17 years after 9/11, little light at the end of the tunnel in Afghanistan

C. Uday Bhaskar
C. Uday Bhaskar
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The run-up to the 17th anniversary of 9/11 on Tuesday (September 11, 2018) is even more blood-splattered than in the past, for as many as 37 Afghans were killed over the week-end in different parts of a war-weary nation.

Local insurgents-militants-terrorists (the semantic varies from narrative to narrative) killed 29 Afghan security forces personnel in different parts of the country, while eight of the attackers were killed in the many gun-battles that ensued.

The local Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks in the Kunduz and Jazwjan provinces and reports about ISIS being involved in one of the attacks is yet to be confirmed.

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Many more were injured and the final death toll from this bout of violence will increase. Regrettably, the estimates about the total number of lives lost in Afghanistan and the thousands who have been injured grievously remains tragically elastic.

Casualty figures compiled by academics and NGOs indicate that since October 2001, when the US-led global war on terror began, over 111,000 Afghans from all factions (security personnel, militants-terrorists, civilians including women and children) have been killed.

Most objective analysis of the ground situation in Afghanistan points to a bleak conclusion, that there is no light that is discernible – for now – at the end of this blood-splattered tunnel

C. Uday Bhaskar

War-related violence

Furthermore, over 31,000 civilian deaths due to war-related violence have been documented and more than 30,000 are estimated to have been wounded. And in this extended decade and a half, the number of indirect deaths induced due to war-related causes could be as high as 360,000. And this tally is for the Afghan theater of operations alone.

The dramatic collapse of the Twin Towers in New York city on September 9, 2001 is a distant memory now, religiously played out on TV screens but when it occurred – it shocked the US and the world by extension – for the shadowy non-state entity had become a monstrous reality.

The global community supported the US in the war against terror that began in October 2001 and, in the last 17 years, the American loss of life and limb and the total fiscal expenditure has been considerable.

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The figures are more accurate here and for the US alone, the war that includes operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq since 2001 has cost the national exchequer $2.125 trillion. This includes tactical operations, a huge logistic effort and the medical-rehab expenditure for veterans and those wounded in this war.

The Afghan war has cost the $840 billion (end 2017) and a total of 2,416 American lives have been lost. Yet the political co-relation and desired war termination objectives for this huge military investment remains opaque and the war on terror that began in 2001 is the longest on-going military campaign for the US and some of its NATO allies.

Most objective analysis of the ground situation in Afghanistan points to a bleak conclusion, that there is no light that is discernible – for now – at the end of this blood-splattered tunnel. The elected government in Kabul is shaky and fractious with deep internal divisions, whose fault-lines can be linked with the ethnic and tribal divisions inherent to Afghanistan.

Semblance of stability

The people of Afghanistan whose stoic nature is commendable yearn for some semblance of stability – one that is free of regular Taliban attacks and pre-meditated sectarian violence that targets the more vulnerable minority sects. But this remains elusive.

The US has not been able to forge a major-power consensus in Afghanistan about how to “stabilize” that country and the latest political initiative has been to appoint a former US ambassador and Afghan national Zalmay Khalilzad as a special adviser to the US State department.

Whether this will bring about any substantive difference in reducing the violence and encouraging the Taliban to lay down the gun and accept the Afghan constitution is moot.

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In the interim, an August 2018 report by a respected US security analyst Anthony Cordesman merits careful introspection: “The US has now reached the point where the third Administration in a row is fighting wars where the US often scores serious tactical victories and makes claims that it is moving toward some broader form of victory but cannot announce any clear strategy for actually ending any given war or bringing a stable peace. Once again, a new Administration seems to have focused on the tactical level of conflict and called this a strategy but has failed to have any clear strategy for ending the fighting on favorable terms.”

The paradox is that the distorted extremist ideology that sustains the violence in Afghanistan and the extended southern Asian region, as also its cyber penetration to distant parts of the globe precedes 9/11 and it is unlikely to end with the stabilization of this region.

Presidential elections are due in Afghanistan in April next and it is hoped that the global community reaches a consensus about a more holistic politico-military strategy to rebuild war-ravaged nation and its hapless people.
Chitrapu Uday Bhaskar, a retired Commodore who served in the Indian Navy, is one of India's leading experts and outspoken critics on security and strategic affairs. Commodore Bhaskar is currently the Director of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS), an independent think-tank based in New Delhi, India. He has the rare distinction of being the head of three think tanks during his career - the earlier two being the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the National Maritime Foundation (NMF). He is a columnist, editor, and contributor of numerous research-articles on nuclear and international security issues to reputed journals in India and abroad. Bhaskar has an abiding interest in the visual arts, film and theater. He tweets. @theUdayB.

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