It comes as no surprise that the U.S. is on the cusp of accepting its defeat in Afghanistan. As experts opine, this defeat is not something to gloat about, rather provides a number of points of concern especially for Pakistan. Any spillover effects from Afghanistan would directly impact the security landscape in Pakistan, and thus this imminent failure of the US policy also holds a number of lessons for Pakistan.
Where Afghanistan found an easy scapegoat in Pakistan, the US failed to acknowledge that Pakistan was also a direct and indirect victim of the insecurity in Afghanistan. It was the US adventure in Afghanistan that paved the way for a number of militant organisations coming to FATA and consolidating their position, and consequently attacking Pakistan as well.
Secondly, soon after the overthrowing of the Taliban regime, the US enforced a proxy-government and constitution on the Afghan people, thus undermining the popular choice of Afghanistan. This popular choice could only have been known if Washington had supported a free and fair election, rather than nominating Karzai as the next President of Afghanistan. Such a nomination played a major role in creating divisions along ethnic lines in the country. The problem was multiplied when the US policy turned a blind eye to all sorts of activities that Karzai was involved in, including misappropriation of international aid, at the cost of socio-economic development of Afghans.
Moreover, the role of the US led NATO forces should have come to an end in the country with the overthrowing of the Taliban regime, and nomination of an interim setup. Yet, because the foreign forces prolonged their stay in the country, it compounded the issues at hand. Also, even with the presidential elections in the country, the presence of US forces implied that any government coming to power would have to play along Washington, and any policy that Kabul made was supposed to be endorsed by Washington.
Also, when it came to policies from Washington, no one was sure where the directions were coming from. Where the US operations were led by the Pentagon, the CIA operated drone strikes looked like an independent venture. This lack of direction was also visible from contradictory statements coming from the White House, the Pentagon, as well as the State Department.
Corruption and drug trade were two major issues that Washington failed to curb. The latest report by SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) also explained how Afghanistan turned into a haven from local and foreign contractors who were the major beneficiaries of the foreign aid coming into Kabul. This corruption also directly affected the lack of infrastructure and benefits for the Afghan raised ANA (Afghanistan National Army) and ANSF (Afghan National Security Force), who were additionally haunted by terror and insider attacks by the Taliban.
The SIGAR report, with its scathing findings, also suggests how even more than a decade the Afghan adventure is nothing but a drastic failure for Washington. Recent developments inside the Trump administration suggest there might be a policy shift towards Afghanistan, as Washington might finally be pondering a face-saving exit from the country. The following options are what the Trump administration could consider to save its face in Afghanistan.
The US can initiate a productive dialogue in the country, backed by all the stakeholders, especially the Pashtuns, which could ensure a viable power transition in the country. Moreover, the US should also back all initiatives taken by regional stakeholders, such as Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran, which are mainly taking place with the aim of regional security. Russia has recently stepped up its efforts to initiate a dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government, yet the US has dismissed Moscow’s effort doubting its intentions. The US needs to understand that both Russia and China, when making any efforts for peace, are only intervening because their own security is directly and indirectly linked to peace in Afghanistan. Only supporting such initiatives could help bring peace in the country.
In a broader perspective, Pakistan also needs to take a number of steps to avoid any spillover effects from and into Afghanistan. Such a spillover could first be avoided through stricter broader management systems, along with socio-economic measures introduced for the tribal areas in FATA. Islamabad should also unconditionally support any future governments that assume power in Kabul, and continue working with them to establish effective bilateral mechanisms to fight militancy and terrorism. Pakistan can also play the role of an intermediary between Afghanistan and China, and encourage the latter to invest in Kabul, as Kabul;s security and development would also help China fight its terrorism woes in Xinjiang.
It is high time that the US realises its role in Afghanistan in long over. If it needs to ensure an honourable exit for itself, the only solution is the coordinate with the Ghani administration in Kabul to initiate meaningful domestic and regional reconciliation measures. Without reconciliation, there will be no peace, and with no peace, the US would continue suffering in this long war that was always bound to fail.