Last week when President Joe Biden declared that forever war in Afghanistan has to end, much of the commentary offered a negative outlook of the things that might happen after the American and NATO troops are gone home by September 11 this year. There would be no victory trophy in their hands on their way back home, because there is none to carry.
There could have been a better story at the end of the day but what prevented that from happening was the constant shifting of goal posts. And ultimately America is left with only one goal to achieve to take the troops home . In short , no more body bags to be ferried to the homes of soldiers .
For all what we know America had launched the war in Afghanistan to punish al-Qaeda, the global terror network, that had struck and challenged the might of the United States of America with 9/11, the terror attack embedded in the minds of all Americans who watched it happen and those brought up with the real-time stories of horror.
Alongside, Taliban, the protector of al-Qaeda, was, too, to be dismantled. Now, when the US is calling it a day in Afghanistan, these long-cherished results are not there. For its own ego, Americans may draw some solace that, as Joe Biden counted the elimination of Osama bin Laden among the accomplishments.
America’s war in Afghanistan was christened as war on terrorism. That would lead the world to conquer the forces of terrorism forever, as the world recognised and appreciated the American right to retaliate against the terror network in Afghanistan that had grown so much in ideological and technological strength that from the obscure caves of Afghanistan, it could plot and execute the strike at the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, Pentagon, leaving the only superpower in the world with the shame of not having anticipated this horror.
The return journey of the American troops leaves many lessons in its wake. Apart from what will happen in Afghanistan; there is a real fear that Taliban having both military power and large swathes of territory, can take control of the country. That means that Taliban can rule Afghanistan yet again.
That legacy of leaving the forever war in between will have to be pondered over by the American policy makers, but there is something more in store. The world has become more vulnerable to the forces of violence that believe they can overrule everything and get their own way.
First, it has demonstrated that no war can be won by any country or group of countries howsoever powerful they might be in terms of military power and latest technology.
Such wars are won only with the support of the people .
If the people traumatized by Taliban and sick of the ways of al-Qaeda and other extremist-ideology-driven groups did not see Americans as their benefactors that means that there were certain other underlying reasons which brought the things to such a pass, where Americans are leaving out of compulsion rather than out of choice.To comprehend those underlying reasons, a people-oriented interaction and study is important; out of the shadow of guns and drones only then gaps can be bridged.
There was a gap and that could not be bridged even after two decades and investment of huge fortune there, that raises the question, why? This is not something that Americans alone should try to understand, it is a matter for all those claiming to be fighting for peace and stability in the region to understand. The military power backed infrastructural development cannot change the hearts and minds of the people.
In any war, big or small, blind strategies are bound to fail. America was supposed to show the way how the war against terrorism could be won, but it ended landing on the opposite side of the objective. Th world has not failed to notice it.
Going to war in Afghanistan in October 2001 was demonstrative of the quick reaction to 9/11. The goal appeared to be simple, to rid Afghanistan of terror networks that were spread all across. The bombardment of rocky caves of Tora Bora and troops on the ground hunting the terrorists and drones targeting the hideouts simply showed that what kind of war machinery America possessed and could use against its adversary .
The real strategy to keep Afghanistan out of bounds for the terror groups or to create an ecosystem where no new recruits were available for these sort of groups was missing. Twenty years is a long time, and all these years Taliban has expanded because it could attract radicalized groups of Afghans to its ideology and the goals that it had set for itself. The conclusion that the Afghans resented foreign boots on their soil and the corruption in the system helped Taliban to regain more than what it had lost is too simplistic. These fail to address that how America went as a blind man in Afghanistan and ended up in making compromises and changing the goalposts. The most shocking part, a great departure from its original goal, was to negotiate with Taliban and accept its terms. The reality changed so much that the whole thing is now dependent upon how Taliban would behave.
The argument that any early withdrawal would have left the country vulnerable to civil war; fast forward it to 2021, is the scenario any different today.
There is a message for all that terrorism is not a military problem, it is something different. And old theories have been left with limited relevance. There is a need for newer and effective strategies where military power is used with care and discretion only. The anti-Americanism in the Islamic world has shown that guns, bombs, drones alone cannot solve all the problems vis-à-vis terrorism.