Jul 19 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – Much to President Ashraf Ghani’s relief, Nato has extended its mission in Afghanistan through 2017. The alliance reaffirmed its commitment to the troubled campaign at the Warsaw summit, as mass migration from Afghanistan continues to cause ripples across Europe.
Although the participants pledged to continue funding and training Afghan security forces, the overstretched alliance itself is up against the odds. The recent bombing in Nice, the war in Syria, the botched military coup in Turkey and growing confrontation with Russia are some of the key challenges before it.
Given the scale of the multiple crises, the coalition is unlikely to turn around the bleak situation in the conflict-torn country. On the face of it, Nato’s renewed vow is a signal it is not rushing for an exit. The decision follows President Barack Obama’s announcement to leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through the end of his term
Unable to cope with the progressively dismal security and economic conditions on the domestic front, Ghani’s effusive appreciation of Nato’s move is understandable. It will give him much-needed breathing space.
In the build-up to the summit, Obama proclaimed the 15-year war in Afghanistan would drag into the tenure of his successor. True to form, he went back on his vow to withdraw all American men and women in uniform from the country before his exit from office.
Obama has chosen to prolong the war in Afghanistan.
His latest volte-face is chiefly driven by what he calls the precarious security situation in Afghanistan, whose defence establishment is still not as strong as it needs to be. In all fairness, the decision is a dangerous nostrum that may lead to wider anarchy in the country.
If his tactical gambits in the past are any guide, the new shift is unlikely to help his successor take an easy decision on America’s presence in Afghanistan. In fact, his 2014 statement rang truer: It is harder bringing wars to a close than starting them.
During his two terms in the White House, the president looked rather pushy about setting arbitrary timelines — and then changed his mind without any good reason. To boot, his kaleidoscopic moves have tended to reinforce a ruthless Taliban insurgency that has undermined the writ of the government in Kabul.
Without learning a jot from the Iraqi quicksand, Obama — branded as a reluctant warrior — chose to prolong the war in Afghanistan. The militant Islamic State group, rising from the ashes of hostilities, has now found new breeding ground in Afghanistan.
Today, Daesh fighters are making inroads into eastern and northern Afghanistan. High-casualty attacks and firefights in Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan and Badakhshan provinces have not only highlighted the tenuous hold of the Ghani administration, but also underscored America’s debatable military strategy.
Despite an exponential increase in targeted killings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, IS is steadily expanding its foothold in different countries. After the Iraq debacle, the US ratcheted up troop levels in Afghanistan in 2009 but then pulled them back faster than commanders on the ground suggested.
Exasperated by his failure, he promised a responsible end to the war and a reduction in troop numbers to the normal embassy presence. Knowingly or unwittingly, he has put more US troops in harm’s way by pledging to maintain the present military presence until 2017.
Obama’s unworkable plans have neither brought security to Afghanistan nor enabled him to reclaim the ‘American Dream’. His obsession with the military option notwithstanding, the president still acknowledges the only way to achieve a full drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan is through a durable political settlement.
At the same time, the Afghan Taliban’s assertion that their persistent fighting prowess is the main factor behind Obama’s oscillation also sounds accurate. In the circumstances, there is little reason to be optimistic about the future of the long-elusive peace parleys. Efforts by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table have fizzled out largely due to Washington’s ambivalent policy.
With the death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike, the US has intentionally hampered result-oriented talks. In addition to laying bare America’s double standard, the raid has also driven the Taliban further away from the negotiating table.
How can you interact with a group whose leadership you take out at a critical time? How can you woo Pakistan, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbour, into facilitating reconciliation talks by violating its sovereignty with a disturbing frequency?
To make sure 15 years of American investments and sacrifices in Afghanistan come to fruition, Obama’s successor would have to embrace the patent reality that military power alone cannot translate into outright victory in the absence of political courage to own up to past mistakes and keep them from recurring.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Peshawar.
Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2016
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan