Afghanistan’s Glaring Reality and the Argument for More of the Same

Dexter Filkin’s writes in the New Yorker about the potential for civil war to break out in Afghanistan once the US “leaves” in 2014. He interviews Abdul Nasir, who was present in Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded and witnessed what happened when they left. What happened was civil conflict and warlordism throughout the 1990s, leading to effective Taliban control over most, but not all, of the country.

…with the United States planning its withdrawal by the end of 2014, Nasir blames the Americans for a string of catastrophic errors. “The Americans have failed to build a single sustainable institution here,” he said. “All they have done is make a small group of people very rich. And now they are getting ready to go.”

These days, Nasir said, the nineties are very much on his mind. The announced departure of American and NATO combat troops has convinced him and his friends that the civil war, suspended but never settled, is on the verge of resuming. “Everyone is preparing,” he said. “It will be bloodier and longer than before, street to street. This time, everyone has more guns, more to lose. It will be the same groups, the same commanders.” Hezb-e-Wahdat and Jamiat-e-Islami and Hezb-e-Islami and Junbish—all now political parties—are rearming. The Afghan Army is unlikely to be able to restore order as it did in the time of Najibullah.

…Nashir grew increasingly vehement. “Mark my words, the moment the Americans leave, the civil war will begin,” he said. “This country will be divided into twenty-five or thirty fiefdoms, each with its own government.”

The glaring reality of impending civil war will undoubtedly be used as a justification for maintaining increased US troop levels in Afghanistan. If and when that argument fails, due either to budgetary constraints or lack of political will and public support, the same glaring reality will be used to justify tens of thousands of troops and Special Operations Forces beyond 2014 and continued propping up of the Kabul government and its defunct security forces.

That the war is a failure is known to everybody. As Filkins writes, “After eleven years, nearly two thousand Americans killed, sixteen thousand Americans wounded, nearly four hundred billion dollars spent, and more than twelve thousand Afghan civilians dead since 2007, the war in Afghanistan has come to this: the United States is leaving, mission not accomplished.” The Taliban actually control entire parts of the country, where they “collect taxes, maintain law and order, and adjudicate disputes,” Filkins writes. Nasir tells Filkins, the “country will be divided into twenty-five or thirty fiefdoms, each with its own government,” as soon as they Americans leave.

The bulwark against a return to Taliban rule, we are told by the Obama administration, is continuing to support, arm, and train the Afghan security forces. But as a former US official told Filkins, “several hundred soldiers in the Afghan Army are thought to be agents for the Taliban or for Pakistan.” He “said that the killers of some of the twenty-two coalition soldiers who died this year while training Afghan forces had been planted in the Army by the Taliban or by Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s main intelligence branch.” Those that aren’t Taliban are weak and ineffectual.

“I cannot count on the Army or the police here,” Nashir said. “The police and most of the soldiers are cowards.” He was echoing a refrain I heard often around the country. “They cannot fight.”

Pakistan has always preferred Taliban authority in Afghanistan to help counter Indian influence and facilitate commerce between Central Asian states and Pakistani ports. Islamabad will continue to peddle Taliban influence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, but it has to be understood that the last decade of war and destruction has not been good for Pakistan, or the Taliban for that matter. Pulling out completely, even if it means civil war or the Taliban regaining control, won’t to translate to Afghanistan becoming a dangerous safe haven. Any militants with any sort of international agenda aren’t likely to be welcomed back into Afghanistan. Besides, as Malou Innocent has written, safe havens are a myth.

Impending civil war is not an argument for continuing the policies that have made it a glaring reality. Even the most hardened and indoctrinated war advocates should be able to understand that eleven years of war, occupation, and nation building has not undermined the fundamental facts about Afghanistan and eleven more won’t either.

  • Popsiq

    “I cannot count on the Army or the police here,” Nashir said. “The police and most of the soldiers are cowards.” He was echoing a refrain I heard often around the country. “They cannot fight.”

    That may be the opinion of just about everybody, but there a valiant few who – taking a lesson from the finest warfighters on earth – have mastered the snappy salute and the warrior ethos o' freedumb. They can eyeball a goat at forty paces, or snipe a farmer at three-quarters of a mile with one eye closed or go a night-creepin' with the greatest force for good on erth. Now if they'd just lay off the darned old hashish.

  • “The Americans have failed to build a single sustainable institution here,” he said. “All they have done is make a small group of people very rich. And now they are getting ready to go.”

  • MvGuy

    "That may be the opinion of just about everybody, but there a valiant few who – taking a lesson from the finest warfighters on earth – have mastered the snappy salute and the warrior ethos o' freedumb. They can eyeball a goat at forty paces, or snipe a farmer at three-quarters of a mile with one eye closed or go a night-creepin' with the greatest force for good on erth. Now if they'd just lay off the darned old hashis"

    ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    WTF does that mean…………….. It's all the lies and propaganda they need to lay off…………. Not the hash……… It's the "snipe a farmer at three-quarters of a mile with one eye closed or go a night-creepin'"……… that fuels this conflict…….. Turn this around……. How would it go over where you live if foreign invaders were sniping farmers…….. and bustin into peoples houses at 4:00 AM………

    One more thing………. We are talking about Afghanistan……… Not your ordinary country, but a country with a several thousand long and proud history of dealing with foreign invaders…….. Even high on heroin….. Afghans will be deadly for these latest fools who seek to pacify these fierce and free people…… Invaders can rent them, but they will use the rent to buy guns and RPGs to ultimately dispatch their infidel johns………….

    When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. #
    3

    Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain. #
    4

    Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue. Sun Tzu

  • “All they have done is make a small group of people very rich. And now they are getting ready to go.”

  • I can honestly say that what America has done over there was done in vain. Nothing turned out the way we planned and now we are even more hated than before. It's a no-win situation being in there. We've just make a handful of people rich and enraged the rest. Sad sad story.

  • bbw

    The Taliban actually control entire parts of the country, where they “collect taxes, maintain law and order, and adjudicate disputes