Whenever the name Afghanistan comes up in a news item, print or electronic, stories of war always follow with notoriety. Audiences across the world normally brace themselves for news of suicide bombings, shootings, and drone attacks. The intensity and duration of the war in Afghanistan has made people all over the world accustomed to the attendant carnage (Goodson, 2001). Should this be so? The aim of this paper is to look into the contextual issues surrounding the war in Afghanistan.
By looking at these issues, it will be possible to uncover the critical issues that have caused Afghanistan to remain in a state of perpetual war since time immemorial. Is there any justification for the current war playing out in Afghanistan? What historical factors caused its outbreak and what contemporary issues fuel its perpetuation? This war remains a very significant contemporary issue that warrants a critical examination.
War is a complex enterprise. Wherever there is a war, there is always an intricate web of interests. Wars bring together parties whose conflicts surpass the threshold for resolution leading to the picking up of arms in order to inflict pain and to suppress the will of opponents (Gagliardi & Tzu, 2005).
The war in Afghanistan is not an exception. In fact, it is a contemporary case study in just how intricate the webs of interest fuel war. All wars require a trigger. The trigger is not normally the real reason for the war, but the last thread of restraint. The trigger for the current war in Afghanistan was the September 11 attacks in the United States in the year 2001. This attack, blamed on the Al Qaeda terror network, invited the wrath of the United States and soon opened up Afghanistan to a full-scale war (Fiscus, 2004).
The United States rallied other NATO countries to fight the Taliban regime, which played host to Osama Bin Laden who was the Al Qaeda leader. This was not the first time the United States had a significant role to play in the historical wars in Afghanistan. During the cold war, United States operatives were deeply involved in the prevailing war against Soviet operatives. In the prevailing war, it is a major party.
The Taliban, a radical Islam regime, remains a central player in the current war in Afghanistan. This regime implemented a very strict version of Sharia law that among other things banned women from attending school after attaining the age of eight, and banned women from walking the streets alone without the company of a male relative (Fiscus, 2004).
The Taliban allied forces deposed the Taliban from Kabul early in the war but they still plan and execute attacks against government and NATO positions. They are an important party to the war in Afghanistan
The third party to this war is the Afghan government, under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai. Karzai took power early in the war through consensus and was re-elected subsequently. The Afghan government remains in a tight position because of the presence of international forces in the country, and the perpetual threat from the Taliban and other fighting tribes. This government is the internationally recognized legitimate authority in Afghanistan. Hence, it holds a very important place in the war.
Other parties to this was include Pakistan which shares a large border with Afghanistan, and the United Nations that still tries to provide direction to the situation to help bring about the peace that the country direly needs. Apart from these players, there are also other players such as humanitarian organizations including Oxfam and the Red Crescent, the military industrial complex providing supplies for the war, and the Afghan people.
Afghanistan has played host to so many wars since the times of Alexander the great. The prelude to the current war goes back to the three Anglo-Afghan wars fought between 1839 and 1919. The modern Afghan state emerged at the end of the First World War as an independent country and started out on its career civil wars with interludes of revolutionary rule occasioned by extremism.
In 1919, Amanullah khan took over the leadership of the country, which had just received international recognition as an independent nation (Goodson, 2001). In ten years time, a civil war broke out forcing Amanullah to exile. This war came about because Amanullah alienated the old guard in his term of leadership and seemed to warm too much to European powers.
This went against the Afghan tradition of fierce rejection of external interference. Amanullah’s cousin, Nadir Khan, managed to restore order but also died from an assassin’s bullet in 1933. His son, Zahir Shah took over power at the age of nineteen and ruled for the next forty years. Together with the Prime Minister, Daud Khan, Zahir managed to maintain a non-aligned stance as a nation during the Second World War and in the end he reaped many rewards from both sides of the cold war.
The Americans and the Russians competed for Afghans attention and used the country as a place to show their might. While this worked out well at that moment, it planted the seeds for future wars in a country that knew more about war in its long history, than any other thing (Goodson, 2001).
However, differences between Zahir and Daud caused Daud to resign. He came back to power through a military coup a few years later and started on reforms. His reforms attracted the anger of some leftwing members of the military who then organized for his assassination.
A new regime, led by Nur Muhammad Taraki took power and began a rapid process of reform along communist lines, which ended up in disaster.
