As the United States sets out a timetable and coalition forces slowly start to withdraw, the clock has started ticking for Afghanistan and to some extent, on the world. A war that has shaped the world’s foreign policy for over a decade is slowly but surely coming to an end. We all know how this ‘War on Terror’ began, but has anyone questioned what will happen once all these forces of intervention depart? What happens when in the end only Afghans remain in this desolate and forbidding region?
The Karzai government was brought in; a puppet government that wouldn’t ever say no to the international forces in general and the Americans in particular. Bribing and buying the warlord’s was one way, raising an army from scratch was another. The recruitment for the Afghan National Army (ANA) began in earnest in the summer of 2002. Initially only a few thousand applied but now the force has grown to 200,000 strong as of 2012. So, can the ANA handle the external and internal threats once the foreigners leave?
With over 200,000 foreign troops, ISAF, NATO aiding the ANA and propping up the Kabul regime with almost unlimited air support, the Taliban still control the string of provinces from Nuristan all the way down to Helmand. Can the ANA cope without their mentors? The Afghan Army is a decrepit institution; its combatants are more conscripts than soldiers. A militia in uniform is how an American trainer described them. Discipline in the ANA is virtually non-existent; the desertion rate is above 50 percent above 90 percent of soldiers are illiterate. According to the commander of the 207th Corps, General Walizadah, “90 percent of our soldiers grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan; they’re just here for the money”. According to other commanders, the majority of the soldiers join for the uniform, weapons and pay. Once in control of these tangibles, they disappear, never to be seen again. According to the late General Sayar also of the 207th Corps, a large number of soldiers are Taliban sympathizers and defect with their weapons at the earliest chance.
American trainers report theft of fuel, supplies, and rations and sometimes even death threats are leveled against the foreign trainers. Considering all this, can the ANA or police lock horns with the well-armed and motivated Taliban? Logic tells us it’s impossible. Structural deficiencies aside, the Afghan Army lacks even the basic war materials. What awaits Afghanistan and to some extent western Pakistan then? It does not take a rocket scientist to calculate that the incompetent, inefficient, corrupt and discredited Karzai regime does not stand a chance against the Taliban and their long awaited final offensive. Will history repeat itself? If history does repeat itself like George Santayana said, the end will come just like it came in September 1996 when Kabul fell to the black flags of the Taliban. Afghanistan will once again become the political backwater and black sheep of the world, home to the globes most dangerous forces.
Pakistan will be in for a rough ride if this doomsday prophecy does indeed come true. It will be a repeat of the Russian war saga. Millions of refugees, hundreds of thousands of weapons will wash our streets, crime and terror will run rampant, if a civil war does indeed precipitate in the post-2014 era. We will be pushed to oblivion, our national institutions to breaking point. For Pakistan, it will be a storm of massive proportions, if things do fall through as history predicts, the next few years of Pakistan’s existence will be its worst. In short, things will get worse before they get any better. In the approaching hell Pakistan will have to hold on tightly and brave the storm, to survive and prosper rather than and whither and join the forgotten.
Lahore, December 30.