General John Allen, the commander of the NATO-led international coalition in the country, has dropped a bombshell on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In a ceremony held in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to commemorate the 9/11 tragedies and attended by Afghan and foreign officials, he has said that the forces under his command are winning the war against the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
According to the General's characterization of the situation in the country, the NATO forces in partnership with Afghan National Security Forces, having broken the back of the insurgency, are now on the way to victory.
To be realistic, it is true that the NATO and Afghan security forces, to some extent, have been able to curtail and reduce the activities of Taliban in some Southern and Southeastern provinces, but being on the road to victory of the type that Gen. John Allen refers to is certainly not achieved yet and is still far away.
Taliban, Hizb-i Islami and, to some extent, Haqqani group are still formidable militant groups awash with money, logistics and men, and are still very well capable of maintaining their shadow rule over large parts of the South and East of the country.
For every fallen Taliban fighter, it is still relatively easy for the Taliban commanders to recruit from among the hundreds even thousands of young men who are willing to take up arms. At a time when the insurgency has been steadily intensifying, civilian casualties have been soaring to new heights and the government and governance in shambles, talking about being on the road to a clear victory stands to be nothing more than political rhetoric in front of allies and demagogy for the public opinion back home.
The fact that Gen. John Allen talks about victory against the Taliban and other militant groups reminds us of the former American President, George W. Bush's triumphalist, 2003 "Mission Accomplished" speech on the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln right after the Saddam regime was toppled.
"The war has ended and the United States and her allies have prevailed" was the terse yet unforgettable statement uttered by the American President and ingrained in my memory ever since. Far from prevailing, the bloodbath of Iraq continued for many more years since that speech and the win purported by the President teetered many times on the brink of a disastrous defeat as, in subsequent years, the specter of a civil war loomed large over Iraq.
The fact is that the war in Afghanistan is still far from over, let alone a clear victory being within the grasp of the NATO and the government of Afghanistan. For being on the path to a clear victory against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, militancy and terrorism in Afghanistan, many more years of sustained engagement in Afghanistan by the NATO, U.S. and their allies are required.
Given the slow pace of progress in today's Afghanistan, much more sacrifice in both blood and treasure is needed if Afghanistan is going to regain normalcy and be saved from going down the abyss yet again.
The international legitimacy of the war in Afghanistan, first crystallized as a result of the 9/11 tragedies, has been steadily eroding as the war has got yet tougher. NATO allies, emboldened by seeing the exasperation of their American steward, are counting the remaining days to make the go for the exit.
What further compounds the problems is the inability of the government of Afghanistan to emerge as a strong agent of change and positive reform in the society, economy and polity of the country. Over the past one decade, what desperately needed was a government that could empower communities and people and present itself as an all-embracing benefactor in whom people and communities can find solace and solidarity.
Instead, the government and the apparatus of governance have taken a passive approach in tackling the numerous problems and shortcomings of the country. The pro-active and combatant spirit that the government and its administrators should have had and exhibited is largely absent.
For now and as the current conditions prevail in the country, government and governance have gone back where they were half a century ago. In order to rise to the challenges that Afghanistan faces in the 21st century, the structures, practices and mindsets of decades ago are hardly the answer.
Moreover, the tumultuous regional environment, the hostilities of the neighbors and Afghanistan's own failure to shape regional developments to its favor have all ensured that Afghanistan remains volatile and unstable. In such a situation, talking about victory becomes an overestimation of the gains made and an underestimation of the challenges and sacrifices ahead.
For a while, even President Obama and officials in his government were of the opinion that "victory" is not the necessary goal in Afghanistan. In the exciting early days of negotiations and reconciliation over-hype, everyone thought that even the Taliban can be made to fall prey to the million dollar bribes of CIA and can be forced to lay down arms in exchange for cash and promises.
Victory against the Taliban and their allies, if the history is any witness, will remain elusive unless the very factors that fuel the war are stopped and the government of Afghanistan starts to take real and effective steps towards addressing the requirements of today's Afghanistan.
On the battlefields of South and East, the war is steadily metamorphosing into an Al-Qaeda inspired, Iraq-like insurgency in which car and truck bombings are the chosen instruments of the insurgents.
The influx of A-Qaeda militants into the tribal areas across the border means that Taliban and Haqqani group are finding an ever-growing reservoir of experienced Al-Qaeda instructors, who are ready to teach them the latest methods of guerrilla warfare and bomb-making. The distinguishing line between Taliban and A-Qaeda has never been so blurred as it has become today.
The coming years until 2014 are going to be decisive years for Afghanistan. These years will tell us whether or not Afghanistan will take effective steps towards reclaiming its destiny from the clutches of barbarians. Afghanistan's future for decades will hinge on how Afghanistan and its allies will handle the delicate situation.