The disastrous Afghan campaign has been a resounding failure for the USA and its coterie of submissive allies. Its failure has been epitomised by not only the gradual whittling down of the Afghan campaign’s strategic aims and objectives, but also by an unseemly desire to egress from the region.
Geopolitical failure: By occupying the central position (Afghanistan) in the region, the US had intended to contain China, sit at the underbelly of the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and by implication Russia’s, and deny them all an approach to the Middle East and the warm waters of the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean. By its withdrawal that is starting in mid-2013, these grand objectives will remain unattained and go even further beyond reach. The US has also failed to install India as its regional plenipotentiary in Afghanistan! The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), will thus get vital breathing time and space to organise and exert itself as a viable and competing pole to the US, reducing its footprint and effectiveness in the region with far-reaching geopolitical implications.
Geostrategic failure: This has been by far the most pronounced failure of all. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have not been sufficiently decimated or neutralised to make them ineffective militant entities at the regional and international levels. Sure OBL has “ostensibly” been neutralised, but that yet begs incontrovertible solid proof! Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have not been successfully engaged in any sort of a political dialogue either to neutralise them. The terrorist threat though decimated is still a very potent reality and the US/Nato/Isaf combine will leave it as such as they abandon the region - once again! The Haqqani Network (HN) and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will never allow a US backed political dispensation to settle down and rule Afghanistan from Kabul and will keep the region on the boil. The much hyped about ANSF is not likely to put up much of a show against the battle hardened militants either. Pakistan’s and Iran’s nuclear programmes will also slip out of immediate and proactive US oversight. The whole region remains destabilised.
Geo-economic failure: With its departure from Afghanistan, the US dominance and oversight of the fossil and mineral riches of the South Central Asian Region (SCAR) and the Greater Middle East Region (GMER) in particular of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the CARs, Iran et al will diminish. The US will not be able to exercise the desired control on the mining, refinement, trade and pricing of all these fossil/mineral resources. The Western multinationals will not be able to exploit these riches, as they probably would have had the US shown more staying power and resolve in the region. The New Silk Road Project (NSRP) that would connect Europe-SCAR-India may yet be inordinately delayed if not abandoned totally.
Diplomatic failure: The US has failed to deal with a “red-hot” Pakistan. It should have co-opted both Pakistan and Iran, the only two regional players with unmatchable influences inside Afghanistan, in order to achieve its strategic objectives. Instead it managed to antagonise both. Thus, the US has been unable to find willing regional allies to help it win the war. It has classically failed to co-opt Pakistan’s experienced and highly professional military or use its great geographical location to its (the US) advantage. Neither has it been able to “befriend and engage” or “divide and eliminate” the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It has failed to bring this disastrous military faux pas to an early and acceptable closure. As of now only a “peripheral India” is its best bet in the region!
Military failure: The counterproductive and cruel drone campaign had just too much “collateral damage” for the Pakistanis to accept. The US, however, still remains adamant, unmoved and unrepentant. The “massacre at Salala” and its arrogant treatment by the US alienated its most important and vital partner in Pakistan - the military. The lack of an apology ensured a breakdown in the military-military relations, severely circumscribing the overall US-Pak relations. The nadir was reached when Pakistan blocked all Nato supply routes. Thus, the US managed to not only get its supplies blocked, but also lost the Shamsi Airbase and, most importantly, lost an erstwhile willing ally - Pakistan and its military!
Intelligence failure: The US has claimed the death of OBL, but has not given any solid verifiable proof as a la Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Why not? Even if we assume that OBL has been eliminated does this mean the elimination of al-Qaeda as a threat per se? What about al-Zawahiri and Mullah Umar? If the US “knows” that they are in Pakistan, then why does it not carry out another couple of Abbottabads’ to get them? Or why don’t they give the information to the Pakistanis and challenge them to go get them. Or embarrass the ISI into action by giving out their locations? Most of the earlier intelligence successes against al-Qaeda were achieved through superb collaborative work between the CIA and the ISI. A lot more could have been achieved, but for misplaced US arrogance, haughtiness and self-righteousness. Salala, Raymond Davis and Dr Shakil Afridi will haunt the US-Pak relations for ages.
The US seems to have been ill served by its diplomats, soldiers and spies, as it has failed to meet most of its geopolitical, strategic and economic objectives in this Afghan campaign. It has been a resoundingly disastrous expedition. The militancy is still alive and the region still destabilised. Yet, the US/Nato/Isaf combine feel obliged to declare victory and go home. They are leaving behind an unfinished agenda, a task unaccomplished.
Pakistan is likely to unblock the Nato supply routes soon and make their egress smooth and easy. The US and its allies are readying themselves for the long, ignominious trudge back home.
Yet, another empire is about to bite the dust in Afghanistan!
n The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand.