A political/military overview of Afghanistan’s recent history with foreign intervention and war. Using the Soviet experience – and a variety of books – Lieven offers valuable analysis and suggestions. The failure to design and implement inclusive peace processes along the way have led to more violence and increased tension in the region.
The insights into US-Pakistan relations, the impact of a long-term US presence and the need to acknowledged a post-Karzai Afghanistan are all discussed.
The book list is below.
Afghanistan: The Best Way to Peace
“The United States and its allies today find themselves in a position in Afghanistan similar to that of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, after Mikhail Gorbachev decided on military withdrawal by a fixed deadline. They are in a race against the clock to build up a regime and army that will survive their withdrawal, while either seeking a peace agreement with the leaders of the insurgent forces or splitting off their more moderate, pragmatic, and mercenary elements and making an agreement with them. The Soviets succeeded at least partially in some of these objectives, while failing utterly to achieve a peace settlement.”
Negotiations with the Taliban
“On the basis of my conversations in recent years with former leading figures in the Taliban and Pakistanis close to Mullah Omar and his colleagues, my own judgment is that a peace settlement between the US, the administration in Kabul, and the Afghan Taliban would probably have to be based on some variant of the following elements:
(1) complete withdrawal of all US troops according to a fixed timetable;
(2) exclusion of al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups from areas controlled by the Taliban;
(3) a government in Kabul headed—at least nominally—by men the Taliban would see as good Muslims and Afghan patriots;
(4) negotiations on a new Afghan constitution involving the Taliban and leading to the transfer of most powers from the center to the regions;
(5) de facto—though not formal—Taliban control of the region of Greater Kandahar, and by the Haqqanis of Greater Paktika;
(6) a return to the Taliban offer of 1999–2001 of a complete ban on opium poppy cultivation and heroin production in the areas under their control, in return for international aid.
On the last point, it should be remembered that the Taliban are the only force to have achieved such a degree of control of the drug trade during the past thirty years. Certainly, based on their record to date, the idea that our own Afghan allies will do so after the US withdraws is pure fantasy.”
Pakistan, the impact of a long-term US military presence, preparing for a post-Karzai Afghanistan.
"For the Pakistani military as a whole, however, a peace settlement along the lines I have sketched above would fulfill its essential needs. It would keep the influence of India in Afghanistan at a distance from Pakistan’s borders. It would ensure adequate Pashtun representation in Afghan government, limiting the power of forces linked to India. It would remove the catastrophic threat of Indian-backed Tajik forces fighting an ethnic civil war in Afghanistan’s Pashtun territories, sending fresh millions of refugees fleeing into Pakistan. And it would end the US drone strikes and raids that are infuriating the lower ranks of the Pakistani military and leading to catastrophic clashes between Pakistani and US forces along the Afghan border.
Such an outcome would serve a vital interest of the United States. For it is no exaggeration to say that the tension between the Pakistani military and the United States now poses a threat to US security that dwarfs either the Taliban or the battered remnants of the old al-Qaeda. As I have found from speaking with Pakistani soldiers, and from visiting military families in the chief areas of recruitment in northern Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the fury of the junior ranks against the US is reaching a dangerous pitch. These soldiers share both the sympathy for the Afghan Taliban of the population at large and that population’s deep distrust of US intentions. They are increasingly angry with their own commanders, whom they view as cowardly and corrupt; and they are profoundly humiliated when they return to their towns and villages and are asked by neighbors—and even their own women—why as slaves of the US they are killing fellow Muslims.
There seems, as a result, a strong likelihood that if Pakistani soldiers encounter US soldiers on what is or what they believe to be Pakistani soil, they will fight. This is apparently what happened in the incident on November 26 in which twenty-four Pakistani soldiers were killed by US forces, leading to a drastic further deterioration in relations (including retaliatory closing of the border to NATO). That encounter was bad enough; but if such clashes continue then at some point things will go the other way, and Americans will be killed—possibly a lot of Americans, if for example the Pakistanis shoot down a helicopter. If on the other hand the Pakistani generals order their men not to fight, the resulting outrage could undermine discipline to the point where the unity of the army could be in question—and if the army breaks apart, not only will immense munitions and expertise flow to terrorists, but the Pakistani state will collapse. This would be a historic triumph for al-Qaeda and its allies—and like the invasion of Iraq, one made possible for them by the United States.
