Weighing the costs: War in Afghanistan costs US $4 million an hour
By Ahmad Masoud
The prospect for peace in Afghanistan seems bleak. Following a brutal Taliban attack that killed more than 60 people and wounded over 300 others recently in Kabul, the Afghan president was forced to explain his position in respect to the continuation of the peace talks with the Taliban and the relations with Pakistan which continuously supports the Taliban.
President Ghani talked in a joint session of the upper and lower houses of parliament and said: “Today, I want to make it clear that we do not expect Pakistan to bring the Taliban to talks, but we want Pakistanis to remain loyal to the quadrilateral agreement commitments and carry out military operations against those who are in Pakistan, according to our security agencies and our international counterparts intelligence information and according to Pakistani authorities themselves.”
He said if we do not see a change, despite our hopes and efforts for regional cooperation, we will be forced to turn to the United Nations Security Council and launch serious diplomatic efforts.
All these come at a time when pressure on the government of President Ghani has been mounting. The Taliban military operations have increased in various parts of the country, the government’s political endeavors to ease relations with Pakistan and buy the political support of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar to ensure that they play a positive role in restoring peace have failed and Afghanistan’s position has slipped down the list of the United States priorities.
Soon after taking power, President Ghani tried to normalize its government relation with Pakistan. The government of President Ghani signed the controversial security agreement with Pakistan at a cost of disowning a great number of Afghan politicians as well as social and political leaders. The planned arm purchase from India was cancelled and six Afghan cadets were sent to Pakistan to get training. But all these efforts fell short of persuading Pakistan’s military and political leaders to take action against the Taliban and play a constructive role in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates along with some other Gulf States continue supporting the Taliban in an effort to foil the Russian and Iranian influence in Afghanistan. It seems that President Ghani’s efforts to solicit Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries support to play a positive role in restoring peace in Afghanistan and halt channeling financial support to the Taliban have also proved unsuccessful.
Furthermore, Afghanistan has already lost its position on the priorities list of the United States. The United States of America and some of its closest international allies have always given preference to Pakistan rather than Afghanistan. Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald, the authors of the book titled, Crossing Zero, write that “Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) at one occasion endorsed the fight against Al Qaeda in Pakistan but labelled the recommendations for expanding US armed forces, diplomatic corps and US Agency for International Development (USAID) assistance to Afghanistan, as ill advised. Markey proposed that the entire burden of the plan either be drastically downsized and off-loaded to other donors or be shifted away from Afghanistan altogether and back towards US ally Pakistan in an aptly titled document, “From AfPak to PakAf.”
The Unrealistic Perception of the Taliban:
The Afghan government lacks a clear policy to effectively deal with the Taliban who are not an independent and unified group to fight for achieving their own political ambitions. Rather, they are a loose coalition of different groups and sub-groups supported by the Pakistani army. Pakistan fights a proxy war through various Taliban groups in Afghanistan to safeguard and promote its so-called national interest and thwart Indian influence.
Fareed Zakaria quotes Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, as saying that “Pakistan has always worried that the natural order of things would be for Afghanistan to come under the sway of India, the giant of the subcontinent.
The Pakistani army came to believe that that it could only gain leverage in Afghanistan through religious zealots.
Afghanistan’s secular groups and ethnic nationalists are all suspicious of Pakistan, so the only path in is through those who see a common, religious ideology.”
Pakistan, furthermore, uses the Taliban as a means of holding and maintaining a prominent position in the political and military developments in Afghanistan. The previous unsuccessful peace talks with the Taliban have proved that the Taliban do not have the freedom to independently participate and talk in the peace talks which are usually facilitated by the Pakistani authorities.
From the very beginning, the peace talks with the Taliban seemed not to be viable for three reasons. Firstly, it is believed that Pakistan is an active member of an informal coalition of a number of countries, which want to push the war beyond the Afghan borders to Central Asia; therefore, it does not wish to cooperate with restoring peace in Afghanistan. Secondly, the Taliban are not a united and independent organization to make decision for themselves. Thirdly, Pakistan receives significant amount of incentives for the role it plays in the current political and military developments in the region. Therefore, the Afghan government needs to try to drum up the support of the regional and global powers to reach an agreement with regard to their interests in Afghanistan and to assure Pakistan that Afghanistan will not allow its territory to be used for posing a threat to Pakistan or any other country.
“The Great Game”:
Recently a number of Afghan and international media as well as social media quoted some of the Afghan lawmakers, including the first deputy of the Afghan parliament, saying that unknown helicopters drop armed members of the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) in Eastern and Northern parts of the country.
“[I] swear by God that the first line commanders and officials of (IS) live in Kabul; swear by God they go to the Embassies, swear by God they go to the security offices,” Mr. Zaher Qader the First Deputy of the Afghan parliament recently told an open session of the parliament.
History repeats itself in Afghanistan and the Great Game has once again been played for the same purpose, but with additional players and a different name. Every player in the Game has its own stake and plays a specific role to keep the wheel of the war turning. In this case, Pakistan plays the crucial role of recruiting, raising, training, in the case of Afghanistan arming, thousands of fighters, including suicide bombers, and gets paid for successfully delivering such impressive services.
In the past several years, the United States has poured billions of dollars into the pockets of Pakistan. Many Afghans question as to why the US pays Pakistan billions of dollars despite the fact that the Pakistani army recruit, train and arm the Taliban and members of international terrorist groups and send them to fight and kill members of the US army and its allied soldiers in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world. Pakistan has always denied these allegations.
The outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, in September 2011 told Congress, in some of the sharpest words, that: “Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers.”
Since 2001, a total number of 3,515 (2381 Americans, 455 British and 679 others) NATO allied forces have been killed and 20,083 American soldiers have been wounded or maimed in Afghanistan. In addition to receiving billions of dollars in aid, Pakistan has received an additional amount of 13 billion of dollars under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF).
Since 2001, the US has allocated 714.8 billion of dollars for the war in Afghanistan, including 35.1 billion in fiscal year 2015. But the US has been faced with severe challenges in Afghanistan where the security situation has deteriorated, the number of civilian and the Afghan security forces casualties has drastically increased and the Taliban groups have grown stronger than ever before.
The Way Forward:
The best way forward for the Afghan government is to dissolve the High Peace Council and instead set up an international technical peace commission. The commission should be composed of the representatives of Pakistan, China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, the EU and the United Nations to develop a peace deal acceptable to all the parties including Pakistan.
Peace in Afghanistan is not only in the best interest of the region, but it will also help tax payers in the United Sates to save 4 millions of dollars per hour currently paid for the cost of war in Afghanistan.
Ahmad Masoud has worked for more than a decade for national and international organizations, including the United Nations, in Asia, Africa and the United Kingdom. He holds an MBA degree and an Honours Diploma in Feature Writing and Freelance journalism and he usually writes on social, political and economic developments in Afghanistan.
Copyright Ahmad Masoud 2016
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.