The recent statement of Afghanistan President Dr. Ashraf Ghani that his army would not last more than six months and the Afghan government would also collapse without the support of the United States is a candid admission of the weakness of the institutions in Afghanistan. The statement itself is based on realistic assessments and has far reaching implications for peace in the country and the region.
Ghani made the disclosure during an interview with US media channel Cable Broadcast System (CBS) program CBS 60 Minutes broadcast. An important feature of the statement is that it reveals the total dependence of Afghanistan on Washington. This is quite startling because, in other words, it means that Afghanistan has totally failed to evolve a viable state structure in the last over 16 years of the post-Taliban period. This is, indeed, disturbing for the international community and particularly for the neighbours of Afghanistan, specifically Pakistan. It is to be noted that in the same TV program, top US commander in Afghanistan General John Nicholshon said that with a new strategy of Washington in Afghanistan in place, involving increasing US pressure on Pakistan to cooperate in defeating the Afghan Taliban insurgency, he was sure the longest war of US history can be won.
During the interview Ghani said that “there are factories producing suicide bombers. We are under, siege. . . By terrorizing the people, the Taliban have sown deep doubts about the government.” Ghani statements regarding the weakness of the Afghan state apparatus and the critical support of the US although is generally well-known, but its emanation from the Afghan president is, indeed, shocking. After Ghani’s statement it is now beyond doubt that all the international community efforts, particularly those of Washington, to give a sustainable state structure to Afghanistan have failed. This is really a colossal loss because Washington has lost around 2,400 lives and has spent more than one trillion dollars in Afghanistan. The biggest challenge to the US-backed Kabul government has been the insurgency of the Afghan Taliban. The US along with its NATO allies and 300,000-plus Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), have been unable to defeat the insurgency of the Afghan Taliban. Independent estimates cite the number of Afghan Taliban between 30,000 to 40,000.
Insofar as General Nicholson’s statement that the new US war strategy in Afghanistan would achieve what was not achieved in the 16-year long war in Afghanistan is concerned, it is merely face saving. Because the new US strategy focuses on the Pakistan factor in Afghanistan. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan has been a key factor in Afghanistan since the 1970s and has been a key supporter of the Afghan Taliban, during the war against the Soviet Union. However, having said that, expecting pressurizing Pakistan would achieve desired results for Washington in Afghanistan, namely, that of defeating the Taliban, is somewhat unrealistic. Blaming Pakistan for the entire mess in Afghanistan is merely externalizing the Afghan conflict whereas most of the problem lies within Afghanistan. Ghani’s admission that the Afghan army and state would collapse in just six months without US support is itself incontrovertible proof of Afghanistan’s internal weakness.
The problem with Afghanistan is that the state has not had a modern sustainable structure. Afghanistan has been an extension of a deeply rooted tribal society. Over the long period of its existence, Afghanistan could not overcome the tribal structure and develop in various ways so that a modern state apparatus could evolve. The Afghan Taliban have been the product of external engineering of the Afghan tribal society to suit American needs. Consequently, Pakistan has also suffered greatly because of this engineering. However, the sustainability of the Afghan insurgency has much to do with the failure of successive Afghan regimes since the ouster of the Taliban regime by the US-NATO forces in late 2001. The US and its NATO allies also could not assess the exact nature of the conflict and insurgency in Afghanistan. Therefore, they have not been able to neutralize the conflict and put an end to the insurgency. If Washington and its allies think that they have a correct analysis of the conflict and insurgency in Afghanistan then the logical reason for their failure must be the effectiveness of the Taliban militia and its asymmetrical warfare strategy. If this is the case, then it also implies the limitations of the US-NATO forces and their faulty war strategy. But this argument is difficult to accept. Because Washington is by far the most sophisticated military power, having the most advanced weaponry in the world. The problem has to do with unsuccessful nation-building efforts and ineptness of Washington in Afghanistan.
The US introduced the existing Afghan constitution and fashioned it after its own presidential system. The latter was the best which the US thought for Afghanistan but the problem has been the elected presidents not the institution of the presidency. The two presidents which Afghanistan has had since the introduction of the existing constitution in 2003, namely Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani have lacked the ability to address the multipronged conflict and issues of Afghanistan. They could not lead from the front. The problem has been that both, despite being elected to the office lacked legitimacy in the sense that both have not been the choice of all the ethnic groups of Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai was handpicked by the US and its NATO allies and made chief executive and then elected as president. Karzai’s only credentials had been his limited anti-Taliban resistance, his American residence and, to a certain extent, his Pakhtun ethnic background. Whereas, Ashraf Ghani also only has to his credit his American doctoral degree and living for a long time there and his Pakhtun ethnic background. Both these men, of whom Ghani has been the far more articulate and committed, could not understand the dynamics of the crisis in Afghanistan; Karzai’s personal political and economic interests, also prevented him to lead from the front. The Western allies banking on Karzai and Ghani has proved disastrous for Afghanistan, as both for their personal reasons have not been very serious to meaningfully engage with the Taliban for peace talks. This lack of commitment on part of both the presidents has largely been due to the anti-Taliban government officials, who surround the two men, who have been totally against engaging with the Taliban. Moreover, much of the energies of both these men have had spent on clubbing together odd political alliances to keep their rule afloat. Due to which they even have had to include former anti-Taliban or non-Taliban warlords as part of their regimes. Institution building has not been their priority. Consequently, Ghani today himself is admitting that the Afghan state and security apparatus is just an illusion created by Washington.