On the Brink of Failure in Afghanistan

US Pentagon officials reported last week that as yet no plans have been designed for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan. But the very fact that the Obama administration is openly discussing the possibility of total withdrawal is the result of three important factors:

  1. Of late, the US evidently deeply offended Afghan President Hamid Karzai by issuing an ultimatum that if he doesn’t sign a long-term security pact quickly, he will find himself alone and vulnerable in a country open to further ravages by the Taliban.

  2. The US almost certainly doesn’t care much about the sensibilities of Hamid Karzai, who at the last minute wanted to include a provision prohibiting American night raids on Afghan homes—and, as news reports maintain, was further incensed by an airstrike on Friday that killed a child and two women.

  3. The desires of Karzai and the aspirations of the Obama administration are incontrovertibly and perpetually at odds. Since 2002 Afghanistan has received more than $54 billion in US aid, which Karzai likes, and more than 100,000 US troops, which he likes only very sporadically, on an entirely variable basis. Of those American troops, more than 2,100 are dead—1,575 during the Obama years.

So ask yourself this: What, exactly, has the US gained as the result of all these irretrievable losses, human as well as financial? What, for that matter, has Afghanistan managed to gain?

More than 12 years ago, right after the desolation and fury that accompanied the attack on the World Trade Center, Congress authorized US presidents to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations” that authorized terrorist acts or harbored terrorists. But Osama bin Laden, the author of the New York City devastation, wasn’t found in Afghanistan. The Taliban, although heavily courted by Karzai at this writing, have long resisted his attempts at rapprochement, viewing the Afghan president as nothing more than a Yankee puppet.

And while we’re on the subject: What is this attempt at improving relations with the Taliban about, anyway? On Saturday, Pakistan released a senior Taliban official after years in detention because—and here I’m quoting an AP report—“some officials hope he can help jumpstart the peace process.” In fact, Karzai suggested, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar should be granted “a full release,” meaning the onetime No. 2 Taliban leader should not even be under Pakistani supervision now that he’s been freed, however negligible that supervision might be.

So let’s get this straight. The Taliban and its leaders, famous for their persecution of women, are now being inveigled to return to power in the very country the US sought to protect from the Taliban. Public stoning of adulterers is being reconsidered by the Afghan government, which has also quietly reduced the number of seats set aside for women on provincial councils. A new criminal code has recently been drawn up, making it pretty much impossible to convict anyone of domestic violence. In September, Sushmita Banerjee, the Indian-born author of a popular memoir about her life under the Afghan Taliban and a convert to Islam, was abducted and murdered. Even after US intervention, only 12 percent of Afghan women are literate; 38 percent of all Afghans, most of them girls, have no access at all to schools.

In other words: What, exactly, is the US doing in Afghanistan?  What has the US ever done? Why have soldiers and civilians died? What has been promised? What accomplished? And in leaving, or mostly leaving or possibly leaving, what improvements, what safety measures, what equality has the US really left behind?

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