To my astonishment, I find that some US officials are now arguing that a principal reason why the US must retain bases in Afghanistan—even at the price of making a settlement with the Taliban impossible—is in order to continue striking at al-Qaeda and other extremist targets in Pakistan’s border areas. More than ten years after September 11, it is simply appalling that supposedly well-informed people are still treating the terrorist threat in such a crude and mechanistic fashion. Have they not realized that the membership of al-Qaeda and its allies is not fixed, but depends on al-Qaeda’s ability to recruit among Muslims infuriated by US actions? Or that a terrorist attack on the US is as likely—more likely—to be planned in Karachi, Lahore, the English town of Bradford, or New York as in Pakistan’s frontier areas? An essential US motive for a peace settlement in Afghanistan, one allowing complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, is precisely that it would allow America to pull back from the existing confrontation with Pakistan—not continue it into the indefinite future, with all the gains that this would create for resentment by extremists.
Even if the advantages of a settlement are recognized by Washington, how can the US sell it to its allies in Afghanistan, to President Karzai and his followers, and to the leaders of the non-Pashtun ethnic groups? The answer lies partly in assuring all the other parties that the US will continue to guarantee military support against any future Taliban move to attack Kabul or invade the north; and partly in the approaching train wreck that the simultaneous departure of both US troops and Karzai may cause.
The pursuit of a peace settlement should be combined with the discussion of a post-Karzai political order in Kabul, and with an Afghan national debate on reform of the constitution, which is now widely recognized to be deeply flawed and far too centralized, and which was never truly approved by the Afghan people. The first step to peace with the Taliban therefore should be to acknowledge their right to participate in a genuine national debate on a new Afghan constitution.
Finally, what of the fate of the social progress made since 2001, especially with respect to women’s rights? Jonathan Steele gives a powerful answer to the question. The melancholy truth is that the Taliban are no more reactionary in this regard than most of Afghan rural society. As the briefest glance at media coverage of Afghanistan in recent years makes clear, the limited gains for women’s rights have been made only under intense Western pressure and in the face of apparent strong resistance from our own Afghan political and military allies.
Where the Taliban were different—and attracted international opprobrium—was not in their basic culture, but in the way they codified the suppression of women in state law rather than leaving it to local and family custom. Moreover, they extended this suppression to the cities where women had made real though precarious progress over the course of the twentieth century. The task of the US and its allies therefore must be to preserve the cities at least as areas where women can continue to enjoy more rights and opportunities in the hope that a new culture will gradually spread from them to the countryside.
This is a depressing prospect when compared with the hopes that followed the overthrow of the Taliban ten years ago. But let us face facts. Our societies and official establishments have demonstrated beyond any possible doubt that they lack the stamina and capacity for sacrifice necessary to remain in Afghanistan for the decades that would be necessary to transform the position of Afghan women as a whole; and there is nothing ethical or responsible about setting goals from the safety of London or Washington that informed people know cannot in fact be reached. We do have a chance to try to do better than the Soviets and to try to save Afghanistan from an endless future of civil war, and to establish a peace in which future progress may be possible. It is our duty to take that chance."
Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979–89
by Rodric Braithwaite
A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan
by Artemy M. Kalinovsky
Killing the Cranes: A Reporter’s Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan
by Edward Girardet
Ghosts of Afghanistan: Hard Truths and Foreign Myths
by Jonathan Steele
The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers
by Peter Tomsen
Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism, and Resistance to Modernity
by Riaz Mohammad Khan
Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan
US Department of Defense
Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field
edited by Antonio Giustozzi
An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970–2010. by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn