Why the only face-saving way out for the US is a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan

Published: August 12, 2017

An Afghan boy looks at US soldiers as they patrol a village near the town of Makkor, southwest of Kabul, April 20, 2007. PHOTO: REUTERS

To quote the Chinese proverb,

“He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves – one for his enemy and one for himself.”

Afghanistan is in a state of utter chaos. Unless there is a drastic change in the current Afghan strategy, this proverbial ‘graveyard of empires’ seems set to add the United States in the list of countries that failed to control this area.

Donald Trump’s aggressive policies on North Korea and Syria have shown that he is not a man of dialogue or negotiation. Thus far, he has followed the militarist route for resolving international issues, with little to no success to show for it.

After Trump’s election, the US administration has been worked up on forming a new strategy for the Afghan war, involving deeper US engagement in the country through additional troops and an amplified offensive on the extremists.

Alas, if only it were that simple. The Afghan conundrum will never be resolved, unless all major stakeholders – whilst setting aside their regional rivalries and geostrategic interests – are brought on board for finding a holistic, long-term solution for lasting peace and stability.

War breeds war. It should be crystal clear to the international community that weapons and drones will not help America win its longest ever war. For terrorists, ‘fighting foreign occupation’ is the ideal recruitment mantra in Afghanistan, ensuring a steady supply of fighters and suicide bombers. Add drone attacks to the mix and you have extra fodder to fan the flames of anger and resentment amongst innocent Afghans, who lost loved ones in such drone strikes, and now will go to any extremes to avenge their fallen.

A complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan is the only inevitable, face-saving way out for America and its allies; the question America must now find answers for is how and when.

However, the US, despite criticism back home for the heavy losses in personnel and weapons expenditure, has reasons to stay put in Afghanistan.

The first is China. Whereas the American strategy of military invasions has failed miserably, China’s unique approach of economically engaging in other countries has been remarkably successful. The Silk Road Economic Belt, commonly known as ‘One Belt One Road (OBOR)’ initiative, is an eyesore to the Americans. Although the fast economic growth of China and its resultant monetary investments in South Asia pose no threat to the US directly, it is nonetheless seen as a potential counterweight to American influence in the region.

Similarly, Russian fiscal and military revival under Vladimir Putin has been a bitter pill to swallow for America, especially since the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The US fears that, if left unchecked, Russia might seek to revive its communist propensities of the bygone era.

Iran is another nation that the US wants to monitor closely. Post-Barack Obama, the historic civil nuclear deal and the ensuing cordial atmosphere that was created with Iran are now in complete disarray. We are once again witnessing an over the top propaganda in the US against Iran and the assumed nonsensical nuclear threat it poses to America’s closest ally, Israel.

Thus, Afghanistan proves to be an ideal focal point for America to maintain its footprint and standing in South and Central Asia.

But how does Pakistan fare in this complex geopolitical puzzle?

Since 9/11, more than 80,000 Pakistani lives have been lost to this unwanted war, and still, the US and the international community continue to raise ‘do more’ slogans against us. Granted, as a society, we were initially in a state of confusion about how to deal with the extremists. But since the attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, Pakistan has been on an all-out offensive with a singular purpose of eliminating rogue elements from our borders. Even the US has now acknowledged our resolve and perseverance in defeating terrorism.

The reason why we have been successful in our military operation against the terrorists is that ours was entirely an internal struggle. Without foreign pressure or influence, we categorically followed this approach through civil-military cooperation. Conversely, the US lacks the moral authority to fight against terrorists in Afghanistan, because from the Afghan perspective, Americans themselves are the invaders and aggressors.

Niccolo Machiavelli said,

“Although one may be very strong in armed forces, yet in entering a province, one has always need of the goodwill of the natives.”

Pakistan is right in stressing and calling for an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” peace process. Whether the ultimate solution lies in compromising with the Taliban through power sharing, or by destroying their networks through sheer force, the methodology to be applied must be based solely on the wishes on the Afghan people, with the concurrent surety of complete American withdrawal.

Otherwise, group names may change from Taliban to al Qaeeda to the in vogue Islamic State (IS), but the essential crisis of defeating terrorism in Afghanistan will linger on indefinitely.

Usman Ali Virk

Usman Ali Virk

The author hails from Lahore and is a lawyer by profession. He recently graduated with a Masters in Law from the University of California, Berkeley.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • cuban

    USA doesn’t need Afghanistan to ward off China or Russia – anymore than it needs Pakistan.Recommend

  • romaro

    “the US, despite criticism back home for the heavy losses in personnel and weapons expenditure, has reasons to stay put in Afghanistan”

    Rubbish. USA combat losses in Afghanistan are lower than the std suicide rate in the military. Also – author would be hard pressed to find any mention of Afghanistan in an American newspapers and certainly no Editorials or anything that would otherwise indicate that it is a hotly debated subject. The USA could pull out of Afghanistan tomorrow and except for a few politicians trying to score political points nobody in the USA would care.Recommend

  • usman

    With over 1 trillion dollars spent, more than 2,000 soldiers dead with thousands more injured, maimed and permanently disabled, one is surprised that you call it all “rubbish”. How many billions more of US taxpayers dollars should be spent before you would take notice. And its called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), not “std” as you explain. And staying on that point, what exactly do you think caused military personnel to commit “std” suicides?! Its because of these wars they are engaged in.

