Understanding the Afghan War
Part One - Staging the Mujahideen, Communists, Soviets, and Americans
Afghan children play on a burnt-out Soviet army tank left from the the Soviet invasion (1979-1989) (Reuters photo).
The communist party, People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), under direct influence and command of the Kremlin, had started rising a decade earlier and had been counting down to a "red revolution." Ultimately, the communists achieved their ambition, but the way forward was never smooth.
The communists were engaged in strong hostility with the Islamists from the early days of their emergence. The two nascent movements were trying to take power and to eliminate one another. Dreams for an Islamic revolution in Afghanistan came out simultaneously with the communists' campaigns throughout the 1970s. The hottest rivalries started from the campus of Kabul University where the Islamists managed to defeat their hostiles.
|Daud's revolution put an end to a relatively long peaceful era and signified the kickoff for a series of coups that dragged the feet of superpowers into the Afghan soil.|
President Daud's era, with the increasing influence of the Soviet-instructed communists, saw the first setback to the newborn Islamic movement after it had carried out a failed coup in an attempt to install an Islamic state in 1974. One of the leaders of the Islamic movement and some army generals who planned the coup were caught and executed. The Islamic movement at that time was deeply impressed by the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly by the then-recent books of Muslim intellectual Sayyid Qutb.
In 1975, most of the movement's leaders fled to neighboring Pakistan and planned their activities against the government from there. They planned a coup for the second time through carrying out military operations in different provinces and plotting the assassination of Daud. The plan was disclosed. Three more Islamic leaders were arrested and executed. Many more were put in jail and later killed.
In Kabul, Daud was badly besieged by the communists. They gathered around him in the Presidential Palace and in several key ministries of the cabinet, with a heavy presence in the army as well. Agents of the Soviet intelligence service KGB were even accompanying the president in his official trips to foreign countries and were reporting whatever he was planning to Moscow. In fact, Daud's era stood up as a transitional period from monarchy to a full-fledged communist regime.
In late April 1978, the army, which had earlier helped Daud to bring down his cousin, moved its Russian-made tanks toward the Presidential Palace and emergency alarms rang all over the capital. The bloody coup d'état followed a conspirative killing of a prominent communist leader who brought large groups of communists to the streets of Kabul in angry demonstrations. When Daud tried to rein in the revolts through detaining dozens of the communist party's leaders, the communist generals in the army marched toward the key government centers and pounded the Presidential Palace.
|The April 27 revolution stands as a turning point and as the origin of a conflict that still endures. The new regime started implementing its Marxist ideas in the conservative Afghan society.|
Daud, who had frequently reminded Soviet premier Brezhnev that he will never submit to the Kremlin's demands, was killed along with his family members. Communist leaders moved out from jails to assume power. The Soviet-puppet PDPA marked its victory with loud hurrahs. Red flags started waving over the government offices, and fundamental changes began to appear in all spheres of the society where the government could interfere. Hijab was banned in schools and offices, and Islamic rites were ridiculed everywhere by the government's people.
In the recent history of Afghanistan, the April 27 revolution stands as a turning point and as the origin of a conflict that still endures. The communist regime started implementing its Marxist ideas in the conservative Afghan society. The attempt to eliminate anything that is Islamic and the cruel crackdown on religious leaders swiftly provoked the public to take up arms.
The Islamic movement had already been in battle against the government since the mid-1970s. As the hard-line communists took over the government, they started an even more severe butchering of members of the Islamic movement, anyone with suspected links to it, and all other religious leaders who called for opposing the new regime.
Thousands of imams, university students, professors, and academics were killed within months. Thousands of others were tortured in jails. Sporadic upraising against the government started in different parts of the country but gained slow momentum.
|The Soviet invasion sent shock waves throughout Afghanistan. A national uprising started within months to bring in the Afghan Jihad, which later gave birth to Al-Qaeda.|
It took 20 months to pave the way for a Soviet direct invasion. Two communist presidents, Noor Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, were killed in counter-coups. The third coup from within the communists and the fourth in a decade brought the Red Army to the heart of Kabul. President Amin was killed after betraying his Kremlin masters, and Babrak Karmal came on the Russian tanks in a convoy of the Soviet troops to seize power.
On December 27, 1979, the Soviet invasion sent shock waves throughout Afghanistan. A national uprising started within months to bring in the Afghan jihad, which later gave birth to Al-Qaeda. The Soviet Union increased its troops in Afghanistan to 120,000 and used all weapons it had to curb the upraising. The jihad was led by the Islamic movement, whose splitting up started in 1977 and eventually gave rise to the birth of seven groups.
Millions of Afghans took part in the jihad to drive the Soviet troops outside Afghanistan. It was a disproportional war with the Mujahideen fighting with very traditional weapons (mainly old guns) against an army equipped with tanks and helicopters. Even many of those who lacked guns and ordinary weapons fought with axes, petrol bombs, and stones, bringing in legends of heroism similar to the ones of the Palestinian jihad.
