Afghanistan’s future uncertain as US war enters 10th year

By Farhad Peikar, DPA,

Kabul : The US-led war in Afghanistan entered its 10th year Thursday, its future uncertain with no end in sight to the Islamist insurgency that has spread across the country.

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When US warplanes began pounding Taliban and Al Qaeda positions on the night of Oct 7, 2001, leaders from across the globe stood behind Operation Enduring Freedom, which aimed at depriving the Al Qaeda network of safe havens in Afghanistan, after the Sep 11 attacks.

But nine years later, as the war drags on and casualties among the Western troops keep rising, even America’s closest allies have voiced concerns over the war’s success. The Netherlands has already pulled out its troops, and Canadian troops are leaving next.

It took the international troops less than two months to oust the Taliban government, which harboured Osama bin Laden, from Kabul.

Most Taliban disguised themselves as ordinary Afghans or fled to Pakistan along with Al Qaeda fighters.

The Taliban soon began to regroup and expand their control in the country’s south and east when the US government’s attention shifted to Iraq in 2003. Today the Taliban are present in almost all provinces and seriously undermine the authority of the central government.

Public support for the Afghan war is waning in all Western countries. The US has lowered its goals from establishing a Western-style democracy in Afghanistan to “disrupting, dismantling, and defeating Al-Qaeda”, and finding an honourable way to extricate its troops, even if that involves some sort of deal to share power in
Kabul with Taliban leaders.

To wrap up the Afghan war chapter, US President Barack Obama ordered in 30,000 additional troops, hoping they could turn the tide of the war. He also set a deadline to begin the drawing down of forces from next summer.

Almost every Afghan, including President Hamid Karzai, fears that the Western allies might abandon the country before it is ready to fight the insurgents.

Last week, Karzai urged his security forces to be ready as NATO forces might leave “when they don’t see their interests here”.

With no hope for peace in sight, Afghans are increasingly disillusioned with their government and resentful of the foreign forces. They are also tired of Taliban-led violence that has left thousands of civilians dead and maimed.

“In the past nine years we sacrificed a lot and lived under the threats of Taliban attacks and NATO’s aerial bombings,” Mohammad Nasim, 53, a school teacher in Kabul, said.

“We Afghans are ready for more sacrifice only if we know that this war will end some day,” he said. “But as we see now it will never end because NATO is not willing to move its battle into Pakistan, where the Taliban leaders are hiding.”

Afghan and Western officials accuse Pakistan of tolerating Al-Qaeda and Taliban hiding out on its soil and plotting attacks.

Pakistan, ostensibly a US ally, says it is fighting the insurgents and is not prepared to allow NATO ground forces in.

Pakistan’s interest in maintaining relations with insurgent groups is seen as a strategy to counter regional archrival India’s growing influence in Afghanistan. Islamabad also believes that the Taliban can be a powerful player in Afghanistan after NATO leaves.

Fearing that the West will never take the war to Pakistan and insurgents may recapture Kabul after the foreign troops leave, Karzai has increased efforts to end the war by reaching out to Pakistan and other Islamic countries to help broker a peace deal with Taliban interested in reconciliation.

The president appointed a 70-member peace council last week to guide efforts to reach out to the insurgents.

The US has said that it backs those talks with Taliban members who renounce violence and accept the constitution. Obama and his generals have also said that the US is not planning a mass exodus in July 2011, but the drawdown would be based on security conditions on the ground.

“It was enough of a sign for the Taliban when Obama announced the date for withdrawal,” Waheed Muzhda, a former Taliban official turned political analyst, said. “Now they know that the foreign troops will leave sooner or later, so they simply sit and wait them out.”

“Why would Taliban want to share the government in Kabul, if they see themselves on the winning side?” Muzhda asked.