Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The war that can never be won (or lost).

In the midst of arguing whether or not to deploy troops, in the battle for determining wins and losses, lies a striking realization: we can't ever win this war in Afghanistan. Yet, nor can we lose it. In a brief interview with former UN representative Peter Galbraith, he talks about recently launched Operation Moshtarak (as explained by Brittany in the previous post).

Galbraith, like many others, questions the efficacy of NATO troops in Afghanistan. And what he says does hold weight and makes perfect sense. We are exerting enormous amounts of energy and utilizing trillion dollar bucketfuls of resources to keep up these "counterinsurgency" efforts in Afghanistan when we could be using this power force to address domestic issues. It's not an unheard of argument; in fact, it is one of the most common arguments against the "War on Terror" since the beginning of this war.

However, he mentioned something that I questioned: In his opinion, the Taliban can never retake Afghanistan again, especially because nearly 55% of people in the region do not support the Taliban and will not again in the future... unless "we do what we did in the nineties and completely walked away" (2:08). What is his basis for saying this? Granted, as of now, with NATO forces holding down fort in Kabul and other former Taliban strongholds, it is very unlikely that Taliban forces could take over. Yet, that is not to say that they could never ever again in the future come back to power, especially on the basis of the argument that more than half the population are opposed to the extremist party. Those with the will and resources can always usurp the place of others and insert themselves into positions of authority, even without the approval or acceptance of the population over which they rule. Power in many cases like these is not based in actual ruling capability or ruling rights, but is attributed to fear and violence.

What is interesting to note is the second portion of that quotation, citing back to what "we" (presumably the US government) did in the nineties, ie leave completely. Here, Galbraith brings up yet another oft-heard point-- that to completely pull out (of Afghanistan, Iraq, wherever) would bring detrimental consequences to both countries. Many have stated the the success of several radical parties post-war is contributed to the presence and sense of stability provided in the aftermath and chaos of violence. In this case, should the US leave after everything that has happened in the past eight years (and yes, it has been eight already!), then all our efforts would have been for naught and Afghanistan would relapse.

And thus comes the increasingly difficult question to answer: Now what do we do? We can neither stay nor leave, win nor lose. Will the Afghans be able to maintain a stable infrastructure? Will the Afghan government ever shed itself of its corrupted past? How will the different Afghan people from different regions and cultures ever develop a sense of nation? What is the best thing for outside forces to do in and for Afghanistan? Do the Afghans even have a say in this-- or are we planning everything for them in their name? How do we know what they want? How do we know what is best for a people we do not try to get to know or understand yet say that it is in their honor and for their protection we station ourselves in their country to fight their enemies, who are also our own?

Galbraith is right-- there is no winning or losing. Because how can someone win or lose something that is not a matter of winning or losing? Maybe Afghanistan is like a "Would you rather?" game, where the best of two bad choices must be made in the hopes that something good and long-lasting will come of it.

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