Two years later, the Muslim World and the West woke up to the fact that the Afghans are capable of resisting, if not defeating at that stage, the legendary Soviet army. Huge support in the form of military equipments, human resources, as well as aids started pouring into Afghanistan.
The Mujahideen's morale was boosted, and the war took a new turning point. The most intense battles were fought during the period from 1982 to 1988, in which more than a million people across Afghanistan were killed in brutal bombardments and raids by the Soviet soldiers. In 1986, after the Soviets and their puppet local troops were forced to withdraw from many areas because of heavy casualties, Moscow removed President Karmal and installed a relatively milder and wiser man, Dr. Muhammad Najibullah.
The Soviet Union was finally forced, under heavy international pressure and huge losses in the battlefield, to agree to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in May 1988. By February 15, 1989, all Soviet troops left Afghanistan. One of the world's two superpowers at that time was badly defeated. It left Afghanistan with its tail between its legs. More than 14,000 Soviet soldiers out of the 104,000 who had been deployed in Afghanistan were killed, and about 50,000 others were wounded in the war.
But the communist regime under President Najibullah was still ruling despite the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. The Mujahideen's fight against the regime intensified, and the government's consistent calls for the reconciliation and share of power did not work. Najibullah's shaky government started to lose power and took three years to ultimately tumble as the Mujahideen conquered one province after another.
Triumph of Mujahideen
|The last Soviet tanks and troops withdraw from Afghanistan in February 15, 1989, brining a decade-long war to a close (Reuters).|
On April 28, 1992, the communist regime was finally toppled when the Mujahideen captured Kabul. This was a historic victory for the Afghan Islamists. About 1.5 million Afghans were killed, six million were forced to leave their homes to neighboring countries, and the country's infrastructure was badly damaged. All this had the aim of ousting an ideologically atheist government and founding an Islamic state.
A great war was won by the Mujahideen, and the countdown for an Islamic revolution was over. All the victors felt that they have finally stepped in the long-awaited Islamic state. They actually did, but keeping a revolution is always harder than starting it.
Those who were supporting the Mujahideen started to think differently after the Soviet occupation was ousted. The US, which was the main backer of the so-called freedom fighters, had its aim achieved; its main rival was defeated and plunged into a process of disintegration.
The US no longer needed those who were fighting for an Islamic cause. Most Arab governments, directed by the US, also stopped helping the Mujahideen and wanted their citizens who fought in Afghanistan to come back home. Abdullah Azzam, the great Mujahid and the man who brought the Arab fighters to Afghanistan, was assassinated in a bombing, and Osama bin Laden was soon put on the "most-wanted" list by the Saudi government.
The Afghan Islamists, who started as a one united movement, were then divided into several parties. Seven factions of Mujahideen were totally operating, with an increasingly growing rivalry everyday. This was even before the capturing of Kabul. After Kabul was conquered, internal conflicts erupted among the factions of Mjuahideen inside the capital, within weeks of the celebration of victory.
From Mujahideen to Militiamen
|Those who were supporting the Mujahideen started to think differently. The US, which was their main backer, had its aim achieved after its main rival (the Soviet Union) had been defeated and later disintegrated.|
Most of the ordinary Mujahideen fighters returned to their normal life and their families, while some fighters stayed for the internal fighting. The factions of the three key Islamic leaders Burhanuddin Rabbani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, as well as two Shiite groups were involved in fierce battles that turned Kabul into a major battlefield.
More than 10 years of fighting against the communist regimes have not been as devastating for the capital as a couple of months of internal fighting among the factions of Mujahideen. It was mainly a war for power, with foreign backers inciting each faction against the other. Apart from those who laid down their weapons and returned home, the once-popular name of Mujahideen changed to militiamen. Those fighters turned into dreaded militias in many areas.
A civil war was on across Afghanistan to the disappointment of those who had given valued sacrifices. The armed bands set checkpoints on the highways to rob the passengers, and some of the worst shapes of torture were committed as the country entered a full-scale civil war.
No Muslim or Western power has tried to sincerely mediate among the rival factions of Mujahideen. The factions' leaders themselves did not actually work for unity and peace. Some accords were signed among the warring groups for setting up a unity government and a ceasefire, but they were short-lasting. Afghanistan was badly burnt for more four years of war. The players this time were the once heroes of the anti-Soviet jihad.
Looking back at the experience of the failed Islamic state and the way the revolution emerged, one can understood now that the Islamic movement was still too naïve to stand up to the challenge. Actually, the Islamic movement was in the process of formation when it started its armed struggle. It lived its first years of formation in the battlefield without sufficient military or political experience.
The movement, with a raw and deficient "Islamic" thought, could not shoulder the heavy burden of continuous military jihad and of the immediate rule of an Islamic state in the confused political arena of Afghanistan. External factors also worked together to divide and disaffect the already divided factions of Mujahideen, especially when the previously supportive international community took a blunt U-turn after the Soviet pullout.
