Huffpost WorldPost
Ehsan Azari Stanizai Headshot

The West Needs to Understand how to Deal with the Afghans

Posted: Updated:

The Afghan war has now entered its tenth year and there is still no flicker of light in the gloom. The West is bogged down in an ongoing guerrilla war. Except for a small number of multi-millionaire families, the vast majority of the Afghan people are not benefiting from Western efforts and sacrifices. It is high time that political leaders in the West rethink their bipartisan military commitment in Afghanistan.

The Afghan theater commenced in late 2001 when the US-led forces rapidly toppled the Taliban regime by air strikes and hiring local anti-Taliban militia. Their stunning victory glazed over the eyes of Washington's policy makers. They certainly underestimated the dynamism of the Afghan tribal socio-cultural structure and history that have made this mountainous country a haven for guerrilla warfare and the presence of any foreign troops obviously a magnate for uniting the warlike Pashtun tribes.

During the lead up to the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, Afghanistan was reeling from a bloody civil war in which former Mujahidden and ex-communist militia were fighting one another for power, killing tens of thousands of civilians. The CIA and Pentagon hired these defeated Mujahidden and ex-communist forces and put them into power in Kabul under Hamid Karzai, until then an obscure and unknown Afghan expatriate spending time in the US and Pakistan. After ten years, this regime is unable to defend itself let alone the Afghan people.

This was a gross strategic error upon which the long Western journey into Afghanistan began. The Karzai regime, which was merely Pashtun window dressing, is entirely controlled by warlords of the old Northern Alliance, dominated by a motley mix of desperate factions driven from the Afghan ethnic minority community. For the US, they turned out to be an acceptable trade-off for the al-Qaida affiliated Taliban.

The Western-backed government in Kabul is losing ground to the insurgents on a daily basis and the Taliban is obtaining and increasing grassroots support. In 2001, when the US-led forces drove the Taliban out of power, there were merely nine thousand foreign troops in Afghanistan. The number has now increased to 150,000 US and NATO troops plus tens of thousands of military contractors, plus 300,000 Afghan national military and police forces, yet the Taliban is stronger than ever.

In addition, despite receiving billions of US free money, Pakistani military and its infamous spy agency ISI never stopped playing a double game with the Taliban as well as the Americans and even al-Qaida. With underhanded perfidy, Pakistan's ISI is expanding its links with the Taliban in order to use them as proxies once Western forces leave Afghanistan. The ISI has provided the Taliban a safe haven in Pakistan from where they are launching violent attacks on Western and NATO forces inside Afghanistan. Thus, a dysfunctional government in Kabul plus a dishonest ally in Islamabad are the albatrosses, which cause Western powers to lose the war in Afghanistan.

In the same way, endeavoring to build a Western-style democracy in a deeply religious, ultra-conservative and tribal country like Afghanistan, it is not only pointless but is also a self-mutilating policy. Afghanistan is simply not prepared for, and even worse, does not want the kind of Western style democracy. Malcolm Fraser, Australia's Former Prime Minister made it clear in when he said, "Foreign and alien to that country's history and culture."

The argument that by sending more troops and killing more insurgents we would be able to gain strength and wipe out the Taliban is deeply flawed. I spent months in Kabul last year and observed that no one could travel across 15 km outside the security parameter of the Afghan capital Kabul during the daylight hours, because the countryside was turned into a quazi-kingdom for the Taliban. I also could not visit my own ancestral village, located 25 km south of Kabul in Logar province owing to security concerns.

Given the Afghan ground realities, the West must surely rethink its military policies. By escalating the war in Afghanistan, the West is assisting al-Qaida to expand its cancerous anti-Western ideology across the Islamic world and radicalizing the Taliban farther in Afghanistan. Bolsterin an illegitimate, corrupt and morally depleted government in Kabul, which makes the medieval Taliban look like a postmodern movement, places the West further into this morass and pushing the Taliban further into the al-Qadia orbit.

The future of the Afghan war will be determined by the outcome next year of the ongoing two pronged policy of the Obama administration -- the military surge and bringing the Taliban in for an acceptable political negotiation towards ending the conflict. Military stalemate or unending combat operations could confront the West with an intractable strategic dilemma.