"Khudahafiz" is the South Asian Muslim way of saying "goodbye." A wonderful phrase that means "Goodbye and may God protect you," it is time for America to say, "Khudahafiz Afghanistan," and end our miserable decade-long war in that country.
If you think that the American military involvement in Afghanistan is scheduled to end during 2014, guess again. After the 30,000 American troops that were "surged" there in 2009 return by the end of 2014, 68,000 American soldiers will still remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. That was the message I took away from an off the record briefing in Washington, D.C., conducted by a senior Administration official involved in setting Afghan strategy.
The cost of deploying one American soldier in Afghanistan is about a million dollars, so the 68,000 troops will cost the United States $68 billion per year. In a time of continuing severe economic recession, a national debt of over $14 trillion, and declining support for the unending war in Afghanistan it is inconceivable that Americans will tolerate this expenditure.
If this money drain wasn't bad enough, there still appears to be no Administration strategy to guide the United States out of its decade long Afghan involvement. The same official offered that the Administration was considering the creation of a 21st century Silk Road from Tajikistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. Private-public partnerships, the official said, will build the infrastructure to transport the region's mineral and energy resources to Pakistani ports for export, and the Silk Road will jump start the economies of all three countries, especially Afghanistan.
It boggles the mind to think that in the middle of Afghanistan's warring clans, killings and ambushes, competing warlords, and ethnic competition, the best and the brightest in Washington really believe it is possible to build a new Silk Road to stabilize Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan, at one fell swoop. My neighbor at this briefing, a seasoned South Asia hand, leaned over to me and whispered, "What planet do these people live on?"
For much of the last year there was hope that direct negotiations with Taliban would lead to an end to the Afghan war. Well, that was the case until last week's murder of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led the efforts to negotiate the end of hostilities with the Taliban until he was assassinated. The assassination, it turns out, was executed with the help of Pakistan, a country that continues to be referred to as an America ally, even after it engages in acts detrimental to U.S. interests including the killing of at least one American army officer.
After the murder of Mr. Rabbani, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has decided to change tack, end negotiations with the Taliban and hold direct talks with Pakistan instead. But he has simultaneously turned to India for help in training Afghan security forces. A move that is sure to enrage Pakistan which has fought a number of wars with India and is determined to keep Indian influence out of Afghanistan.
And so it goes on, a great game that pushes America deeper into this deadly quagmire.
In the middle of this hornet's nest of intrigue and strategy du jour brave Americans continue to die and politicians who sent them there dream on about a new Silk Road, a stable Afghanistan, and peace in our time. It is time to say "Khudahafiz Afghanistan, Khudahafiz Pakistan," and bring all the troops home by the end of 2014.