    Coming to your second astonishing claim, we don’t have to go too far back, just 2 days ago, Trump was all over mainstream news regarding his new Afghanistan policy. Were afghanistan such a non-issue as you presume, one would think the New York Times, CNN, Fox etc wouldn’t be talking about Afghanistan, right?

    If the US pulls out tomorrow, or in the near future, (which it won’t) the whole WORLD will take notice man, what to talk of the US! Yes, the people of america couldn’t care less about Afghanistan, but you’re naive if you think its a simple decision for the US government and its allies to declare “we’re leaving”. If they leave Afghanistan in its current condition, it’ll be considered a colossal US foreign policy failure, and if the status quo continues unchanged, instability in the region will continue too. So its not as simple as you so obliviously indicated.Recommend

  • Eddied

    a very short sighted perspective…Just think what would happen if the USA left Afghanistan?…the Taliban barbarians would begin a revenge killing spree against the existing government officials which would be a complete blood bath…followed by the infighting between ISIS, Al Qaeda and Taliban killers which would make any peaceful existance impossible…and then all of these radical Islamic militant groups who kill to get power would be neighbors of Pakistan?…for Pakistans sake I hope the USA does not leave…Recommend

  • PorkSmasher

    The same old accusation, Pakistan faught America’s war. Pakistan got billions of dollars as an aide and at the same time hide America’s most wanted enemy in abottabad.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    The author, as usual, has conveniently ignored Pakistani meddling in Afghan affairs the past 15 plus years via those beloved terrorist proxies that Pakistan openly nurtures and supports!
    As for Afghans, they never want to see the Taliban’s draconian rule to return, and hate Pakistan for openly supporting them!Recommend

  • Scrutator

    Isn’t this the national obsession or what? Everyone in the country has to spew lies and more lies to mask the stench that’s inherent in the Pakistani system, and to help its people feel some kind of self worth!!Recommend

  • Abdullah

    US spent billions and in blood. Not to leave in few years. This is a permanent occupation or base. Unless there is a Vietnam style offensive by the Taliban backed by Pakistan.

    If that happened then US will not be able to return to this region in a foreseeable futureRecommend

  • Parvez

    If one looks at the word map, one possibly gets an idea as to why America so tenaciously is holding on with a visible presence in Afghanistan ……. the cost is high both in monetary and human terms but America is rich and big enough to absorb this cost.Recommend

  • Ravikumar

    How long Pak can be delusional thinking that what they say will be believed by the world!? Wake up! today even China has difficulty is making world believe its propaganda! Pak has gone way beyond its best before date and is dumped by everyone except China! that’ll also happen soon! Afghan strategy is still going to work out especially without ISI and India will be brought in a big numbers making China feel the heat and will drop CPEC as a hot potato!Recommend

  • Humza

    Nations have interests, not friends. Pakistan is an important regional player between its interests and the Chinese. It was Pakistan who fostered relations and often works as a go between between the US and China, as well as others. If the US doesn’t need Pakistan, of course it would not pursue relations but as one of the most influential Muslim states with a growing economy moving to middle income state status and an important geographic location, US analysts themselves will assess the need for relations. Dare I say, the US is mistaken in trying to build up India as some type of counterweight in the region instead of focusing on its ally, Pakistan. Indian double games like its use of Afghanistan as a puppet state in its covert war against Pakistan has only caused misery for Afghan people who are begging for asylum as refugees all over the world.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    All note that you conveniently fail to mention Pakistan’s “double game” of duplicity!
    Pretending to be Americas ally while stabbing it in the back by supporting terrorist proxies that destabilize Afghanistan!
    Pakistan has now driven Afghans and Americans into India’s arms, so now enjoy the future of a much better armed India as it acquires far better weapons systems from America and Israel than Pakistan can ever afford!Recommend

  • Humza

    The author should have paid more attention to India’s meddling in Pakistan via Afghanistan for the last 70 years starting with its refusal to acknowledge Pakistan and from the murder of the first Pakistani PM in Rawalpindi by an Afghan national who crossed into Pakistan. As for millions of Afghans who prefer to stay in Pakistan rather than live as refugees in India, or return to Afghanistan, ask them why they don’t go home and help rebuild their own nation.Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    Here is my challenge to Pakistanis. Please bring a solid documentary proof . For a country that is barely able to perform population counting, finding the dead in war torn area is just next to impossible. Recommend

  • Azhar

    Wishful thinkingRecommend