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  • Raghav Sand

Afghanistan: Fast Forward to the Past

Peace and prosperity seem to have given up on Afghanistan, so has the World. With no reward and reconciliation in sight, the war in Afghanistan is one of the biggest failures of global diplomacy and military operations. Many Afghans have fled their homeland, while those who remained back expect the return of conservative barbarism. What has anyone gained from this war or any other war for that matter? How can U.S. justify the human and economic toll of avenge and aggression? If the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to punish the culprits of 9/11 attacks, they may have achieved it some years back. Why did they choose to retreat without justifying the name of Afghan war operation – ‘Enduring Freedom’? Are they leaving Afghanistan in a better shape when compared to 2001? Who will provide answers to these questions?

When a person or nation inculcates the habit of not fulfilling obligations and abruptly withdraws from their engagements without any roadmap or blueprint, it dents their reputation; it also adversely affects future engagements. There are no winners and losers in war. Anyone who thinks that fighting is beneficial, should study history. Every nation has the right to defend its sovereignty. What gives someone the moral right to dismantle a nation methodically and leave it for the vultures to scrape off the flesh from carcasses?

Afghanistan War began in October 2001. It was prompted by the September 11 attacks and comprised of three phases. The first phase focussed on toppling the Taliban which provided support to al-Qaeda, perpetrators of the September 11 attacks. The second phase, which began in early 2002, worked upon rebuilding Afghan institutions. The third phase, began in 2008 and accelerated with U.S. Pres. Barack Obama’s 2009 decision to temporarily increase the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. By the time the U.S. and NATO combat mission formally concluded in December 2014, the 13-year Afghanistan War had become the longest war ever fought by the U.S.

A Flood of Blood

The most conservative estimates by local and international rights group suggest that close to 47,600 civilians have been killed and more than double that number injured in Afghanistan during the 20 years of war since the US invasion. Previously, the country had lost at least 1.5 million people as a direct result of a conflict, with a further 2 million permanently disabled after the Soviet invasion (1979 and 1989). The Afghan military and police suffered 73,253 casualties between 2001 and 2019, while U.S. security contractors lost 3,904 personnel. As far as U.S. military and allied forces’ personnel are concerned, the death toll between October 2001 and October 2019 was 2,298 and 1,145, respectively.

Source Data: Watson Institute International and Public Affairs, Brown University

According to Brown University study in 2019, which has looked at war spending in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US had spent around $978bn (their estimate also includes money allocated for the 2020 fiscal year). The U.S. federal government has spent or obligated $6.4 trillion dollars on the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. This figure includes: direct Congressional war appropriations; war-related increases to the defence base budget; veterans care and disability; increases in the homeland security budget; interest payments on direct war borrowing; foreign assistance spending; and estimated future obligations for veterans’ care.

Childhood Lost

In the past five years, 40 percent of all civilian air strike casualties in Afghanistan were children. Data published by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) said of the 3,977 casualties caused between 2016 and 2020, 1,598 were children killed or wounded in attacks from the air. “Sadly, these numbers are no surprise,” said Chris Nyamandi, country director for Afghanistan at Save the Children International. “Afghanistan has been the deadliest country for children for years.”

Leading up to the departure of US-led forces later this year, casualties from international coalition air strikes more than tripled from 247 in 2017 to 757 in 2019, according to data from United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). “Children in Afghanistan live in constant fear of dying, or seeing loved ones killed – either from the air, or by a roadside bomb,” said Nyamandi. At a time when children in the region are fighting the battle between life and death, their upliftment to the mainstream through education and sports remains a distant dream.

Worsening Condition After ‘Peace Talks‘

The circumstances on ground have deteriorated since U.S. brokered a tripartite deal involving the Taliban and the Afghan government. Afghanistan remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September (2020)”, she said. At least 11 rights defenders, journalists and media workers have lost their lives since then, resulting in many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and even leaving their homes and the country – in hope it will improve their safety.

Geo-political Ramifications for India

India has profound interest in the stability of Afghanistan. Since the early days of U.S. invasion, India has been providing humanitarian aid to the war-torn nation. Successive Indian governments have invested money and manpower in rebuilding Afghanistan. Infrastructure development, training of security personnel, education and healthcare remain the core areas of engagement between the two nations. The eastern and northern border of Afghanistan are not too far from the territory of India. Pakistan has a bigger stake in Afghan peace, as both nations share a 2,640 kilometres (1,640-miles) land border, the Durand Line.

Indian government has been closely monitoring the developments in Afghanistan. Like all other stakeholders in regional and global peace, New Delhi is fully aware about the territorial gains Taliban has been making since the beginning of this year. The cease fire agreement between India and Pakistan, reaffirmed in February, is delicate and may be violated by Pakistan once it is able to garner support for the proxy war.

To make matters worse, a volatile, fragile and hostile Pakistan cannot be expected to play a positive role in regional peace. India’s north-western border will remain vulnerable to infiltration by radicalized terrorists. Intelligence agencies, especially R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing), are worried about a future collaboration between Taliban and Pakistan’s infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

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