Javid Husain By now it should be obvious even to the nave that the US is bogged down in the quagmire of Afghanistan despite the brave statements made by its leaders from time to time about its firm resolve to finish the job that it had undertaken after 9/11. In fact, the US is now desperately looking for a face saving way to extricate itself from Afghanistan. The US invasion of Afghanistan was meant not only to defeat and dismantle Al Qaeda, which could be justified as a legitimate act of self-defence, but also to establish a government of its choice in Afghanistan in place of the Taliban regime. While the US has achieved a reasonable degree of success in achieving the first objective, the latter has eluded its capabilities. Samuel Huntington in his seminal book The Clash of Civilizations and the remaking of World Order, which despite its flaws carries important insights into the current international scenario, recommended, In the coming era, in short, the avoidance of major interci-vilizational wars requires core states to refrain from intervening in conflicts in other civilizations. He was also right in predicting that This is a truth which some states, particularly the United States, will undoubtedly find difficult to accept. The United States has paid a heavy price in men and material by ignoring this advice in launching a war of aggression against Iraq, which was totally unjustified under international law, and in invading Afghanistan in response to the tragic events of 9/11. It is doubtful that Iraq will be any more peaceful or stable than what it was under Saddam Hussein when the US finally leaves that country. Besides the elimination of Saddam Hussein, the US has little to show for its misadventure in Iraq as against the huge loss of life suffered by it and the Iraqis and the financial cost exceeding a trillion dollars. As for Afghanistan, the US strategic blunder was to walk unwittingly into the internal armed conflict, which had been raging between the Pashtuns and the non-Pashtuns in that country for several years, in its justified anger to punish Al Qaeda for launching 9/11 attacks and the Taliban for having provided sanctuary to Al Qaeda. The US has definitely succeeded in degrading Al Qaeda and its capability to launch major terrorist attacks against the US and its allies. But here again it is debatable whether the US has won a definite victory over terrorism as Al Qaeda appears to have established its branches in different parts of the world. Such a definite victory over terrorism will remain elusive until and unless the US revises its policies which gave rise to Al Qaeda in the first place, the most important being its pro-Israel policy in blatant disregard of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, UN resolutions and the international humanitarian law. There are no signs that the US is about to do that. The US position in Afghanistan is complicated by the perception of the Pashtuns that it has sided with the non-Pashtuns in the internal tussle for power going on between the two sides. Consequently in its fight against the Taliban, who are mostly Pashtuns, the US has lost the sympathies of most of the Pashtuns not only in Afghanistan but also those in Pakistans tribal areas who are linked with the Pashtuns in Afghanistan through tribal ties. The porous character of the Pak-Afghan border has enabled the Pashtun tribesmen living on the Pakistan side of the border to go to the help of their tribal brethren in the fight against the coalition forces. The action by the Pakistan armed forces to stop these cross-border incursions has resulted in the destabilization of not only our tribal areas but also our settled areas through terrorist attacks. The US pressure on Pakistan through its policy of carrot and stick to support it in the war against the Taliban has partially diverted the fury of the Taliban from the US and other coalition forces to the armed forces and the people of Pakistan. Thus, Pakistan has paid a heavy price in the form of loss of life, political instability, heavy financial burden and enormous damage to its economy for its decision to align itself with the US in the war against the Taliban. The US policies aimed at westernizing Afghanistan run contrary to the cultural traditions and conservative character of the Afghan society. The social change in Afghanistan can come about slowly through education. The US effort to force this change virtually at the point of bayonet has backfired, alienating the sympathies of the conservatives who constitute the majority of the Afghan population. Finally, Afghanistan has never been a tightly-knit and centrally-controlled country. Historically, during the days of monarchy and under President Daoud, it was a loose federation in which the central government allowed a lot of autonomy to peripheral areas enabling different communities and tribes to order their lives according to their customs and traditions. The US effort to establish a western-style government in Afghanistan runs contrary to both its cultural traditions and history. The US policy on Afghanistan is overdue for a major overhaul. While there are signs that the Obama administration is engaged in a review of its Afghanistan policy, it is not sure which direction it will take. President Obama would be well advised to present to the American people and the world a clear exposition of a well-thought out Afghanistan policy. Such a policy must recognize that the US cannot achieve its objectives in Afghanistan through the use of force. It must also take into account the ground realities in Afghanistan which simply cannot be wished away. The US expectation that Afghanistan in future should not become a haven for terrorist forces capable of launching terrorist attacks against it or its allies is understandable and achievable. Beyond that the US should desist from imposing a regime of its choice on Afghanistan. Obviously, a broad-based government enjoying the support of the various segments of the Afghan population including the Pashtuns, the majority community, the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks and others alone can prevent terrorists from re-establishing their roots in Afghanistan. Only such a government based on national reconciliation can provide durable peace and stability that the people of Afghanistan deserve. Washington must take a major diplomatic initiative at the earliest for launching the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan involving different ethnic communities, tribes and forces including the Taliban who despite their retrogressive views remain an important segment of the Afghan population. This initiative must be linked with a solemn commitment for the withdrawal of the US and other coalition forces from Afghanistan to provide the necessary incentive for the success of the national reconciliation talks. It is also important that this initiative should enjoy the blessing of Afghanistans neighbours, particularly Pakistan and Iran. The US inability to change its policy on these lines will condemn it to fighting in Afghanistan for a long time to come. The writer is a retired ambassador. E-mail: javid.husain@gmail.com