Trans-Pacific View | Politics | Security | South Asia

US Exit from Afghanistan: The Pakistan Factor

Insights from M. Nazif Shahrani

Mercy A. Kuo
US Exit from Afghanistan: The Pakistan Factor

Afghan police inspect the site of a suicide attack, in northern Parwan province, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.

Credit: AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. Asia policy.  This conversation with M. Nazif Shahrani Afghan American Professor of Anthropology, Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, at Indiana University and Advisory Board Member of the National Center for Dialogue & Progress (NCDP), Kabul, Afghanistanis the 204th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

Explain the implications of President Trump’s July meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

President Trump made shocking remarks at the press conference with Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan (July 22, 2019).  He said: “I think Pakistan’s going to help us out to extricate ourselves. We’re like policemen, we’re not fighting a war. [If] We wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people … if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth.”  

He is right. Americans have not been willing to fight and die in Afghanistan: why should they? They went there to avenge the September 11, 2001 attacks, and to police America’s future security interests in Afghanistan and beyond.

He is, however, wrong that killing more people in Afghanistan, no matter how quickly and efficiently, will result in victory. Nor will he be able to end the war by making deals with Pakistan or the Taliban to extricate America from Afghanistan. This is because “war is a racket.” The famous U.S. General, Smedley D. Butler, in a short book describes a racket “as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of very few, at the expense of very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

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Millions have already paid the price for this prolonged racket in Afghanistan. By 2001, the country’s villages were devastated from a decade of bombings by the Soviet Red Army. An estimated 1.5 to 2 million Afghans were martyred; hundreds of thousands more maimed.  Several hundred thousand women became widowed and their children orphaned. Two million people became internally displaced, and 5 million more were driven to Pakistan and Iran as refugees.

During the past 19 years, American and NATO forces in Afghanistan have dropped more bombs and tested new weapons, including the “Mother of All Bombs” — a monstrous weapon of which Trump spoke at the press conference. More than 2,400 American soldiers, so far, have paid the price for this war racket with their lives and more than 20,000 with severe injuries. The price tag for the American taxpayers has been estimated at a trillion dollars, and the war continues to cost $50 billion dollars annually. The war in Afghanistan is described, “a good war, everybody makes money.”  Indeed, it is a racket: a few profit and the many pay.

Provide a brief background of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. 

The Geneva Accords of 1988 extricated the USSR from Afghanistan. But that led Afghanistan to another decade of vicious interethnic and tribal wars urged on by the regional proxies, especially Pakistan. Kabul, the capital, and other major cities of Afghanistan, safeguarded by the Red Army in the 1980s, were destroyed. These internecine battles culminated in the rise of Taliban terrorists, managed by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), and the growth of al-Qaeda, led by Bin Laden, as a global terrorist organization. 

Assess Prime Minister Imran Khan’s objective during his meeting with President Trump. 

Imran Khan’s visit to Washington, D.C was mainly to make deals concerning the war in Afghanistan. During their press conference, Trump repeatedly hinted at making deals with Pakistan, contingent on Pakistan urging the Taliban at the Doha U.S.-Taliban peace talks to make a deal with the United States. If Pakistan delivers, the U.S. may rescue Pakistan from its current economic crises. Such a deal may help achieve short term goals for Pakistan and the U.S., but it will be at the expense of just and lasting peace in Afghanistan, as well as at the expense of long-term U.S. security interests in the region. Many war millionaires and billionaires, inside and outside the Afghan government in Kabul, are alarmed by the President’s statements at the press conference with Imran Khan. They scream foul because they are excluded from the deal. A few of them are complaining that what Trump said is an insult to Afghanistan’s national pride, providing fuel to the Taliban and others who are questioning America’s real intentions in Afghanistan. 

Describe perspectives of the Afghanistan public to the Trump-Khan meeting. 

Trump’s statements have also provoked unprecedented apprehensions among those who have paid the highest price in this war: the masses in Afghanistan. Fears that Afghanistan may be handed over to the Taliban terrorists and their Pakistani handlers, again, are expressed in official media as well as on social media. Such public fears, especially among recently educated youth, both urban and rural, are palpable. They are for the most part ignored, excluded, and disenfranchised by both the overbearing new English-speaking government bureaucrats who are local subcontractors in the war; and the self-indulgent corrupt former jihadi millionaires and warlords. The growing numbers of unemployed educated youth are angry because they believe the U.S. and international community have chosen deliberately to empower the inept and the crooked who are denying them access to opportunities for making a difference. 

Why should the U.S. policy community be concerned about Pakistan’s future role in Afghanistan? 

The Pakistan government, especially its military and intelligence services, are significant stakeholders since the early days of the war in the 1980s. They have extracted billions of dollars in dividends from their partnerships in these wars, from the U.S. and others, over the past four decades. Pakistan expects more dividends when the Taliban are installed to power in Afghanistan, either solo or together with other Afghan parties. But, the Haqqani group of terrorists and ISK (Daesh) are not part of the U.S. deal, so they will continue their terror campaign from the safety of Pakistan.

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This war cannot be ended by making deals with Pakistan, as evidenced by the 1988 Geneva Accord. Holding talks, whether in Moscow, Doha, or elsewhere by the few who are part of the racket, is unlikely to result in peace. As General Butler has stated, the war racket “can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.” 

The interests of Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun population in the north, center and northeast who fought the Taliban in the 1990s, and the women of Afghanistan who suffered the most, cannot be ignored for durable peace in the country.  Also, without the inclusion and empowerment of the disillusioned and disenfranchised youth of Afghanistan as a genuine political force, no settlement could be feasible. If supported by the international community, only Afghanistan’s bulging youth can rid themselves of the corrupt few profiting from war, both among the Taliban and the Kabul regimes, past and present.