After four years of a crushing civil strife, the legacy of the former Mujahideen and their leaders was summed up in chaos and warlordism. This was the time when Taliban came out to drive away the warlords.
Understanding the Afghan War
Part Two: Rise of Taliban and State Crisis
The aim of those religious students, or Taliban, was to put an end to disorder and get free the people from the tyranny of warlords.
The aim of those religious students, or Taliban, was to put an end to disorder and get free the people from the tyranny of local warlords in their respective areas. The first of such armed groups emerged in the country's southern province of Kandahar, which later became the de facto capital of the Taliban movement.
Taliban is a plural of the word "talib," which means a student of a religious seminary in the Pashto language. Madrasah or seminary students have long been a much respected class in Afghanistan.
Unlike students of ordinary schools and universities, who usually make core of the Afghan political parties, the Taliban were always alien to the world of politics. That is why when they surfaced in southern Afghanistan, neither the students themselves, nor the war-weary people of Afghanistan, nor the unchallengeable warlords expected that they would prevail over the country and become a new chapter in the history of Afghanistan by controlling 95 percent of the country's area, disarming the ever-powerful warlords, ensuring exemplary security and bringing the poppy cultivation to almost zero level.
Many observers saw the emergence of the Taliban as a joint US-Pakistani project aimed for securing Afghanistan by sweeping the warring Mujahideen factions and collecting their arms. However, the interests of the two "backers" differed as each one held a separate strategic concern based on its position, one as a superpower while the other as a close neighbor. While America's direct hand behind the Taliban is largely doubted, Pakistan's link in the development of the Taliban is out of doubt.
A significant part of the Taliban was made of the younger generation of the Afghan refugees and Mujahideen who fled to Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The refugees sent their children to Pakistani madrasahs and other madrasahs funded by the Mujahideen's international supporters, mostly with curriculum of old Islamic subjects. Most of these madrasahs were under supervision of Pakistan's Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) party led by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman.
The students impressed by the way of thinking of JUI's madrasahs returned home to become later the Taliban after the Mujahideen took power. When the Taliban movement developed and captured Kabul, a big number of officials kept their loyalty to their teachers and madrasahs. The JUI was the biggest channel through which the Pakistani government, at top of it its military intelligence (ISI), exercised its influence.
Generally, Pakistan did use its influence over the Taliban in some decisions, especially peace and reconciliation issues, but it is erroneous to assume that the Taliban were Pakistani puppets and that Kabul consulted Islamabad on leadership level. In many cases, the Taliban have vehemently dismissed Pakistan's demands that it viewed as harmful to its interests. For instance, the Taliban declined to officially accept the controversial border division between the two countries known as the Durand Line.
"Angels of Peace"
|As soon as the Taliban sprang, the illegal checkpoints that were set for looting were wiped away, armed robberies and kidnappings came to an end, and order returned to the area.|
Whoever they actually were, the Taliban were welcomed in the beginning as "peace angels" who gave the Afghans a new breath of life amid a terrible ambience of civil strife under the Mujahideen government. As soon as the Taliban sprang in some areas of Kandahar, the illegal checkpoints that were set for looting were wiped away, armed robberies and kidnappings came to an end, and order returned to the area. The Taliban collected arms wherever they went and brought security. Their initial success to bring security in the area encouraged many people, especially fellow Talibs and mullahs, to push ahead with their campaign against the vicious warlords. Even many militia commanders and government officials who wanted peace and security joined the Taliban.
The dozens-strong group found by an at-the-time obscure local mullah, Muhammad Omar, quickly turned to a growing force. Its ranks swelled with volunteers from across the south. They first marched from Maiwand district and captured Kandahar city. They announced the enforcement of Islamic Shari`ah in the captured areas immediately. Southern provinces fell to the Taliban one after another without any big fighting within less than two years. Most of the Mujahideen factions could not resist and some did not want to.
All efforts of the Taliban were concentrated on recruiting more people rather than preparing for governance. The cities and provinces captured were simply ruled by mullahs who made all the cadres from police to judges. However, when they captured Kabul in September 1996 after sweeping almost all ethnic Pashtun-dominated provinces in the south and east, the naive movement faced the tough challenge of forming and running government in a country hit by two decades of war. The Taliban, with no experience or knowledge of politics and leadership, took it simply as an adventure.
The Taliban's focus of strategy did not shift, concentrating further on warfare. They went ahead with conquering more and more provinces moving toward the north. Remnants of the Mujahideen militias were pushed into northern Afghanistan. The de jure Mujaideen president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, moved with his forces to the north and later left Afghanistan. The main resistance group left was Shura-e-Nizar militias under direct command of Mujahideen defense minister and powerful commander Ahmad Shah Masood. Other remaining small militia groups, including one Shia faction and another led by a Communist ethnic Uzbek commander, also joined the anti-Taliban Mujahideen militias. With the convergence of the anti-Taliban groups, the coalition was named as the Northern Alliance and held its aim to work both militarily and politically against the Taliban. They were nominally operating under the leadership of President Rabbani, but the main command remained with his more powerful defense minister, Masood who took his stronghold from the strategic Panjsher Valley.
