The once rampant gossips about a long-term/permanent American military presence in Afghanistan have now turned into a reality, with the government in Kabul saying that the imminent strategic deal with the U.S. will involve American access to military bases inside Afghanistan on a long-term footing. Afghanistan, certainly, has a lot to gain from a potential strategic deal with the U.S. on a long term basis.
However, one has to avoid viewing the situation in black and white, thus disregarding the colorful mosaic of factors with each having its own share in determining how the situation would evolve in future. In this perspective, the imminent Afghan-American strategic deal and the consequent long term American military presence in Afghanistan have to be assessed in light of the advantages and many other disadvantages that they imply for Afghanistan.
The many advantages of the deal should be weighed against its many other disadvantages. One should take a holistic view of the issue rather than respond with emotional, knee-jerk reactions.
The most important is the security guarantees that Afghanistan would obtain against the prospect of Taliban-like armed groups once again sweeping into power in Afghanistan. As part and parcel of the deal, it will, naturally, involve direct American involvement in sustaining, equipping and training of Afghan National Security Forces for many more years to come.
Any such deal would also mean American and the international community's long-term assistance to Afghanistan in financial, economic, military and civilian arenas. It cannot be denied that without long-term American and international assistance, Afghanistan will once again descend into chaos and anarchy; a disastrous repeat of the 1980's and '90's. The regional countries are in no position to be able to provide the kind of long-term aid and assistance that Afghanistan and its people desperately require.
Take, for example, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is the most important and comprehensive regional security organization in close proximity of Afghanistan. So far, the contribution made by this organization to the Afghanistan problem has been limited to mere talks and only acknowledging the necessity of the SCO rendering its "responsibilities" in Afghanistan.
No concrete actions are being taken towards actually rendering these "responsibilities". Countries in our region are too divided and the web of regional cooperation too fragmented for these countries to be of any meaningful contribution to the cause of keeping Afghanistan stable. This practically leaves Afghanistan with no option but to turn to the U.S. and the NATO for providing the kind of long-term contribution that involves tremendous sacrifice in both blood and treasure.
On the other hand, long-term American military presence in Afghanistan, to be honest with ourselves, would automatically guarantee that the Taliban insurgency and the proxy wars pitched by our neighbors will carry on indefinitely into the future.
As evident, the Taliban leadership and the very idea based on which the phenomenon of Taliban and jihad in Afghanistan have crystallized, would never accept what they see as an outright American occupation of Afghanistan. This has been so in the 19th century Afghanistan in the war against the British. It was so in the 20th century during the war against the soviets and there is no reason to believe that this time it will be any different.
Long-term American military presence would also mean that Afghanistan's neighbors, particularly Pakistan and Iran, will never be in a position to normalize their relations with Afghanistan. To be realistic, the U.S. pursues its own broader regional ambitions in the region of which Afghanistan is a part.
Co-opting the central Asian and South Asian countries into the American and NATO global system has for long been on the drawing boards of the NATO and the U.S. foreign/military policy. What further complicate problems are the sinister American designs against Pakistan, our neighbor to the south.
An eventual balkanization of Pakistan is on the agenda. This spells disaster for the region and the world at large. Is the government in Afghanistan going to remain a mere spectator when the American and NATO's regional designs and ambitions take off; especially when gradual disengagement from Afghanistan by the U.S. and the NATO is partly intended to mobilize resources to pursue other sets of regional ambitions.
Long-term American military presence in Afghanistan would mean that the festering wounds between Afghanistan and its neighbors would never heal. For Afghanistan, it will be extremely difficult to mend and expand its relations with its neighbors to the South, West and North, while American military presence works in direct contradiction to these goals.
Afghanistan has a fine line to balance on after it goes for a long-term, full-fledged military partnership with the U.S. and consequently the NATO. Advantages are many for Afghanistan as are the disadvantages. These were only some of the most prominent issues concerning Afghan-American long-term military partnership. But we should not disregard also the fact that how Afghanistan and its diplomatic apparatus will tackle Afghanistan's future relations with its neighbors and the world matters a lot in determining whether or not such a partnership will prove in Afghanistan's best interest.
Burhanuddin Rabbani's assassination comes at a time when the hopes of the Afghan nation, its government and the international community for peace have long been pinned on one objective: breaking open the paths of dialogue and reconciliation with the Taliban and the broader insurgency.
The untimely demise of the very man who was tasked to bring about this outcome, is a severe blow not only to this peace process but also to the confidence of the people and all those who know Afghanistan and its politics in some measure – that the peace process and the lofty goals of reconciliation and power-sharing with the Taliban is a mere pipedream; a figment of imagination born out of sheer opportunism and tragic misreading of Afghan politics, culture and the nature of the ongoing conflict.
The Taliban's assassination of the ex-president and the head of the Peace Council, is not only an attack on a person whom they loathed the most, but is also an attack on the very idea of pace and reconciliation pursued by the government of Afghanistan and the international community. The writing is on the wall – Taliban will never compromise on their positions as long as some of their main preconditions for peace are not met. They are a determined folk.