The country lost cohesion and the USSR, which by then had amassed troops in the country, found itself in a situation where it had to play a very active role in the internal issues of Afghanistan. The imposition of puppet leaders did not help, and the consequence was the Soviet war in Afghanistan that lasted ten years, from 1979.
Towards the end of this period, America began providing arms for the Mujahedeen in their resistance against Soviet occupation. In 1989, the USSR completed the phased withdrawal of its armies from Afghanistan leaving the country to its internal forces. The reigning leader, Mohammad Najibullah retained power for another three years but eventually the Mujahedeen ousted him. He went to the relative safety of the UN compound in Kabul.
While the Mujahedeen ruled Afghanistan in its factious ways, a new force emerged that remains a significant party to the current war in Afghanistan. A Mullah, named Mohammad Omar Akhund, formed a group called the Taliban.
Mullah Omar brought together students from various Madrassa and armed them in an effort to rid the country of corruption that became rife under warlord rule of the Mujahedeen. By 1996, most of Afghanistan was under Taliban rule. They provided a base for Al Qaeda to operate and this is what brought about their earmarking for international intervention after the September 11 bombings.
The events in Afghanistan since its independence provide the ingredients for the current war. One of them is tribalism (Goodson, 2001). The Afghan society remains divided along tribal lines. While Islam is the undisputed religious force, the groupings such as the Mujahedeen, the Taliban, and the Northern Alliance have a distinctive tribal face. This nature of the nation’s face predisposed it to the current war.
Secondly, the perpetual interference in the internal affairs of the country due to its strategic geographical position in south and central Asia also helped to bring about the conditions for the current war. Afghanistan since time immemorial attracted kings, rulers, and empires seeking to control the geopolitical forces of South and central Asia. The British, the Russians, and now the Americans have had a stab at war in the country in the modern era.
The third major cause of the current war is international terror. September 11 was a crescendo in the rising threat of international terror. The Bush administration identified Afghanistan as the frontline in the fight against terrorism since the Al Qaeda terror network operated from there. Another cause of war is the long period of instability since the country’s independence. While the country has enjoyed certain periods of relative calm and consistent leadership, its leadership transitions have been violent and have led to radical ideological changes.
There are at least four ways of looking at the war in Afghanistan from a historical perspective. The first perspective is that the war is a fight for freedom from foreign occupation. The second one is that the war is ideological, a struggle between western ideals of democracy versus the eastern communist agenda. The third view is that the war is a religious war, against infidels. In the modern military view, it is an international war against terror.
The Afghanis fought three wars against the British. Each time it was in response to diplomatic disputes caused by the tense relations between the Russians and the British (Page, 2003). In these cases, the Afghanis were fighting to stamp their authority in their territory in order to be free from foreign interests in the country. This theme repeats itself with the assassination of Daud because he seemed to lean too closely to the European agenda for the country.
In the recent past, the war against the Soviets lead by the Mujahedeen came about as a response to Soviet occupation of the country. In the prevailing war, the Taliban justify their actions as an effort rid the country of foreign occupation led by the United States. They continue to bomb NATO positions as a means towards frustrating the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
When we look at the war from an ideological view, it appears to be a war geared towards the promotion of democracy and liberty. These are western ideals. The Afghanis traditionally did not have democratically elected leaders. They had royal families from where they drew their leadership.
While this model also had traditional problems, the war currently has been about democratizing Afghanistan because there is widespread belief that a democratic country is inherently more stable than any other form of government. As a country that experimented with socialism in a region that is home to the two leading communist lights, China and Russia, the West is keen to implement a democratic agenda for the country so that the global influence of communism remains under check.
It is impossible to separate religion from this war. At least, this is the perspective of the Taliban and their sympathizers. According to them, this war is about the will of Allah, and ridding the country of infidels who have occupied it. The stated vision for Al Qaeda is the destruction of the United States.
Their motivation is not just rivalry or jealous, but a self-assigned divine duty for which many of its members are willing to give their lives. In Afghanistan, Islam is a basic part of the national identity. In its many names ascribed over the last century, most include a reference to Islam. Patriots in that country essentially fight for Islamic ideals.