The Northern Alliance remained the biggest headache for the victorious Taliban fighters till the last minute. The Taliban captured all but three provinces that made around 5 percent of the Afghan territory.
Although areas under the Taliban control were as calm as never before in the past two decades, the frontline in the north was always hot. Fighting never paused against the Northern Alliance in an effort to conquer the remaining parts of the country. This aim was never achieved. In addition to ensuring security, another success of the Taliban was the 95 percent elimination of poppy cultivations it managed to achieve by the end of its rein in the areas it controlled.
|Mullah Omar continued to harbor Bin Laden in the face of not only international pressures, but also increasing dissatisfaction at home and even from within the Taliban administration.|
One of the most controversial issues with the Taliban was harboring Al-Qaeda network along with its leaders including Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri. This controversy is apparently what brought the Taliban rule in Afghanistan to its ultimate end.
As a matter of fact, the Taliban did not bring Bin Laden to Afghanistan, but they inherited his case from the Mujahideen. Bin Laden, who joined the Afghan jihad against the Soviets in 1984, left to Sudan after victory of the Mujahideen in 1992. After pressure from Saudi Arabia and the US on Sudan to hand him over, Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996 with the help of three Mujahideen commanders just before Taliban's ascendance to power. When the Taliban captured the eastern city of Jalalabad in September of that year, Bin Laden was already settled there.
Bin Laden found new and more welcoming hosts, however. The Taliban assured him protection and not to hand him over to any third party. It was September 11, 1996, when the Al-Qaeda leader and the Taliban met — the day the Mujahideen lost Jalalabad. Bin Laden built several big training camps for his men in various provinces of Afghanistan. His relations with the Taliban were boosted after he started funding the frontline battles. He also announced his allegiance to the Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. The Taliban kept Bin Laden, their most important guest, parallel to the movement's leader, and they did not give in to huge pressures from US, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the international community. Neither incentives nor threats worked to convince the Taliban to extradite Bin Laden. Saudi Arabia recognized the Taliban regime in an effort to convince the Taliban to strike a deal over Bin Laden, only to cut it off the diplomatic relations after it failed to make the Taliban leader to sit for talks on Bin Laden. Saudi Arabia was one of the only three countries that recognized the Taliban regime.
Mullah Omar continued to harbor Bin Laden in the face of not only international pressures, but also increasing dissatisfaction at home and even from within the Taliban administration. When the US threatened to topple the Taliban if it does not hand over Bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks, more than 1,000 clerics from across the country gathered and asked Mullah Omar to pave way for ending the Bin Laden ordeal in an honorable way. But the Taliban leader, who had been given the title of Amir-ul-Momineen (Arabic for: commander of the faithful), failed to pay heed to such demands. He had earlier, too, turned a blind eye to frequent calls of an important group from within the Taliban administration to get rid of the "Bin Laden's headache." At the top of those demanders was Mullah Omar's secretary, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, who was later shifted to Kabul to be foreign minister. It was later revealed that Mutawakil's "expulsion" to Kabul was to keep him away from Kandahar where he can influence Mullah Omar's decision on Bin Laden.
Bin Laden's case was not the only one in which Mullah Omar acted on his own views without heeding to the other voices of reason. The Taliban leader is known for being self-willed and headstrong in decision-making, whatever important the case at hand is. From direct instructions to commanders on the front line to the most fateful political decisions, the most preferred word to be acted on was the Taliban leader's personal opinion. Although there was a Shura Council sitting in Kabul to make some decisions, but its suggestions and decisions were not compulsory for Mullah Omar as he was holding the position of Amir-ul-Momineen — a title that was given to the Rightly-Guided Caliphs and some of their successors as leaders of the Ummah. Mullah Omar's unchallengeable decisions were giving the impression as if he were a real Amir-ul-Momineen or leader of the Muslims.
|The Taliban, with no experience or knowledge of politics and leadership, took the tough challenge of forming and running government in a country hit by two decades of war simply as an adventure.|
The Taliban leader's wayward behavior was a tip of an iceberg in the crisis that led to the failure of the state. After capturing the capital and widening its grasp, the Taliban faced the mammoth task of forming a government that should answer the Afghan people's worldly needs and also be a jurisprudentially reliable Islamic state. They had also to deal with foreign policy affairs and big domestic issues in accordance to contemporary world situations. But the Taliban turned at odds with whoever and whatever they thought were "un-Islamic." Instead of advancing its system of governance, the Taliban spent most of the available energy on winning wars.
Everyone of a valuable job in the government was a mullah — a man who studied traditional religious books authored as back as 10 centuries ago. By giving all the high-profile posts to mullahs, the Taliban formed a so-called mullahic government. People with academic and modern studies were not allowed to attain high-status government positions.
