Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
The United States has never admitted defeat; this is perfectly in line with its self-image. No super power can ridicule the very notion of its “superness” by admitting defeat. This unwillingness, however, does not change the verdict of history: Vietnam was a humiliating affair; Iraq has been a mixed situation; Bush was able to remove Saddam Hussein but that led to the emergence of the first Shia dominated Arab state in modern history and no one knows how this will change the entire Middle East equation.
Afghanistan is, however, neither Vietnam nor Iraq. Thus when President Barack Obama admitted that American involvement in Afghanistan is no more financially viable – though not in these words – he admitted defeat, albeit American style. For an American president to admit what he admitted, after ten long years, is another characteristic of the American attitude toward the dictates of history.
What the president said after ten long years was already commonly known without spending the hefty sum of 500 billion dollars. History bears witness that no one has been able to rule that rugged country called Afghanistan whose inhabitants have fought outsiders as a profession carried down from father to son for centuries. Afghanistan remained defiant to the British colonisers, it proved to be an impossible land for the Soviets and now the Americans are planning to call it a day.
President Obama is making no concession to the Afghans in his decision to pull back American troops; his second term is his most obvious personal consideration while he has America’s economy as his national consideration. Furthermore, in making his announcement against the desires of his generals, he has proven one more time that America is a country with an army, not an army with a country, as is the case for Pakistan. Wars are hugely costly and after ten years, America has accomplished in Afghanistan is no more than what any other occupier has accomplished there as history reveals.
One has to admit that the ragtag Taliban have once again proven that faith is stronger than weapons; that no one, not even the lone superpower, can overcome those who possess faith. All that Taliban have to do now is bide time and continue to do what they are doing and the future is theirs’. What would they make of that future remains to be seen but one thing is clear: the newly trained Afghan army will collapse like a house of cards and the Taliban will simply sweep through the country just like they did last time. If they have gained any wisdom, they will make much more of their victory this time around.
Before we get to that point, however, there are numerous “ifs” and “buts”. To be sure, the puppet regime will want to prolong its hold. It will offer permanent bases to the departing occupiers; it will raise a lot of helpless cries about the future of the country, but none of this is unknown to the Americans; they know what could not be achieved with $500 billion and 130,000 soldiers will not be achievable with a fraction of that amount both in money and in troops. In addition, even the most protected military base will always remain an easy target of a resurgent Taliban force.
No matter what decision America eventually makes, the entire equation is about to change because the proverbial hen laying golden eggs will depart and with it, a most ludicrous business for the generals in Afghanistan and Pakistan will come to an end. They must now find another paymaster.
In a world dominated by the green buck, no one is going to talk about the human cost of this war, especially of the Afghans. To be sure, the country has been destroyed and its population traumatised. However no one has been counting the ‘non-white’ dead bodies. So, no one really knows the cost of war to the Afghans, but with their faith stronger than the mighty mountains which enclose this beautiful land, their wounds will heal in good time and their villages will gain a degree of tranquillity and stability.
The American pullout from Afghanistan has tremendous challenges for Pakistan. If all goes well, by 2014 Pakistan would already be in the hands of a second civilian government. The authority of the generals would have further weakened and hopefully, there will be a way to reconfigure Pakistan’s political, economic and military priorities in the wake of American withdrawal from Afghanistan. It has been so long that it is almost impossible to imagine Pakistan’s main security and military agenda without the Afghan war. But one must attempt to foresee possible scenarios.
Without a war in Afghanistan and with a reduced animosity with India, Pakistan can drastically cut its defence spending. A wise and stable civilian government may be able to curtail the power of the generals. This power can only be curtailed if there is a strong civilian rule and the judiciary is functioning autonomously. A strong civilian rule requires a very representative parliament not beholden to a lion of Punjab or Sindh and that is exactly what Pakistan is lacking since its birth: it has failed to evolve a political culture which is independent of a political lord. Just like Afghanistan cannot function without war lords, Pakistan has never been able to function without political lords.
There is, thus, an urgent need for a few individuals to come forward and attempt to establish a mechanism through which a new political force can come into existence. All the factors are in place for this new force to evolve: a relatively young and educated population, a chronic political disorder; a sense of hopelessness which can be converted into an action plan, and an opportunity the like of which has never existed before as people are now sick and tired of the faces which have dominated Pakistan’s politics for as long as one can remember.