In the international stage, the war in Afghanistan is simply one of the frontlines in the international war against terror. This war includes the efforts in Iraq, Libya, and Northern Pakistan. This is the popular international view of the war based on the stance popularized by President Bush after the September 11 attacks.
All these perspectives remain justified depending on the viewpoint of the person who subscribes to it. To the Taliban, they are doing the work of God to rid the land of the foreign infidels. To the national psyche of the Afghanis, the war is about getting their country back from foreign occupation and ridding it of social ills. To the International community, this war is about the getting rid of terrorism threat that groups such as the Al Qaeda network portends.
The outcomes of this war span several aspects and have ramifications at both the local and international level. The four key aspects of these outcomes include the social outcomes, the political outcomes, the economic outcomes, and the technological outcomes.
In the social sphere, the war has made possible the restoration of some civilian liberties such as the right to attend school by women. However, many problems attend to the social life of ordinary Afghanis because of the war. They live in a perpetual state of fear from both the Taliban and the international forces present in their soil.
Civilian casualties from the war are a sore point in the war. Both sides have had their share in maiming and killing innocent citizens. The war has led to the breaking down of healthcare services, education, and community development. Malnutrition and high infant mortality are serious concerns. These services heavily rely on the assistance of international organizations.
In addition, trading in narcotics has increased internationally since there is no proper way to police the poppy growing in Afghanistan that provides better rewards for farmers compared to conventional crops. This also has led to the increase in the number of drug addicts among the Afghani youth. The lack of jobs and low skills level leave many youths vulnerable and are easy targets for radicalization (Page, 2003). Mullah Omar took advantage of this in the nineties hence it is a proven threat.
Politically, the key outcome is that Afghanistan is now a fledgling democratic state, which should have more stability in the end, compared to the previous modes of governance in the country.
This will induce greater regional stability by counterbalancing the communist forces in the region. The key bottleneck to this process is that historically, Afghanis have not had this kind of government, which can pose a threat to the sustainability of the model. The emergence of an Islamic Democratic state puts two tense ideological stances in the same spot (Fiscus, 2004).
The swing from radical Islam under the Taliban to a fully functional democracy will remain a work in progress for a number of years. It is very expensive for other countries to operate consulates in Afghanistan because of the security issues. This limits Afghanistan’s ability to engage with the international community. In fact, it weakens the position of the Karzai government especially in the eyes of local radicals who believe that their country lacks all form of sovereign control.
The most devastating consequences of this war probably lie in the economy of the country. War always slows down economic growth if not out rightly reversing it (Page, 2003). Roads, bridges, and other vital communication facilities fall to disrepair and new ones cannot come online. The existing ones face destruction from bombs and have to carry heavy armored vehicles, which further destroy them.
On the positive side, Afghanistan has received vast sums of development assistance and corresponding international attention, which may promote its development faster than if it was on its own.
With the international attention, Afghanistan can quickly rise from the ashes of war as a strong brand provided they take advantage of the opportunities the war has left (Harvard Business School, 2005). Military bases in the country will remain after the foreign troops leave. These can become schools and offices, freeing up the resources the country may have used to construct them.
The war in Afghanistan has led to technological developments in military technology. Arguably, there has been more drone attacks in Afghanistan than in any other one place. Drones are a new addition to military warfare, which until a few years back, were experimental technologies.
The war has made possible the improvement of precision guided weapons thus helping to reduce civilian casualties and the extent of infrastructural damage from bombs. Previously, it was necessary to utilize a lot of explosive power to attack targets to account for imprecision. This ended up producing a lot of infrastructural damage and a high number of casualties.
In other fronts such as communication, the military and international organizations have installed new and robust communication networks that will provide the country with the basis of a robust communication network. Leveraging on these developments is the best strategy for Afghanistan as it struggles to emerge from the ashes of war.
Fiscus, J. W. (2004). America’s War in Afghanistan. New York NY: Rosen Publishing.
Gagliardi, G., & Tzu, S. (2005). The Art of War Plus the Art of Management: Strategy for Leadership. Seattle, WA: Science of Strategy: Clearbridge Publishing.
Goodson, L. P. (2001). Afghanistan’s Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban. Washington DC: University of Washington Press.
Harvard Business School. (2005). Strategy: Create and Implement the Best Strategy for Your Business. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Page, M. E. (2003). Colonialism: An International Social, Cultural, and Political Encylopeadia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.