The result of such bigotry was that every sensitive post went to mullahs, many of them totally ignorant of what should be their responsibility. They brought the ages old thinking of their madrasahs to be implemented in the government. For example, the Justice Minister believed reading newspapers was merely waste of time and suggested to the Taliban leadership to ban newspapers. Generally, the Taliban's worldview had its roots in the traditionally conservative and rural culture, rather than a comprehensive study of Islam. Under the Taliban's ruling, leaving the beard and wearing Afghan baggy clothes and turban were strong religious musts with offenders severely punishable.
The means of change the Taliban believed to work in the complex Afghan society was force. Their police for "Promoting the Virtue and Prohibiting the Vice" attracted a terrible notoriety for the regime. Cases like young boys being stopped and detained for leaving long hairs, having their beards shorter than the "Shari`ah standard" and beating women by these police were widely circulated to add to the infamy of the once "angels of peace." Television was deemed un-Islamic and was banned. Women were totally deprived of the rights to education and work. The tough regulations were put in place one by one, drawing hard international criticism as well as national dissatisfaction.
It was not only the ignorance of politics and governance that prevented the Taliban from being popularly accepted, but also their lack of knowledge about Islam and their approach to enforcing Shari`ah contributed to the isolation of the "Islamic emirate" nationally and across the Muslim World and even in the eyes of Islamic movements.
|The Taliban's governmental structure was based on andiwali, where all the people loyal to a commander, minister, or other officials accompany that person wherever he takes job.|
In addition to failing to manage public affairs, the Taliban also did not pay heed to strengthening their own governmental establishments. No regular police, army, and intelligence service existed. The Taliban did not feel a need for developing these establishments. Their most valued men were those who fight well. With no trained police and armed forces, it was inevitable for the entire administration to collapse swiftly when its moment came.
The Taliban's governmental structure was based on andiwali — a term that means friendship in Pashto. In the andiwali system, all the people loyal to a commander, minister, or other officials accompany that person wherever he takes job. The loyalists were like a personal team that shift to anywhere the patron goes. Be it a minister, military corps commander, police chief, or intelligence chief, he would have a big group of andiwalan or friends. The strongest link in recognizing each other among the Taliban ranks was therefore the andiwali system; the question when knowing somebody was not in which department he works, but whose andiwal or friend he was. Thereby, personal loyalties were working in place of the regular establishments even in the government's most sensitive departments.
|One of the big opportunities that the Taliban, like their predecessors, missed was that they did not promote peace and reconciliation and instead pushed further for war.|
One of the big opportunities that the Taliban, like their predecessors in the conflict years, missed was that they did not promote peace and reconciliation and instead pushed further for war. They went ahead with fighting to annihilate their antagonists rather then sitting with them for talks. The fighting between the Northern Alliance mainly ethnic Tajiks and the Taliban predominantly Pashtuns meant for many an ethnic war with no reconciliation.
When the Taliban felt they were powerful enough, they opted to eliminate their opponents. They even did not give a positive response to frequent appeals for working together from the once Mujahideen premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who, ironically, became their ally today in their war against the Americans. Their term for all Mujahideen leaders was shar and fasaad or evil and corrupt, while there were many elements in the Mujhaideen who could have worked well together with the "Islamic emirate" of the Taliban. Exclusion of well-educated cadres and Mujahideen leaders largely contributed to undermining the Taliban government both professionally (technically) and popularly.
Theater for Jihadists
|Afghanistan was then home to jihadist groups who had announced a holy war against Tajik, Uzbek, Indian, Western, Chinese, and Arab governments.|
Another element that brought actual threat to the "Islamic emirate" was the fact that the Taliban openly harbored several jihadist groups from across the region. From the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan of Tahir Yuldashev to the Chinese separatist organization of East Turkistan Islamic Movement and to the predominantly Arab Al-Qaeda network, all were operating and being trained in Afghanistan. Both the Taliban and these groups were overtly boasting of spreading their activities to the entire region and later to the rest of the world — something that never concurred with their conditions and the situation they lived.
Afghanistan was then home to jihadist groups who had announced a holy war against Tajik, Uzbek, Indian, Western, Chinese, and Arab governments. Surrounded by countries hostile to the Taliban for harboring their enemies and embargoed by the UN, the landlocked Afghanistan had only one ally, even if not in the true sense of an ally, beside it, and that was Pakistan.
The nascent government already facing a bad establishment system and poor popularity made Afghanistan an explosive place for regional powers. While little, actually nothing, was done to first make the country stand on its feet in terms of development and resources, increasing focus on military activities on both national and international fronts put the "Islamic emirate" on the verge of an international war and an imminent collapse, while the utopia of establishing a caliphate based on Shari`ah the Taliban believed in never materialized. Even the more humble goal of establishing an Islamic state, in the true sense of a state, was not achieved on a land where more than one and a half million sacrificed their lives for the Islamic cause.
