2020 – U.S. needs to change its approach towards Afghanistan
Two decades of U.S. presence in Afghanistan can be termed as an ‘Era of Gross Misunderstanding’. There are multiple reasons to support this stance: First; Washington consistently failed to recognize the dynamics of the fragile political dispensation in Kabul; Second, while forcing liberal democratic principles on a culturally conservative society America never paid any heed to what the people of Afghanistan want for themselves; Third; the USA still has not completely thought through the implications of the power vacuum that they are going to leave in a war-battered country. That said, it seems reasonable to suggest that the U.S. needs to rethink and restructure its approach towards Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has a complex and diverse political system. With warlords, tribal chiefs, and religious clergy having more respect, authority, and influence than the elected representatives. Earning their trust and getting them on board is imperative for the successful implementation of any policy initiative or governance model in Afghanistan. The U.S. policymakers, however, are struggling to get their head around an unbalanced political equation in a country they invaded twenty years ago. Supporting political candidates based on their loyalty towards Uncle Sam or incessantly shifting alliances with tribal/religious leaders based on temporary strategic-interests has resulted in a weak government, that remains highly dysfunctional beyond the borders of its capital. Perhaps, it is time Washington adopt an inclusive approach towards the Afghan polity.
Culturally, Afghanistan can be labelled as a conservative society. Their way of living is governed by a unique set of traditions, norms, values, and folkways. For example, Burqa, a long loose garment covering the whole body from head to toe, is worn by a majority of Afghan women in public, because it’s a part of their culture. Similarly, most Afghan men prefer to have a beard. Most often than not, these symbolic traits of Afghan culture are portrayed by western media as medieval, backward, unmodern, and even barbaric at times. With such judgemental preconceptions in mind, Washington has been trying to push the Afghan people, without their consent, through a path of modernization for the past twenty years. Maybe the success of this grand project lies in a comprehensive and compassionate understanding of the Afghan society.
Moreover, the aftermath of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is going to be grave. There are multiple interest groups and factions in Afghanistan who will try to fill the power vacuum that will be created after the United States leave. For example, Taliban, who are now stronger than ever; Anti-Taliban groupings, who do not want Taliban to govern them; Khurasan Chapter of the notorious I.S., who have an ideological agenda to fight for; Afghan government, who will not step down just because the insurgents think it is illegitimate, not until they have the loyalty of, the U.S. trained and armed, Afghan forces with them; Regional Powers, like Pakistan, India, Iran, Russia, and China have their interests to secure. That said, Washington needs to answer two discordant questions that stem from its withdrawal: First, would a peace deal with the Taliban lessen or increase the violence in Afghanistan? Second, is the Afghan government capable of dealing with a civil war? That is likely to erupt after the United States leaves. The right answers to these questions might lead to a better and practical understanding of the post-withdrawal consequences, that the Afghan people have to bear.