When Afghanistan Would Be Strategically Decolonized?


by Bawa Singh 24 July 2019

In the backdrop of 9/11, the ISAF/NATO troops have been deployed during the last 18 years in Afghanistan. Despite the long stay of the same, nothing much has been changed in terms of violence, terror attacks, killing of the civilians, refugee life etc. It seems to be more or less as the strategic colonization of the sovereign country along with the intervention in the internal affairs.   Rather the Taliban has become stronger and the country has been passing through a very critical period given its entrapping in the cobweb of violence and terrorism. During the last couple of decades, there are no relations between Afghanistan and peace and it became more perceptibly invisible since the 9/11 given the fighting between the NATO/ISAF and Taliban.

Most of the countries have been plagued by the religious fundamentalism and ideological extremism, resulting in the creation of fanatic terror groups. The radicalization is being further exacerbated by the widening the economic injustice and inequality, violation of human rights and suppression of freedoms of the citizens at large.  Peace has been eclipsed given the expansion of militarism, racial and ethnic discriminations, and the devious designs of regional and major external powers’ geopolitics with respect to mineral-rich and strategically located countries for their vested interests.

Notwithstanding, the several peacebuilding, peacemaking initiatives along with peacekeeping, even today Afghanistan can be characterized as the ‘Arc of Turbulence,’ wherein the terror attacks, killing of soldiers and civilians have been taking place regularly. Millions of Afghan refugees have been remained un-rehabilitated and unintegrated with their motherland during the last couple of decades.  Even in 2019, peace talks and terror attacks have been going on simultaneously. In this backdrop, the main argument is, Afghanistan needs to be strategically decolonized by withdrawing the foreign troops experimenting with the intra-afghan peacemaking and securitization in order to arrest the violence and make the country a livable and loveable place.

Afghanistan Conflict

Throughout its recorded history, Afghanistan has been facing many ups and downs given the foreign invaders’ endeavors and failures to control it. On account of this, it is popularly known as the graveyard of the empires. Afghanistan’s ethnic composition has remained more or less as problematic. Fighting among the various ethnicities regarding dominance one over the other, made it politically and economically wonky. Because of instability, it is one of the least developed countries in the world. In order to expand its influence, Russia had intervened in Afghanistan during the period of 1979-1989. Due to the Cold War geopolitics, Afghanistan had become a battlefield of major powers for expanding their own influences and restricting interests of the others. Resultantly, Mujahedeen have been created and supported by some of the regional powers with the connivance of external powers to counter the Cold War counterparts. These Mujahedeen played havoc not only in Afghanistan but with its own creators as well. The 9/11 attack took place and given this attack, Afghanistan once again became one of the fiercest battlefields for its alleged shelter and support to the Al Qaida Chief. Consequently, under the Operation Enduring Freedom, about 1.5 lac ISAF/NATO troops had deployed in Afghanistan to eliminate the Al-Qaeda. However, without reaching its logical conclusion, the troop’s withdrawal has taken place in 2014.

In the post-2014 ISAF withdrawal, about 14,000 troops have been stationed in Afghanistan to train and advise the Afghan national forces under the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). The major question/s is/are, with the deployment of that many number of foreign troops in a sovereign country, had the host country either become safer to live in or the terror attacks stopped? If it is so, then why the Afghan citizens have to become refugees? Why thousand civilian people are being killed? Why the territorial influence of the non-state actors has increased exponentially? Despite engaging the Taliban in multilateral fora of peace talks with several peace stakeholders during the last couple of years, why the peacemaking and peacebuilding have been playing hide and seek in the country?

Afghanistan: Strategically Colonized?

In the backdrop of the 9/11 terror attack, the foreign troops in terms of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)/NATO have been deployed to carry out the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. The primary objectives of the OEF-Afghanistan were articulated by President George W. Bush during his two important speeches as to eliminate the terrorist training camps and infrastructures; cessation of terror activities and to capture of Al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. Due to the presence of terror groups and their terror activities in Afghanistan and consequently their threats to the European countries, the OEF was carried out along with the deployment of about 1.5 lac ISAF troops in Afghanistan. Given a long deployment of the foreign troops, has Afghanistan been become safer, securitized, stabilized and pacified? 

Terror attacks in Europe have a long history, however, for the purpose of the argument is in question, only recent attacks would be taken into consideration. It is reported that since 2014, more than 20 perilous terror attacks had taken place in the European countries. France had undergone several terror attacks including the Île-de-France Attacks (January 2015), Paris Attacks (November 2015), Nice Truck Attack (July 2016). In the United Kingdom, the three major attacks like Westminster, Manchester Arena, and London Bridge Attacks had taken place. Similarly, many other countries such as Belgium, Germany, Russia, Spain even including the US had undergone the trauma of terror attacks. Having well-trained intelligence agencies, professionalized military and honest police personnel equipped with highly sophisticated weaponries and cyber technology, the European countries had failed to check these terror attacks. However, it does not mean that the foreign troops should be stationed over there to check the terror activities/attacks.