Part 3: Bush's Afghanistan
The US-led campaign to topple Taliban was dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
It all started when the US administration gave an ultimatum to Taliban and other governments, urging them to get rid of the "terrorists." All countries responded quickly and positively, but Taliban's Afghanistan, which was the prime intended addressee of this demand, refused to submit to the Americans. Atop the list of specific demands from Kabul was handing over Bin Laden to the US, which was rejected by Taliban as an action against Islam and against the Afghan tradition of hospitality.
The US started building up for the war. It had already been providing the Northern Alliance in northern Afghanistan with assistance. After securing the world community's support and the patronage of Taliban's closest allies through some quick diplomacy, the US sent its B-52 bombers, which appeared in the sky of Kabul to hit Taliban's targets on the evening of October 7, 2001.
Cruise missiles followed. The US-led campaign to topple Taliban was dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). It was launched with symbolic contribution from some 30 other nations, most of which are NATO members. The military coalition described its operations in Afghanistan as an "act of self-defense." The two sides of the war were completely unmatched in terms of arms and firepower. Taliban used old Soviet-era weapons, while the US military utilized its cutting-edge, sophisticated weaponry.
It took the US-led forces about one month to drive Taliban out of Kabul after severely striking the front lines of the battle in the north by carpet bombing. Thousands of Taliban fighters, Afghans, Arabs, Central Asians, and Pakistanis were killed during the bombings. The US-allied Afghan militias killed thousands more of those who surrendered as prisoners of war. The incidents of mass killings of prisoners alarmed the international rights watchdogs, yet with no avail.
Northern Alliance: US Proxy
|Using the Northern Alliance militias already in battle with Taliban as a proxy force, the US played it right and spared itself fatalities.|
The Northern Alliance in Afghanistan lost its leading commander Ahmad Shah Massoud two days before 9/11 in a suicide attack by two Arab journalists. The alliance went on to continue its war on the ground against Taliban but now as a US proxy militia. Northern Alliance former mujahideen leader Burhanuddin Rabbani was asking the Americans for more powerful bombs on the Taliban lines.
Using the Northern Alliance militias already in battle with Taliban as a proxy force, the US played it right and spared itself fatalities. CIA officers were behind the Northern Alliance's front line to push the militias ahead and pass the developments on the ground to its command.
• Oct. 7, 2001: US begins military strike against the Taliban
• Nov. 12: Kabul falls to the pro-US Northern Alliance Coalition.
• Dec.: Hamid Karzai is sworn in as chairman of a six-month interim government.
• Jan. 4, 2004: Loya jirga agrees a constitution, paving way for elections.
• Oct.: Karzai wins majority in presidential election.
• 2005: Taliban attacks intensify
• May, 2006: Riots sweep Kabul, worst since the collapse of the Taliban.
• Oct.: NATO takes charge of security operations across Afghanistan.
• April 26, 2008: Karzai survives assassination attempt in Kabul.
Most of the Northern Alliance's leaders had been fighters in the jihad against former Soviet Union. They regarded it as a genuine Islamic cause, yet they were illusioned while dealing with the US and the Taliban affair. They aspired to take control of the government and protect the Islamic country against the US occupation after the "Pakistan puppet" Taliban is deposed with the US firepower. But soon they realized it was a fatal miscalculation.
While the Americans were there in Afghanistan with a well-prepared plan and a long-term strategy, the former mujahideen leaders took it lightly — a short game in which they would be able to easily eject the US-led troops after using them in toppling Taliban.
Taliban finally fled Kabul in November 2001. Its fighters were captured by the militias of the Northern Alliance. The alliance's fighters were wanted only until they defeat Taliban. The US did not need a rogue militia that could turn against it once the country is rid of Taliban. To replace them with a "legitimate government," the US and the UN jointly accelerated their efforts and handpicked a number of so-called technocrats and others renovated warlords to run the emerging "democracy."
The entire process of forming an interim administration took less than a month. On the grounds of the accord reached in Bonn, Germany, higher governmental posts were virtually shared between the Northern Alliance and technocrats loyal to former king Mohammed Zahir Shah.
Hamid Karzai, an obscure Pashtun leader and low-profile politician, was selected as leader of the interim government until a transitional administration took over. The cabinet and Karzai's four deputies were selected according to ethnic proportion, with minority Shiite Hazaras taking their highest posts ever in the Afghan political history. Ethnic Tajiks, mainly from the Northern Alliance, and Pashtuns, to which Taliban primarily belonged, got the biggest share.
|Former mujahideen believed that they would to take control of the government and protect the Islamic country against the US occupation after the "Pakistan puppet" Taliban is deposed with the US firepower.|
In January 2004, the new constitution drafted by a so-called commission of experts was approved by another loya jirga. In the constitution, the official religion in Afghanistan was passed to be Islam, with the state to be called the Islamic Republic, but the constitution also contained contradictory and controversial items on freedoms and religious issues.
In the past, the loya jirga was traditionally the highest decision-making public body, but its representatives (mostly tribal chieftains) are not immune from different influences, including bribery by any superior party. That is how the outcome of these loya jirgas decided the future of post-Taliban Afghanistan on a US-favored track.
