Zahid Hussain, Journalist and Writer
As the war in Afghanistan enters its eleventh year, there is no clear end in sight.
What started as a military intervention to punish the Taliban regime for hosting Al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has escalated into a wider regional conflict, with Afghanistan now at the centre of a new “Great Game”. Pakistan, India, and Iran are vying for influence in the strife-torn country, as the West struggles to broker an endgame to the war in Afghanistan.
It is quite evident that the coalition forces are not on course for defeating the Taliban militarily, even with 150,000 troops installed in the country. Despite spending billions of dollars a year on military operations alone and everincreasing allied casualties, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces have failed to prevent Taliban insurgents from controlling a large swath of Pashtun dominated eastern and southern Afghanistan.
The United States (US) and its allies have endorsed a plan for the Afghan government to take charge of security in the country by 2014. This optimism is premised on the assumption that the Afghan security forces would be ready to take over by that time, and that regional support will prop up Afghan stability. But the increasingly perilous situation on the ground gives little hope of achieving that objective. The expectation that a weak administration in Kabul will be able to transform Afghanistan into a stable state by 2014 and take over border and internal security responsibility is unrealistic at best.
Recent offensives by the Taliban and a series of audacious attacks targeting American and NATO installations in Kabul indicate the insurgents are much more powerful and more organised than at any time since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The new U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has shown little sign of success despite the 2010 surge in troops. There is now a growing realisation among all parties that the war may not end in defeat for either side, but in some sort of political settlement with the insurgents, which would require direct talks with the Taliban.
There is also a serious concern that withdrawal of foreign forces without any negotiated political mechanism in place, would not only plunge Afghanistan into a fierce contest over territory and population by various tribal groups and factions, but also draw the surrounding regional countries deeper into the conflict. A major challenge for the alliance therefore is how to wind down the war, reducing violence, while also preventing a wider regional conflict. Ending the war simply will not be possible without a power-sharing agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, followed by an accord that includes the support of regional players with a legitimate stake in Afghanistan’s future.
Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and writer. He is a correspondent for The Times of London and The Wall Street Journal. He also has covered Pakistan and Afghanistan for several other international publications, including Newsweek, the Associated Press and The Economist. He is the author of two books: Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam (2007) and The Scorpion’s Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan (2010).