TWENTY-ONE Australian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since Canberra decided to join the American mission to that country. Thousands of American soldiers have been killed, and a goodly number of other Western forces have also paid the ultimate sacrifice. But to what end?
All these deaths have been in vain, for it looks very much like the Taliban will slowly come back to power; indeed, the Americans are already talking to the Taliban through proxies in Saudi Arabia in order to try and save face when they (US troops) are forced to crawl back to their bases. That will come about sooner rather than later as the American public will stomach just so many deaths; after that, it will become too much of a political hot potato for President Barack Obama to handle.
After all, the man does not want to be a one-term president. Keeping troops in Afghanistan will push down the ratings of a man who is already not going too well in the opinion polls.
The Americans sent forces to Afghanistan back in 2001, in retaliation for the attacks by al-Qaeda on the US mainland. Even at that stage, it was not very clear what their mission was, apart from exacting revenge. Killing Osama bin Laden was said to be top of the list; presumably killing his top lieutenants was also a priority.
Nine years on, bin Laden is very much alive. His chief aide, Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, is alive and kicking as well. And the mission to Afghanistan has gone dangerously downhill. A great deal of the money poured into Afghanistan by Western and Arab donors has ended up in the pockets of sundry warlords. Many have repatriated some part of what they have managed to swindle, in the expectation that once the Taliban returns to power, they will have to flee the country if they want to stay alive.
Nobody had any illusions that the Americans would unseat the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist party which was governing Afghanistan at the time of the September 2001 attacks. But was that the end-all and be-all of the American mission? If the aim was to disrupt the activities of terrorists who were likely to plan future attacks on America, then that hasn’t been fulfilled.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who could be better described as the mayor of Kabul as his writ runs only thus far, is already talking to one of the Taliban leaders, Sirajuddin Haqqani, in the hope that he may be able to survive the return of the religious fundamentalists to power. It is highly unlikely that Karzai will be able to stay on and he is probably planning his departure now.
The problem is that the Americans have repeated the mistakes of Great Britain and the Soviet Union and tried to install a government of their liking in Afghanistan. Nobody has ever been able to do that. Afghans do not like outsiders and no matter how much money is used to try and bribe them, they will smile, take the money and then support their own. That is an Afghan trait and has not changed for centuries. Boning up on history would have helped the Americans no end.
Given the number of troops that have been deployed in Afghanistan, it is a joke to even think of controlling the country. Hardly had the troops been deployed when the Americans decided to invade Iraq and made that mission the top priority. The porous borders with states that are not exactly inclined to be helpful to the Americans have compounded the problem. The behaviour of mercenaries hired by the Americans – so-called contractors who handle various security-related tasks – has not helped to any degree. These mercenaries are often prone to smash up a local man’s car simply because they suspect him of being a militant. Not many people in Afghanistan have cars to begin with.
But even if the Americans and their allies had gone on a massive PR blitz to try and endear themselves to the Afghans, it wouldn’t have made much difference. The Afghans don’t mind living in a mess – as long as it is of their own making. They don’t like being invaded, they don’t like foreigners. In fact, which country likes to be ruled by outsiders? The American mission to Afghanistan will end in defeat; it might be a good idea to cut the losses and run right now.