I pulled a book out of box (because I’m still unpacking) and flipped through the pages. I do this all too often and it slows the process of unpacking. In this case the book is, “The Fragmentation of Afghanistan”, by Barnett (Barney) Rubin. It’s an older book, but valid today. It caused me to reflect that even the most basic aspects of government in Afghanistan are still not settled after 18 years of US involvement. I will spare you the walk down memory lane, but let’s talk about what’s gong on right now… if you care. I assure you that the US troops in country care. But it’s become of of those uncomfortable wars that don’t end well.
Truth be told, they never end well. There are too many casualties with no definable result (including my son-in-law, now judged 100% disabled due to the war). And what was the Navy doing there anyway. It’s a land locked nation. Oh, I know the answer, but really?
Today we witness a classic Afghan struggle between two powerful personalities, President Ghani and former Governor and warlord Noor. They do not like each other. Ghani ordered Noor replaced as Balkh governor in December 2017. Both are absolutely corrupt – which is a standard for Afghan politicians. (And politicians in that part of the world. They differ little from politicians everywhere except that they make no pretense about bribery.)
After 18 years, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks (which became the Northern Alliance) still judge the US gave their victory back to the Pashtuns who were the enemy. A major Tajik complaint is that the Pashtuns always get the choice appointments for making money. The tribal tension runs deep under the veneer of political cooperation in the open. That will not last after the US withdraws. Afghanistan will fragment along tribal lines. Everyone who understands the situation, expects that including the Afghans.
There is also a power struggle underway between the provinces and the center, Kabul. The relationship between the center and the provinces is not settled. The constitution specifies the terms of the relationship, but that is marginally relevant to who governs and how in the 34 provincial capitals. It is seldom the man (crook) appointed by President Ghani.
In historic Afghan tradition, the latest episode is being decided by guns, as it always has. But nothing is settled, least of all the commitment to western-style democracy. Things work for now because the US pays all the sides. Ghani has power because the US pays the bills. Noor has power because he is a Tajik war hero.
The Afghan Taliban posted an audio interview in which talks leader Mullah Baradar attempted to reassure Afghans about the peace process. He said, “I ask all our countrymen to be sure there is no need to worry. Everyone will be treated very well.” He advised the fighters to stay calm and not become arrogant over recent victories.
Baradar’s interview used language that a conquering emperor uses to his new subjects – they will be treated well. That sort of language is always a lie. His language shows he thinks the talks mean that the Taliban have won the war and will be the next government. Afghan government leaders would be justified in investigating how the Taliban got that impression and it was not refuted.
He did not say the Taliban would share power fairly, respect the rights of men and women or the constitution or property rights. He did not promise peace or to abide by the law. He also did not say the Taliban would implement Sharia, as it did before, but that is a bedrock item in the Taliban agenda. His language is unsettling and patronizing.
The highest levels of the Afghan government have no confidence in the US Special Envoy. The talks will not achieve their stated goals for a unified, national government. The place is a mess and is not worth one more US dollar or US life. We’ve squandered both for an end that while predictable, is lamentable.
The CIA/SPECOPS war against the Taliban early in the conflict (post 911) wherein the Northern Alliance, backed by US overhead air assets and precision bombing (overhead artillery) was very successful. We could have quit while we were ahead, but USGOV doesn’t work like that and we sent in Big Army, which insured the conflict would go on as they spent billions a week. 18 years later we have killed a lot of Afghans and other Muslim radical fighters, who were drawn to the conflict – but what did it REALLY matter?
It’s a lesson we’re unlikely to learn from.