Is Afghanistan another Vietnam?

We are witnessing a change of tides in the ‘War Against Terrorism’. US officially changed their approach towards the Taliban since the invasion of Afghanistan. The classic statements such as, “As a result of the US military, the Taliban no longer is in existence” by ex-President of US, George W. Bush, are no longer in play. Washington has had a change of heart when Obama called Taliban’s opening of their office in Qatar as an “important first step toward reconciliation”. The war in Afghanistan has been a lost cause from the beginning of the invasion and reconciliation is a necessary step towards bringing a long overdue peace to the region.

The war in Afghanistan has lasted 12 years since its initial invasion by US in 2001. With nearly 100,000 NATO and US soldiers, 185,000 trained members of Afghan National Army and 149,000 members of Afghan National Police, the Taliban, estimated to be 20,000 members, are still roaming the country and fighting a war. Clearly, there is something wrong with this picture when allied forces are outnumbering rebel fighters 21 to 1.

Leaving the numbers aside, there are clear indications that US and NATO are losing this war. Some individuals might say that the Taliban has agreed to participate in the peace talks, so clearly they are frustrated with this war and want an end to it. Not exactly (not saying that they do not want peace)! Taliban have always said that they will only go into peace talks with US as the current Afghan government is a puppet of Washington, thus they want to talk to the head. While US has always responded to this demand by putting the Afghan government at the spearhead of peace talks with the Taliban, that is. US officially accepting to talk with the rebels is as good as surrendering to them.

Furthermore, we are seeing an unhappy Afghan government. Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, said that he will suspend bilateral talks with Untied States about American troops in Afghanistan past 2014, since the Afghan government is not involved in the peace talks. At one side we are trying ‘reconciliation’ with the Taliban, while on the other, we are angering the Afghan government. By holding talks between the Taliban and Washington and not including Afghan government, we are witnessing the irrelevance of Karzai regime. This is yet another unofficial acceptance by Washington.

We also have US diplomats stating that we have achieved what we wanted to begin with, which was eliminating Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Once again, true that Osama bin Laden was killed by American troops, but we must look at the circumstances of his death. Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, in the city of Abbottabad about 1.5 km away from Pakistan Military Academy. Additionally, many reports are coming out from the US government stating that Pakistan is harboring and training the Taliban in their soil. Al Qaeda has been weakened and driven out of the area for many years, but why are still fighting in the Taliban in Afghanistan and not in Pakistan?

Coming back to the recent development of US holding talks with the Taliban, we could have good implication for both sides (aside from the end of this long war). Elections are coming up in 2014 in Afghanistan and the Taliban could, potentially, have a piece of that pie. A huge chunk of the southern part of Afghanistan is not represented in the Afghan government (as majority of the Taliban are from southern Afghanistan). While for US and its allies, it means ending a long overdue war and reducing their military budgets. War in Afghanistan has cost US over $600 billion USD (not include the long-term care for war veterans) in the past 12 years. Resources could be allocated to the much needed domestic issues of US and NATO countries.

The Afghan war has been lost cause from the start, but this does not mean that we should eliminate every member of the Taliban before we could call it quits. Many people have said, including myself, that this war could only come to end with peace talks between the parties involved. As an International Development student, I can honestly say that this war has been waste of resources and precious lives. Development could only proceed forward while there is peace and stability, which is much needed in Afghanistan.

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9 thoughts on “Is Afghanistan another Vietnam?

  1. I’ll try not to get too personal, and I think you have some valid points, but also some inconsistencies. In 2009 I went to Kandahar province in a combat role with the Royal Canadian Dragoons Recon.(TF 3-09); worked primarily in Dand district “Ambush Alley”: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/canadas-top-soldier-hopes-to-build-trust-in-afghanistans-ambush-alley/article567237/ but also in Panjawai, and Argandab districts.

    To not get into why Afghanistan is not Vietnam would take too long, so I’ll add this. In the 1990’s when the Taliban won a bloody civil war, they imposed their take on Islamic law. This meant public stoning and hangings, prevention of all food aid for a period of time, and a complete and utter neglect for any human rights at all, especially for women. The people in Afghanistan, in the Taliban’s homeland, DO NOT LIKE the Taliban. They don’t want those guys there. They kill their Mullahs and Maliks, they steal from their homes, and bully people around. By killing or arresting Taliban fighters in Dand my unit employed people locally, helped the completion of a concrete bridge across a dangerous desert river, and something close to 100 other small development projects (flood protection, farming training courses, community centres, schools reopened, health clinics…). The ‘macro’ points like the costs, the killing of Osama and the fact that the Taliban come from Pakistan are missing the human points of the conflict: people there have been suffering for 2 generations in that country. Lost cause from the start? Then why bother right? Waste of resources? Definitely. Especially amongst American out-sourcing, and their more violent approach than other ISAF countries. It’s more apt to say that poor militaristic planning and actions (not entirely, but mostly American) lost a war that could’ve been ended, because I’ve been to the worst part of that country, and I’ve seen the potential for peace.

    • mludin says:

      Hi Core,
      I cannot make any personal claim on witnessing the situation firsthand in Kandahar and other deadly regions in Afghanistan. But the main point I was trying to get in this post was the fact that the past 12 years of war were not necessary. Goals such as Human Development, Social Justice, Women’s Rights etc… could have been achieved through other means. With the withdrawal of foreign troops there is nothing stop Taliban, then 12 years of frustration will be taken out on the people once again. Micro projects which yourself and others have worked on will be left at the whims of the Taliban, and they can do as they will. Micro level projects will not stand against the negative hegemonic systems which have been put in place by US and NATO. One of the most recent case is CIA funding the warlords in Afghanistan (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/world/asia/cia-delivers-cash-to-afghan-leaders-office.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).

      • Considering that the Taliban government wouldn’t accept food aid, it is certain they wouldn’t allow other forms of development projects encouraging increased woman’s’ rights. Unless you know any examples of extremist governments letting other countries in to deliver services that directly contradict the core of their beliefs system. I often wonder myself how development goals can be reached in places that don’t want us there in the first place; speaking with civilian friends of mine working in private security has brought to light how often development workers need security. I suppose we end up with doctors being killed by Taliban in Pakistan for administering medicine to children http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/01/gunmen-kill-pakistani-aid-workers ; of course a direct result of the conflict.

        Don’t think I’m trying to support war here, because I most definitely do not. Also, I don’t recall justifying Bush-era (or Obama-era) policies at all, which I definitely do not agree with. I don’t think we (NATO) were wrong for going into Afghanistan, and believe me I know by saying that I’m going against the tide.Like I mentioned above, if smarter decisions were made by military leaders during the hardest fighting years, and armies took a human approach to problem solving (as I feel Canadians do); we wouldn’t be saying how pointless it was. I’ve seen the human cost of the war, I know how little any of it matters when a wife and daughter lose someone for reasons like this how pointless it seems. if the global failure of the decades-old ‘war on drugs’ wasn’t carried out this long as to provide the Taliban with a revenue stream in opium; then noone would say that that war was pointless.

        There are now Pakistani Taliban fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army, which is funded by the West. I know the hypocrisy, not far off from USAID delivering weapons systems and development aid at the same time, its maddening and enraging.

    • mludin says:

      There are ways of persuading Taliban. They had supporters before the US invasion in 2001. Pakistan and UAE were two countries which recognized their regime, while Saudi Arabia and some other countries were supporting them. US holds quite a bit of influence on all of the countries mentioned. You cannot expect them to change their system of governance within a day, but over time, if the West wanted, they could have shaped Afghanistan to look better then it is right now.

      There are several reasons why the current mission is a failed one. Largely due to the fact that the West is leaving the country in 2014 and the Afghan government does not have the capacity to take over. Furthermore, US and NATO are now trying to negotiate with the Taliban, which is a clear sign of a lost war. We both agree that the Taliban are not good in nature, then why is NATO and US trying to negotiate?

      • Not sure why you would think I’d be happy about NATO leaving so soon, not to mention the handover of Canadian fought-for districts to Americans who only go on to commit massacres; negating the work of what we’ve accomplished to some degree. But let me ask you, do you really believe that through external political influence, the US would be able to change Taliban policy? Nor did I argue the failed state of the mission. I also said I’m not writing to promote American policies. So thanks for reading what I wrote. What I am saying is that if you think you can sit down and talk to young Taliban fighters, and get them to adopt a peaceful, moderate government I think you’re far off. Often times they are neither freedom fighters nor rebels, but uneducated farmers’ sons’ that get taken up by the Taliban in extremist Madrassas, and are brainwashed. The world’s not always full of roses. Would you argue against an armed intervention in Rwanda pre-genocide, even if it meant going to war? How about intervening in Syria this time a year ago? prevent the deaths of tens of thousands of people, not to mention the extreme sexual violence against women and children. Sometimes force is necessary.

        And I’m a little confused here by what you’re asking; in your first paragraph you say we should’ve talked it out with the Taliban, in the second you’re questioning why we should talk to them now? As well, do you think the Western states don’t communicate, trade, deliver aid into the corrupt hands of repressive regimes? Setting up meetings with the Taliban is not a new development.

        “will not take part in any peace talks with Karzai… until such a day when foreign forces leave Afghanistan.” is what a Tali spokesman said here: http://www.smartwar.org/2012/01/talking-with-the-taliban-a-timeline/. Foreign forces are leaving, so they’re willing to speak now, it would seem.

    • mludin says:

      This whole article is based on the idea that the current war (after 12 years) is still nowhere near ending. US wants to start talks with the Taliban now, which should have taken place a while back. My last reply to your comment was to show that NATO and US are not in a good position to negotiate and that it should have been done a while back when the allied forces had an upper hand (although it is never too late).

      Your point about Taliban not wanting to cooperate is a flawed argument because it contradicts with the statement you posted from a Taliban representative. Furthermore, there are ways to pressure Taliban to cooperate and it has been done before by Pakistan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6UoMQ2UKBI).

  2. Zain says:

    Agreed Mahmood. Not only did this war erase a lot of lives, but also a lot of potential of reconciliation of other issues that plague the world today. The U.S. continues to show inconsistencies with their military strategies, first going into Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, and then going into Afghanistan for Osama Bin Laden. I wonder if there are any important resources in Afghanistan that are important to the Americans?

    • You know what I think it is? The American approach requires everything to be huge. Everything needs to be done in a massive way in order for it to be a success, they need huge bases, imported food, mercenary teams on stand-by, it’s crazy. I’ve read a few articles on Afghan resources, but everything I’ve seen says that infrastructure development to extract resources (copper is a main one I believe) wouldn’t make it worth the investment. Plus its a landlocked country, which would mean transporting resources thru America’s favourite neighboring countries; Iran, Pakistan, China.

    • mludin says:

      Afghanistan is very wealthy when it comes to resources. “Estimated authoritatively to be of the order of one trillion dollars” (http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-war-is-worth-waging-afghanistan-s-vast-reserves-of-minerals-and-natural-gas/19769). This is just the beginning when it comes to natural resources. There is much more which haven’t been discovered.

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