In October 2004, Karzai won the general elections and was dubbed Afghanistan's "first democratic president." He was regarded by some as a George Washington of Afghanistan. While the international community and Western media were focusing on the shiny side of Afghanistan's image, of which the most boasted about was the elections, ordinary Afghans were living the depths of an emerging crisis. They lost their hope for a better future and lost their country yet again.
However, the outside world did not realize the situation until the parliamentary elections were held on September 18, 2005, as the second strongest step in building the promised democracy. The Parliament brought together an explosive combination of old enemies: former mujahideen leaders once seen as establishing a caliphate, Soviet-puppet ministers of the erstwhile communist regime, notorious militia commanders accused of raping and abducting women, and ardent feminist activists.
They were all sitting together in Parliament. Ironically, despite their previous ideological antagonism, the MPs reached consensus on most of the controversial issues, such as the Shari`ah-related laws and legitimization of the presence of foreign troops in the country.
But this state of relative serenity did not last long. Soon after the parliamentary elections were over, Taliban staged a dramatic comeback by accelerating its hit-and-run operations against the government and foreign troops.
|The harder Taliban hit, the crueler the US and allied troops intensified their battles, only to kill more civilians and destroy more villages, adding to the hostility in the eyes of ordinary Afghans.|
The harder Taliban hit, the crueler the US and allied troops intensified their battles, only to kill more civilians and destroy more villages, adding to the hostility in the eyes of ordinary Afghans who were already suspicious of the invaders.
However, several other factors led to the reemergence of Taliban. They include
• NATO bombardment of civilian targets, which gave far less share in government to the Pashtuns, who constitute the predominant ethnic makeup of Taliban.
• Spread of corruption in all sectors of the government.
• Sharp cultural contradiction between the ultraconservatism of Taliban and the mujahedeen on one side and the loose environment built in the footsteps of the West on the other side. This contradiction has alienated the public from the government and made more people at odds with it.
A new generation of Taliban was on the raise. As the propagated democracy was failing, and a new phase of turmoil loomed. The streets of Kabul definitely looked more colorful and more crowded than in the Taliban era, but fear about the future of the country and frustration from the "going-nowhere" situation were easily visible on the faces of passersby.
Throughout the history of the Afghan conflict, hope was always there — a dream of a better future when it all ends. But now, the fateful question of what will come next received either no answer or an "expect-the-worse" response. There is an apparently positive image of some developments in Afghanistan, but behind this image hide some big challenges that the Afghans never faced before.
War Is Over; Higher Casualties
|A UN Security Council report revealed that the year 2007 was the bloodiest with some 8,000 killed.|
A recent UN Security Council report revealed that the year 2007 marked the bloodiest period for the Afghan civilians, government officials, and foreign troops, and the same is reported about Taliban as well. Some 8,000 people, of whom a considerable number are civilians, were killed.
The civilians fell victim to both the bombing and firing of the foreign troops and the suicide attacks carried out by Taliban. The casualties of US soldiers also hit 500. Most soldiers were killed after the reemergence of Taliban after 2005. While all areas of Afghanistan were once brought under nominal control of the US-backed Afghan government in 2002, wide areas of the south (in Helmand, Kandahar, and Uruzgan) are presently controlled by Taliban. Further, the fighting is migrating north into the provinces of Ghazni and Maidan Wardak, right next to Kabul.
US Blunt Failure
|A 2008 report by the Afghan NGO Security Office recently concluded, "Afghanistan is at the beginning of a war, not the end of one."|
Recently, some major attacks by Taliban have shown that the fragile security and stability can hardly withstand the so-called surging insurgency.
In March 2007, there was a suicide attack at the gates of the US military base at Bagram where American vice president Dick Cheney was staying. The attack, twin bloody bombings, on Afghan police buses left around 70 policemen killed.
last summer, a suicide attack hit a visiting group of the Afghan parliamentarians in northern Afghanistan killing up to 70, including six MPs.
Last November, there was a bold attack on Kabul's most heavily guarded hotel hosting western VIP guests in January. Another bombing in a dog-fighting festival in Kandahar that killed more than 200 people in February underlined that Afghanistan is too far from being turned into a peaceful land promised by the US invasion.
In fact, the audacious January 14 attack on Kabul's five-star Serena Hotel showed that Taliban could target Westerners virtually anywhere and anytime, even deep inside Kabul.
Looking at the rising Taliban threat in 2007 and the expected boost in 2008, a report by the Afghan NGO Security Office recently concluded, "Afghanistan is at the beginning of a war, not the end of one."
Many analysts believe that Taliban's recent advances are eerily reminiscent of the Soviet years during the 1980s when the Soviet troops occupied the cities but the Afghan resistance fighters commanded the countryside and eventually won. History has shown that foreign powers have tried for decades to quash Afghanistan but failed.
In a hope to curb the reemerging Taliban insurgency, the US and NATO doubled their troops in the last two years to 50,000. But this massive expansion in troops meant more targets and more losses. Deploying strictly military strategies for eliminating Taliban has led to the killing of more civilians than fighters and thus turned the foreign troops into a pure enemy in the eyes of a wide segment of the Afghan public.
Divide and Rule
|The US created a situation wherein presence of the occupation is always necessary, otherwise the country would plunge into civil war, to perpetuate the foreign occupation at the demand of the occupied, a case similar to the one in Iraq.|
Another big challenge is the political instability. To from the new regime, the Americans brought together old enemies who once severely fought one another. Neither national unity nor national interests appear to hold together the left extremists and right extremists — only per.sonal interests prevail. In addition to the old political hostilities, the whole society is now divided on ethnic lines — a souvenir of the Western democracy and a reminiscent of the divide-and-rule approach.
There is a wide conviction in Afghanistan that if the foreign troops left, Afghanistan would immediately plunge into a new civil war. This time, the war will be waged on multiple fronts. In the past six and a half years, whenever the old rivals confronted one another on narrow-scale military fronts and high-level political fronts, the final solution always came from the US embassy and President Bush's former special envoy to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad using the carrot-and-stick approach.
Creation of a situation wherein presence of the occupation is always necessary is read by many analysts as a smart US tactic that aims at perpetuating the foreign occupation at the demand of the occupied, a case similar to the one in Iraq.
While the former enemies are now seated around the same table by Uncle Sam, Taliban, the most stubborn enemy for all players, is waiting for the moment when the US-led troops will be defeated, paving the way for Taliban's leaders to control the country again.
Taliban's fighters have appeared to be the most irreconcilable force in the past six years. When Karzai offers olive branch to them, their first condition is always the withdrawal of foreign troops. This is seen as an incapacitating condition for the Afghan government, because if the foreign troops left, Taliban would not need to reconcile or even talk to the rival groups.
|Staying in the West is enough qualification that can turn an Afghan petrol pump attendant who stayed in the US for a while to a skilled technocrat deserving the post of governor!|
Turning the view to the government and its so-called achievements, one can be caught by the mantra of "tremendous progress" repeated daily by the Afghan authorities and Western leaders. However, on the ground, if a couple of sectors witnessed development, most of the others experienced unique deterioration and regress.
International efforts to promote and build the capacity of the government's various institutions, such as the police, army, judiciary, and civil administration, did not lead to considerable results because of the inefficiency these institutions are stuck in. Both the police and army have been filled with loyalists to commanders from the Northern Alliance and other militias. Most of them are illiterate or professionally unfamiliar with their job responsibilities.
In addition, the corruption of the police and other branches of the government is unprecedented in the history of Afghan governments. In the 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index of the corruption watchdog Transparency International, Afghanistan ranked among the 10 most corrupt nations. Bribes have turned into an inseparable part of any paperwork or case submitted to the government for a resolve.
In addition to corruption, the government's red-tapeism with a century-old system of bureaucracy is adding to the inefficiency. The "qualifications" that the Afghan government considers for high jobs also contributed to maintaining an insufficient administration.
For instance, in some cases, merely staying in the West for a period of time was considered a competency qualifying a man for an important post in the government. Such a competency can turn an Afghan petrol pump attendant who stayed in the US for a while to a skilled technocrat deserving the post of governor!
In the sector of social services, the government has failed to achieve any basic improvement in the fields of education, health care, and security. In one sentence, the government's efficiency in social services can be better gauged by a quote from a resident of Maidan Wardak who was quoted in a report, saying,
Now there is lots of snow. Many people are sick. They want to go to health clinics. But they cannot go. The government cannot clean the road. The government is indifferent.
Little Development, Much Trouble
|Despite the billions in aid and big international commitments, Afghanistan ranks 174 out of 178 countries on the UNDP's index of human development.|
Levels of economic and human development have also been so down despite the billions in aid and big international commitments. Afghanistan ranks 174 out of 178 countries on the index of human development of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Since 2002, most of the social progress has been confined to the west and north of the country.
The surge in drug trade is so intense that the production of opium poppy is now worth about US$3.1 billion, almost half of the country's legal gross domestic product (GDP). In the last three years, Afghanistan has been producing record-level opium (almost 90 percent of the world supply), after the production was brought to a five-percent low by Taliban.
Nearly six and a half years after the Bush administration's self-proclaimed "liberation" of Afghanistan, the whole work of development can be summed up in luxury hotels constructed by the private sector, armor-plated Land Rovers of international organizations, and lavish supermarkets built with the money of drug or bribes.
For the Afghans, these years of occupation mean little development, much trouble, and an uncertain future to be worried about. For the Americans, these years mean a prolonged failure, not only in making the OEF work but also in realizing the stated goals of the war: capturing Bin Laden and ending the Taliban headache. It is now evident that these goals are far from being accomplished, though a whole country has been destroyed in pursuing them.
Labels: Understanding the Afghan War