Essay on War in Afghanistan

The United States played a key role in support of the Afhan mujahedin in the 1980s. However, once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, U.S. involvement declined dramatically. In recent years, the United States has provided limited humanitarian assistance and support for U.N. efforts to resolve the war through negotiations. It has occasionally sent emissaries to contact various Afghan factions, and it has expressed concern about the production and export of illegal drugs. Washington has also been concerned that the instability and conflict have provided a haven for international terrorists. Finally, an American company, Unocal, in partnership with the Saudi firm Delta Oil announced plans for building two pipelines, one for oil and one for gas, to bring Central Asian gas and oil to markets through Afghanistan. These pipelines are not likely to be built unless the conflict is resolved. (Goodson, 38)

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Immediately after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the United States appeared willing to re-engage and develop positive ties with them. Washington was hoping that the Taliban–regarded as relatively clean when compared to other mujahedin factions–would end Afghanistan’s civil war and bring about stability. Pakistan also has encouraged the United States to support the Taliban. However, over time the U.S. attitude has become more critical toward the Taliban. Several factors are behind the change. First, Washington has been unhappy with the Taliban’s humans right record, especially in dealing with women’s issues. Second, the two sides have differed on international terrorism and the hosting of a Saudi businessman known to sponsor anti-U.S. terror in Saudi Arabia. Third, the United States has not been pleased by the Taliban’s refusal to stop the production and trafficking of illegal drugs. Fourth, the United States fears that the Taliban might establish an extremist Islamic state. These factors have discouraged the United States from embracing the group.

The war on terrorism may see (and now has seen) other campaigns like the one waged in Afghanistan, at least in the sense that the military forces of two or more governments will clash, with the political outcome to be determined by the results of military action. Indeed, the President’s new national security strategy leads us to believe that any government that supports terrorism or which employs it in pursuit of its political objectives would be a potential target for sustained military action. We should not be misled, however, by these more traditional aims into thinking that the Secretary and others were wrong in claiming that the war on terrorism will be different still. It both will and will not be given its dual objectives. The first of these is to deter. By demonstrating the ill-effects that come from supporting terrorists, we want to dissuade other governments from harboring or assisting them. This is, in part, what the campaign against the Taliban was meant to do. But the US also had to get through the Taliban to get at Al Qaeda, whose suppression is its second objective. To suppress Al Qaeda requires an altogether different set of tactics, techniques, and procedures. It also demands a different approach and strategy, one that differs from conventional war in the same way-and precisely because-Al Qaeda differs from the Taliban. (Goodson, 53-54)

Unlike the Taliban, Al Qaeda is not a government and does not use military forces, or even irregular military forces, as a violent means of achieving its objectives. Instead, it employs terrorism. Terrorism is a more directly political and psychological struggle than war, since terrorists maneuver around a country’s military shield and strike directly at the political process by targeting the noncombatants who carry on that process. As terrorism is a political and psychological struggle, so must countering it be. Destroying the Taliban or even the leaders of Al Qaeda will not necessarily mean the defeat of the terrorism they support, inspire, and organize. To defeat or suppress such terrorism requires us to deal with more than just the terrorists. In the same way they maneuver around our military shield to strike at the political process, we must maneuver around them to counter their political-psychological support. This is why suppressing Al Qaeda, and organizations like it is the ‘subtle, nuanced, difficult, shadowy’ problem Secretary Rumsfeld claimed it was. (Goodson, 39)

From this perspective, the war in Afghanistan is only a small supporting operation in a much larger, more complex conflict. The fighting in Afghanistan destroyed Al Qaeda training bases-a conventional military objective-and increased intelligence about the organization sufficiently so that policemen in Europe and Southeast Asia could arrest terrorists and roll up their support networks, and financial analysts could identify bank accounts for closure. Equally important for success, though, was to do this in such a way as to not build additional support for the terrorists and win them more recruits, but to undermine them both in Afghanistan and around the world. The idea that to succeed against terrorism you must do more than just catch terrorists should not be interpreted to mean that we must appeal to or even appease terrorists’ potential supporters. On the contrary, intimidation and fear can be highly effective tools. Indeed, experience suggests that what is needed is some blend of cooption and coercion-or sticks and carrots -the proportion impossible to specify in the abstract but to be adjusted as the campaign goes forward, and according to the character of the target audience. One constraint on the use of intimidation and fear will be the tolerance of the home political community for harsh measures, a tolerance that may change as the terrorist campaign continues. In any event, whatever the mix of rewards and punishments, the point should be to direct them not only to the terrorists, but beyond them to their sources of support, just as the terrorists direct their violence around military forces to attack the political process directly.