The stationing of the foreign troops means, a major question on the unity, integrity, sovereignty, and intervening in the internal affairs of the host county. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, what has been achieved by the NATO forces till date. The situation has become grimmer and peace, stability, security have been absent from there. Rather, millions of people have been turned into refugees. For whom, to come back and settle in the country is more than a distant dream. For this, who can be held responsible, seems to be debatable?

On the one hand, if the deployment of foreign troops in Afghanistan is based on the argument of terror activities/attacks, then a number of terror attacks had taken place in many countries including the European countries. Would it be off the beam to go by the same argument and foreign troops can be deployed in the NATO countries where some terror attacks had taken place in the recent past? If this argument is wrong in context of European countries, then beyond doubts, it is also right to call the long stay of the foreign troops in Afghanistan as the strategic colonization of the latter.

Violence in Afghanistan

BBC has reported that since the US-led invasion (2001), Afghanistan has become one of the most insecure countries of the world. Being comparatively in small number vis-à-vis Afghan National Forces and NATO troops, the Taliban has positioned and emerged very strongly and controlling more geographical area than the incumbent government. With the passage of a long time, the Afghan conflict has not only become longest, intense, violent and turbulent ones, rather, has also become the more complicated given the absence of peace, killings of common people, inadequate arrangements for refugee and human right violations.  During the last 18 years, the Taliban and the US/NATO-backed Afghan government have been trying to gain the upper hand in fighting, however, except terror attacks, violence and the killings nothing else were visible in perceptible terms so far.

President Trump had put in place a new strategy for South Asia in general and for Afghanistan in particular, to put pressure on the Taliban to break the stalemate and eventually to compel them for peace talks with the Afghan Government. However, under this policy, the Trump regime asserted and committed to “fight to win” the ongoing long war. Under this policy, the Trump administration had put maximum military pressure, on the Taliban by using the intensified airstrikes and special force raids and claimed that it would be, “the beginning of the end for the Taliban.” The other parts of the strategy meant for controlling the Taliban’s financial sources, publicly questioning the legitimacy of the Taliban’s war along with putting pressure on Pakistan to capture/expel Afghan Taliban leaders.

Now, the moot question is, what Afghan policy had left imprints on the abovementioned objectives of the policy. It has been claimed by the US/NATO that the maximum and intense military pressure checked the Taliban’s territorial expansion along with the killing of many Taliban commanders and fighters. However, at the same time, it would be pertinent to mention here that President Ashraf Ghani disclosed that about 45,000 Afghan security personnel have been killed, however, it’s not clearly pointed out that either it includes the number of NATO/US soldiers or not. Has the Afghan policy been able to control the Taliban territorial influence, reducing the violence unleashed on the NATO /US troops, Afghan Govt’s officers and the common citizens? What had happened to refugees and their rehabilitation, reintegration etc.?

The hollowness/ failures/indelible imprints of the policy is/are pointed out by the BBC wherein it is reported that the 14 districts (that’s 4% of the country) is fully controlled by the Taliban on the one hand; and 263 out of 398 districts comprising of the 66% of the geographical area of Afghanistan is covered partially by the same. Whereas, on the other hand, the Afghan government controls only 30 % of the total area. How much area under the control of whom, that is still debatable? The other issue, which is haunting the Afghan government and people is violence.  The intensity of violence can be seen just giving a cursory look over the data only of 2018 and 2019. As per the data given by the South Asia Terrorism Portal in respect of killings/injured up to July 17, 2019, the scenario is very sadistic. The total killings of the civilian (1360), security forces (2025) and the Terrorists/Insurgents/Extremists (17370), including not specified (301) amounts to 21,056 only in one and half years. 

The Paradox of Peace: Solution Lies in Strategic Decolonization?

The peace talk and terror attacks have been going simultaneously. Even during the Doha Peace Talk (7-8 July 2019), a terror attack took place killing and injuring several people. However, the intra-Afghan peace talk is a good indication as previously Taliban leaders were refusing to talk to the Afghanistan government. The major agenda of the peace talks included the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and a permanent cease-fire. On part of the Taliban, Afghanistan would not be used for attacks over other countries and an intra-Afghan dialogue for political settlement. But moot question is, what is the outcome of the peace talks. Only terror attacks?  In Taliban attack on Afghan Police HQ on 18 July, at least 11 people killed and about 90 were wounded. In another terror attack near Kabul University, 10 people killed and 33 were critically injured in the explosion.

In this backdrop and seeing the current scenario, it is concluded that despite a long stay of the foreign troops in the country, the same has been failed to stop the terror attacks, rather, have increased exponentially. Afghanistan needs strategic decolonized by withdrawing the foreign troops.  Thus, it is recommended that Afghanistan should be under the control of the Afghan people. Let the Afghan people sit together and experiment with intra-Afghan peace talk for peacebuilding and peacemaking. All stakeholders need to rethink and reorient their strategies for Afghan peacebuilding and peacemaking. Perhaps, the solution of the Afghanistan conflict lies in the strategic decolonization!!