale of 9/11, or even lesser. A number of Al Qaeda fighters have been killed or captured.
The occasional video and audio tapes featuring bin Laden and his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri are the only evidence that they are alive but there is little proof that the two most wanted men in the world are still able to effectively manage Al Qaeda and its numerous cells.
The propagandist style tapes that appear on our television screens are part of desperate attempts by Al Qaeda to show its presence and relevance to events taking place in the world.
Still, the US cannot claim that it has destroyed al-Qaeda or obliterated its top leadership. In fact, America's military intervention in Afghanistan five years ago would be deemed unsuccessful if it is unable to hunt down bin Laden, Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and sufficiently cripple Al Qaeda and the Taliban's capability to fight back.
Through arm-twisting and inducement of favours, the US did manage to co-opt the Pakistan army and other neighbouring countries in its war on terror, but the strategy also radicalised a new generation of Islamic fighters and gave birth for the first time in Afghanistan and Pakistan to suicide bombers.
The Al Qaeda strategists also exploited the situation by forging links with like-minded extremist Islamic groups in the region and beyond by backing their local agendas and sympathising with their causes.
However, it would be wrong to assume that there have been no notable achievements in Afghanistan in the political and economic fields. The war-ravaged country has been put on the path of reconstruction and a number of roads, schools and hospitals have been built despite an unprecedented increase in the scale of corruption. The pace of rebuilding the Afghanistan's destroyed infrastructure could have been faster if the security situation was better, particularly in the restive southern and eastern provinces.
More boys and girls are now going to school and women are able to work outside home. Economic growth has been steady and so many new jobs were created that 50,000 Pakistanis and others from neighbouring countries have found gainful employment in Afghanistan.
On the political front, a vocal and lively parliament has come into existence and the media has flourished despite constraints. Hamid Karzai can rightly claim to be his country's first elected president, even if critics find fault with the Afghan-style democracy and the elections that brought him to power.
Though warlords continue to hold sway over the provinces and obstruct the writ of the Karzai government, many of them have been taking pains to underscore their democratic credentials and meet the rising expectations of the electorate.
The disarmament and demobilisation programme is continuing even though taking away arms from the Afghans is next to impossible due to the Afghan belief that it amounts to disrobing them. The inability of the foreign forces and Afghan government to provide them protection is also forcing them to keep arms and hide away their stockpile of arsenal.
The results in Afghanistan in the post-9/11 period as seen above are mixed. There have been successes as well as failures.
The fact that US-led coalition forces are still battling the Taliban and the depleted al-Qaeda five years after entering Afghanistan explains the enormity of their task. The record rise in poppy cultivation in presence of Western troops in the country is also a huge failure on their part.
One yardstick of the success of the Western mission in Afghanistan would be the Afghan trust in the future of their country. Disillusionment is growing and further setbacks in the effort to stabilise Afghanistan would make it even harder for the Afghan people to believe that their homeland is on the road to peace and prosperity.