US presence in Afghanistan never put an end to civil strife in the country.
On April 14 this year, US President Joe Biden finally announced the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Not an entirely unexpected decision given Biden’s pessimistic views as a senator and then vice president. The subsequent uproar both in domestic US political circles and internationally has generated a never-ending debate mostly criticising the US president’s decision to end America’s participation in the Afghan war.
However, despite the 'end' for the US, for the majority of Afghans, the conflict continues and indeed it is the Afghans that have suffered most, not the Americans. It is Afghanistan’s war, not America’s.
Prominent Austrian-Afghan journalist, Emran Feroz, called out the cynicism of the sceptics or romantics calling it a calamity i.e. the American pull out. According to him the Afghan on Afghan violence continues with no sign or impact whether the Americans stay or not. He went on and challenged Trump’s former National Security Adviser, H R McMaster on how America imposed criminals in positions of power, prolonging Afghan suffering after 9/11.
A recent Washington Post survey backed up those views. Whilst the British Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter said the pull out could risk a civil war, it is safe to argue that Afghanistan has been in a civil war for quite some time.
The question of a civil war
As many Western officials such as General Carter fear a civil war, a careful reading of prominent Afghans' statements makes it clear it is virtually a civil war in any case.
While there are several different definitions of what constitutes a civil war, The American Academy of Arts & Sciences featuring top academics such as Francis Fukuyama, Nancy Lindborg, and Stephen Krasner summed it up as: ‘when a state goes into violent conflict with a non-state actor that indeed is a civil war.’
Bilal Sarwary, one of the most well-known Afghan journalists, on the day of the US announcement, shrugged that the Biden announcement meant nothing as the Taliban would continue to hurt and kill Afghan civilians and security forces.
Like many others including the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, Bilal had always characterised the Doha deal as a US-Taliban deal rather than an intra-Afghan dialogue. To further make this point, President Ghani, in his interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, rebuked the Trump administration saying that they should have cooperated with the Afghan government and not a non-state actor such as the Taliban.
Ghani’s first vice president and long-term security Tsar of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh also echoed his president’s views, following Biden’s announcement. He said Afghan forces would continue attacking the Taliban and carrying on the fight. With both Saleh and Ghani calling out the Taliban and that their peace would not work, there seems to be a clear deadlock.
Of course, that the Ghani-led Afghan government wants nothing to do with the Taliban and vice versa is not rocket science, this much has been clear since the day the Taliban began attacking Ghani’s predecessor, President Hamid Karzai.
Both the previous general elections were fiercely contested by Dr Abdullah Abdullah and there seems to be no love lost between Ghani and Abdullah. Indeed just last week Abdullah said that the Afghan government must step up and now it’s down to Afghans to resolve the conflict.
The oldest and most powerful Afghan political party, Jamiat-i-Islami has also been in the middle of disputes leading to actual fire fights during their meetings this year. There is a clear split between Ata Mohammad Noor, Salahuddin Rabbani and Herat strongman Ismail Khan. Takhar residents have already taken up arms and pledged allegiance to Ahmad Massoud and vow to take on the Taliban.
With such clear disparity between Afghans who are meant to be the united front against the Taliban, it gives credence to the argument of a continued civil war. Of course it is not as simple as that, no one sentence can define what truly constitutes a civil war in Afghanistan, and the role of regional powers cannot be forgotten stretching all the way back to even before the 1979 invasion of the Soviet Army.
‘Stepping into a regional conflict’
Milt Bearden, the former CIA station chief in Islamabad, and one of the key strategists of the Afghan policy of the cold war, said in his testimony to the US Senate in 2009 that, “the war in Afghanistan as of 2009 was the 28th year of US involvement and not the 9th year.”
So as Biden now announces a withdrawal, the US involvement will be ending a 40-year war as far as US involvement goes. Bearden like many officials have always looked at it as a regional war interfering in local Afghan disputes stretching back to the Soviet backed coup(s) of the 70s.
Axel Rose of Guns N’ Roses in 1991, sang the phrase: ‘What’s so civil about war anyway’. For poor Afghans, their war shall continue just as it had before the war on terror started – and there is nothing civil about it.
Many Afghans simply don’t trust their government who are seen as an obstacle to peace and progress in a way similar to how the Taliban are. The would-be saviours of the Jamiat are busy shooting at each other before the government, and Ahmad Massoud openly calls Ghani a racist who has divided Afghanistan further.
The civil war that the Soviets stepped into, followed by the Americans, is set to continue as regional powers stand ready to pounce on the misery of ordinary Afghans.
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