One way to conceptualize this strategic struggle is to think in terms of an onion: At the innermost layer is the terrorist organization itself, comprised of strategists and operatives firmly committed to the cause. In the layer immediately surrounding the terrorists are their supporters who provide them logistical assistance and intelligence. They, in turn, are protected by a layer of sympathizers, who help fund and resource them. Then there are the neutrals. Finally, in the outer rings of the onion are individuals who oppose the terrorists, their methods, and their aims. If they are to operate, the terrorists must stay hidden and protected, for which they need their layers of supporters and sympathizers, but they must also convert the neutrals into sympathizers and supporters if they are to grow in strength. They generally do this through suasion, using argument or force. To counter them thus requires stripping away their sympathizers and supporters, and keeping neutrals from being intimidated or seduced. Given the political-psychological nature of this struggle, force may well play a role, but air campaigns, cruise missile strikes, and garrisons full of ground forces will hardly do the trick, and can ultimately prove counter-productive.

This is why the claim that the war on terrorism differs from other wars makes sense if it refers not to military engagements like those fought in Afghanistan, but to the less conventionally military efforts undertaken to suppress terrorism by the US over the past 30 years. In this struggle, sources of power other than military have long been used. 2 Indeed, economic and diplomatic sanctions, painstaking police work, and even the fitful effort to build an international consensus against terrorism have all proven more effective than the application of conventional military force. One could even say that the only things that distinguish the current, post-9/11 war from previous campaigns against terrorism are the intensity and seriousness with which the US government is now using these means. Commensurate with what it claims to be at stake-the moral and political, if not physical, survival of the US, and the fate of Western civilization-the government’s intensity and seriousness have reached the level at which one can reasonably, though not conventionally perhaps, speak of a war. We should be clear: in this war the relative unimportance of conventional military forces derives not from the limited interests at stake, but from the decision by the enemy to avoid the West’s overwhelming conventional strength and pursue its objectives via other means.

Afghanistan’s anarchy is not stopped by US invasion. Actually it has many causes. Most troubling is the inability of the Afghan factions to agree with one another on a power-sharing formula or a peaceful arrangement for resolving their disputes. Nor have any of the factions been strong enough to impose their will on others. Although Afghanistan’s conflicts are rooted in the internal social structure and history6 the conflict is in part a proxy war among Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Prospects for peace in 1997 are poor. Peace can come only if the various Afghan groups agree to a power-sharing formula and honor their agreement. The Afghans do not appear ready for such a compromise now.
The situation might change if the war develops into a military stalemate–with none of the sides believing that it can win the war at an acceptable price. In addition, the warring parties would have to perceive the continuation of war as being more harmful to their interests than a cease-fire. Another requirement for peace will be a change in the attitude of the relevant outside powers: Rather than inciting conflict they must become ready to work toward a political settlement. Such changes would enable the United Nations to fashion a cease-fire and implement an arrangement for a transitional government that can return Afghanistan to the path to peace. Absent these changes, Afghanistan’s tragedy is likely to continue.

The United States has not been seriously engaged in encouraging a reasonable settlement and as such is partly responsible for the current conditions in the country The United States benefited from the Afghan struggle, which was a contributing factor in the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union. Besides its moral responsibility, U.S. interests should bring about greater American effort in promoting a reasonable settlement. These interests include preventing Afghanistan’s use as a base for international terrorists, stopping the production and export of illegal drugs, promoting regional stability and opening Central Asia for international trade. The level of American effort has been lower than its interests and values require. Greater activism now would serve U.S. interests and help the Afghans make peace.

Foremost among plans to redress spatial inequality among ethnic groups in Afghanistan must be the desire to create regional parity among major ethnic groups. Regionally diverse groups must be given a representative voice, even if they vary substantially from a majority group like the Pashtuns. The genius of the U.S. system of government is that the Senate represents the territorial states in an equal manner. Small populations have their voices heard and their needs met, thereby creating cohesion for the nation-state. Afghanistan lacks this spatial cohesion.

Furthermore, under the 2001 Bonn agreement, the UN agencies in Kabul are in charge of what has become a feeding frenzy, as international ambulance chasers and carpetbaggers seek to devour the substantial funding for relief and reconstruction. The alienation of the Afghan population in this scramble for funds is worrisome. The lack of coordination in aid activities in Kabul currently poses a major threat to the stability and security of the country. One year after the cessation of Operation Enduring Freedom, major temporary road and bridge repair has yet to begin. Despite massive infusions of international aid, the principal north-south road from the Shomali plains to Kabul, as of November 2002, still has its two major bridges lying in the riverbeds with no temporary bridges functioning. To the east of Kabul on the road to Jalalabad, a road journey that once took two hours now takes eight. No temporary measures to alleviate these conditions have been made.

Under a coimperium regime, the state still holds sovereign rights over the territory but competencies by the coimperium community can be exercised. At the same time, any government in Kabul must be grounded in the history and tradition of the people currently living in what we call Afghanistan. All regions of the country must be able to participate in decisions that affect them. This involves maintaining indigenous suzerainty by creating regions dominated by particular ethnic groups that have a powerful presence both at the local and national levels. These features of a coimperium are already taking place in Afghanistan.

Any future government in Afghanistan will have to resolve the problem of representation in a government based on population, and most importantly, on territorial representation that will accommodate most major ethnic groups and regional alignments. (Smith, 26) At present, the Constitutional Drafting Commission, created by the 2001 Bonn Agreement, is due to submit its final draft constitution in October 2003. Difficulties in resolving contentious issues will arise. The commission contains three members of the fascist Afghan Millat party, which seeks total Pashtun autonomy over Afghanistan.

A bicameral government that gives political representation to territorial units as well as population is a necessity for the elimination of spatial inequality among regions and ethnic groups. A return to the pre-1964 provincial boundaries where government was broken down into the large regions of Kabul, Mushraqi, Kandahar, Herat, Turkestan, Kataghan and Hazarajat could possibly take place again.

Nonetheless, there are difficult tasks ahead. In examining the situation that has developed since the 2001 Bonn Agreement, it is quite clear that the aims of some of the arbiters and negotiators in Bonn have not been met. Despite efforts to create a strong central government, Afghanistan has gone the other direction by moving towards strong regional identities through the formation of territories dominated by powerful leaders, though not all are based on ethnic affiliation. International aid organizations and coalition partners have had to deal with these regional powers, denigrated as “warlords” in the Western media, while attempting to get aid out to the provinces. These khans, or powerful leaders, are often closely tied to particular ethnic groups and their territory and intimately know the inner workings of indigenous spatial organization. (Bartlett, 81)

In Afghanistan, all politics have become local, to paraphrase a familiar American saying. In the past, a central government elite in Kabul absorbed the subsidies of the British, and then the subsidies from America and the Soviet Union/Russia, while neglecting non-Kabul Afghanistan. Returning elites who perceive themselves as modern, supported by UN personnel, seek to graft on to Afghanistan an alien structure of government that has never worked. The continual convulsions in Kabul every 40 to 50 years for at least two centuries have underscored the foolishness of having one ethnic group, the Pashtuns, backed by a royalist presence, ruling from Kabul. (Bartlett, 74)

We can see this pattern of regional subsidiarity as impossible to maintain in the future because of the risk of local warfare. A coimperium, with the strong regional presence of major donor nations, would provide a balance throughout the regions of the country. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), if extended throughout the country, could act as a spatial security force much like the American military force did in the Sinai Desert. Major nation-states, acting as a coimperium, could have their forces and civilian personnel placed strategically around the country. Sovereignty could still be centered in a greatly reduced government in Kabul. Early calls for administering Afghanistan in a regional manner, however, have been ignored.

Bartlett L ‘Where Giving Birth is a Forecast of Death: Maternal Mortality in Four
Districts in Afghanistan, 1999-2002′, The Lancet Vol 365, March 2005

Goodson J, “Afghanistan’s Endless War”, A. Rashid, Taliban, 2001

Goodhand J, ‘Frontier Wars – The Opium Economy in Afghanistan’, 2005

Henry Bradsher, “Afghanistan and the Soviet Union”, Durham: Duke University Press, 1983

Louis Dupree, “Afghanistan”, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973

Barnett R. Rubin, “The Search for Peace ill Afghanistan”, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

Olivier Roy, “Islam and the Rise of the Taliban,” Muslim Politics Report, 11 (January/February 1997).

Sima Wall, “Women, the Taliban, and the International Community,” Muslim Politics Report, 11 (January/February 1997)

Smith R, ‘The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World’, 2005

Zalmay Khalilzad, “The Politics of Ethnicity in South-West Asia: Political Development or Political Decay?” Political Science Quarterly, 99(Winter 1984-85) pp. 657-679. is a provider of high quality, custom writing services and can write any kind of paper, including case studies. is experienced in writing informative, detailed, and concise case studies on any subject and using either kind of case study approaches. If you need help with a case study, place your order for a case study and one of our professional writers will happily construct a case study for you or help you with any other writing assignment you may have: Essay, Research Paper, Thesis, Term Paper, etc.

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