Op-ed: Renewed violence in Afghanistan —Ahmad Faruqui
The Soviets deployed 135,000 troops in Afghanistan at the height of their occupation of the country and military analysts found that number insufficient. It is questionable whether the small forces of the US-led coalition will be sufficient to restore law and order in Afghanistan
Two years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan is afflicted with rubble, rubbish and grinding poverty. And during the past few months, it has seen a resurgence of violence. At least 18 Americans have lost their lives and more than 20 have been wounded this year in a series of fierce ambushes, rocket attacks and mine blasts.
Five US soldiers were killed and seven injured when a military helicopter crashed last month north of Kabul. The cause of the crash remains unknown. The helicopter was taking part in an ongoing US offensive called Mountain Resolve in the eastern provinces.
Earlier, two CIA agents were killed in an ambush near a US base in the eastern Afghan border town of Shkin, 135 miles south of Kabul. An American soldier was killed by a land mine near Asadabad, capital of Kunar province. A rocket fired near the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul failed to cause any significant damage but its import is unlikely to have been lost on the regime of Hamid Karzai.
In other incidents, there was an outbreak of heavy fighting in the north between the forces of General Abdul Rashid Dostam, a powerful Uzbek leader and former communist militia boss, and his Tajik rival Atta Mohammad, a former mujahideen chief who now heads the Northern Alliance 7th Corps. The two have been vying for control of the lucrative trading town of Mazar-e-Sharif.
The latest bout of fighting, involving the use of armour and artillery by both sides, was the heaviest outbreak of so-called ‘green-on-green’ hostilities involving forces nominally loyal to Hamid Karzai. Between 10 and 60 people were killed in battles on the plains west of Mazar-e-Sharif.
The US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) has been marred by shortages of troops and equipment from the beginning. OEF is being mounted by a small force of 11,600 troops that operate in the areas around the Bagram Air Base. An additional 5,700 troops have been given the job of maintaining the peace in Kabul, but they have only three helicopters at their disposal.
NATO’s plans to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) into the lawless hinterlands of the country are faltering. The ultimate goal is for NATO to support several Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), groups of aid workers under military protection by OEF. Defence ministers of the 19 nations meeting in Brussels, Belgium on December 1-2 will discuss the possibility of adding about 10 helicopters to the ISAF inventory. “If the alliance does not step up to the plate, in five years we will be back here fighting again because this place will go to hell,” says Lt-Gen. John Tibbetts of the ISAF.
The Soviets deployed 135,000 troops in Afghanistan at the height of their occupation of the country and military analysts found that number insufficient for subjugating the country. It is questionable whether the small forces of the US-led coalition will be sufficient to restore law and order in Afghanistan.
The distinguishing feature between the US and Soviet occupations is of course the former’s emphasis on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. But that cannot be carried out until security has been restored, creating the perfect Catch-22. While accepting the credentials of the new Afghan ambassador to Washington, President Bush noted in June of last year, “Bringing security to Afghanistan is a priority for both our governments. The success of the International Security Force for Afghanistan in ensuring peace in Kabul and the ongoing collaboration between the United States and the Afghan Interim Authority in building the Afghan National Army clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of these complementary approaches.”
Bush pointed out that besides security and reconstruction, the two countries had mutual interests in a number of other areas, including counter-narcotics, regional stability, humanitarian assistance, and human rights. The job of carrying out this ambitious agenda now falls on the shoulders of the Zalmay Khalilzad, who has just been appointed Washington’s ambassador to Kabul.
Born in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1951, Khalilzad hails from the old ruling elite of Afghanistan. His father was an aide to King Zahir Shah, who ruled the country until 1973. Khalilzad obtained a doctorate in 1979 from the University of Chicago, an intellectual centre for the American right wing. Subsequently he taught political science at Columbia University, where he worked with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security advisor. He was also executive director of the Friends of Afghanistan, a support group for the mujahideen whose members now allegedly comprise the vanguard of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
He became an American citizen in 1984 and later worked in the US State Department’s Policy Planning staff. His boss was Paul Wolfowitz, now the No. 2 man at the Pentagon. Later he worked for the RAND Corporation and returned to Washington when the administration of George H W Bush took office. In 1998, he joined Wolfowitz and others in signing an open letter to then President Clinton, arguing for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Khalilzad is closely connected to the US oil industry, like many senior officials of the Bush administration. In the mid-nineties, he conducted a risk analysis for Unocal for building an 890-mile, $2-billion gas pipeline from the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean.
Khalilzad also lobbied publicly for a more sympathetic US government policy towards the Taliban. A few years ago, in an op-ed article in the Washington Post, he defended the Taliban regime against accusations that it was a sponsor of terrorism. He wrote, “We should... be willing to offer recognition and humanitarian assistance and to promote international economic reconstruction. It is time for the United States to reengage” the Afghan regime. This “reengagement” would, of course, have been enormously profitable to Unocal, which was otherwise unable to bring gas and oil to market from landlocked Turkmenistan.
Last week, in an essay entitled, “Promise to a Ravaged Land,” Ambassador Khalilzad spelled out a five-point vision for Afghanistan in the Wall Street Journal. First, improve the security situation. Second, improve the quality of life. Third, accelerate the building of economic infrastructure. Fourth, move towards democracy. And fifth, work with India and Pakistan to avoid creating “a renewed cycle of destructive geopolitical competition.”
The crumbling peace in Afghanistan does indeed call for a bold vision but it has to be more than an expression of pious hopes. The brave Afghan people have seen plenty of bold visions during the past three decades that have come to naught. Only time will tell whether Ambassador Khalilzad’s vision will fare any differently.
Dr Ahmad Faruqui is an economist and author of “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan”. He can be reached at email@example.com