US in Afghanistan

A PLACARD denouncing the US is hardly a novelty in most parts. But when it is hoisted aloft at a protest in Kabul against the stoning to death of a woman in Afghanistan and reads “Ignorant Taliban are the mercenaries of Pakistan and America”, it indicates that more is wrong with US policy in Afghanistan than many Americans appreciate.

While the US has been rightly accused of many errors in Afghanistan in the war it has fought against the Afghan Taliban and in its support for an inclusive Afghan state and society, it is troubling for American policymakers that they have not convinced Afghan civil society that the US stands with them against the Taliban.

That is the only real measure of a counter-insurgency — you cannot lose the very people whose goodwill you are fighting for. Perhaps the protest placard is a sign of fresh divisions in a state and society that is worried about the potential collapse of the post-Bonn Afghanistan and that blames the US for its seemingly soft approach on the Taliban now.

What is undeniable is that yet again the lack of foresight in American policy has ended up poisoning relations with the people of a country that it is US policy to support.

While the US may have belatedly — and rightly — corrected its approach on the Taliban, the Afghans are likely to resent the change of heart. This paper has long argued that it was a mistake to exclude the Afghan Taliban from the national political settlement in Bonn after their 2001 overthrow.

Similarly, it took long for the US to accept that a political settlement between the government and the Taliban was the viable option for stability.

That the US only now has come around to this point of view — when US political considerations made the continuation of a large-scale war effort in Afghanistan untenable — has underlined the fecklessness of American foreign policy.

Pakistan, too, has made many mistakes and there is still ambiguity in state policy towards Afghanistan. But when the American superpower errs, it has lasting consequences.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2015


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