New Eastern Outlook
by Catherine Shakdam
Speaking from his holiday residence in Hawaii, President Obama told an expecting American nation that their boys were on their way home, 13 years after they set out to drive out terror from the face of the earth.
Only no one is coming home and radicalism remains very much alive. If anything the world stands a far worse place than a decade ago.
This victorious home-coming President Obama offered America for Christmas remains for all intents and purposes semantic. While no US troops will be “officially” engaging the enemy – a term it needs to be noted which has been loosely used by the Allies and include whatever and whoever opposes western powers’ will in the region – American soldiers will continue to be arrayed across Afghanistan for many years to come.
The United States is not divesting its military interests in Asia either, rather it is shifting all tactical responsibility to Afghanistan, making Kabul the sole bearer of military responsibility.
America’s war in Afghanistan is not over at all, it is merely entering a new tactical stage.
In truth, Uncle Sam was never going to just pack up and leave Afghanistan, it only needed to find a new framework within which deniability and responsibility could be used and abused as warm security blankets, shielding Washington from any unforeseen repercussions.
As of January 1st, US troops will operate under their new NATO moniker: Operation Resolute Support. NATO’s new role and scope of activities in Afghanistan have been defined in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), a military cooperation treaty which was signed by newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan, Ambassador Maurits Jochems on September 30, 2014, ahead of any US withdrawal.
If ever anyone was in doubt of the sheer level of instability Afghanistan has had to grapple with since the Pentagon declared war on terror January 1st was marked by a bloody Taliban attack in the Helmand province.
As officials gathered in Kabul to celebrate Afghanistan’s military emancipation from NATO, Taliban insurgents targeted a wedding party in Sangin – a city located south of the capital Kabul – The mortar attack claimed the lives of an estimated 29 people, including women and children.
At the same time Afghan President hailed NATO’s handover a national achievement, telling his audience, “I want to congratulate my people today. Afghan forces are now able to take full security responsibility in protecting their country’s soil and sovereignty. In the past 13 years, due to the problems in the region and the world, this security was a joint responsibility. Now it belongs only to Afghans. But we are not alone, we have our allies we must work with,” Taliban militants made sure to remind all what terrible threat they continue to pose the impoverished and war-torn nation.
At such a time when Afghanistan appears to be reclaiming control of its sovereignty, no longer the ward of the international community, experts have warned that such independence runs only skin deep.
“For all intents and purposes, Afghanistan remains a country under occupation”, said political analyst Aref Abu Hatem, adding, “Afghanistan is no closer from controlling its institutions than Washington is from defeating terror. We have inherited a disbanded mercenary army which the state cannot possibly maintain on its own. If anything NATO has locked Kabul into a financial trap to better assert control and defend its interests in the region.”
This concept that Afghanistan has remained but a pawn in the Great Game, a proxy which foreign powers have used and abused to their own benefit has been at the center of many debates over the years, a recurrent theme among analysts.
Former President Hamid Karzai, the very man whom has often been referred to as Washington’ strategic ally in Central Asia highlighted such sentiments in his farewell speech last September when he declared, “The war in Afghanistan is to the benefit of foreigners. But Afghans on both sides are the sacrificial lambs and victims of this war.”
Mohsen Kia, a political analyst based in Tehran believes that Karzai’s virulent critic of the United States actually encapsulate Afghan’s heavy resentment towards western powers. “President Karzai put his finger on an issue which has long troubled Afghanistan. Afghans do not feel in charge of their own fate. Rather they feel trapped by powers greater than own, which play by rules they can neither comprehend nor oppose,” he noted.
He added, “Just as Afghans felt trapped and suffocated under British and Russian rule, they have come to understand the United States as yet another imperialistic power. In all fairness Washington has done little to disperse such sentiments. Everything the U.S. has done over the past 13 years has been done in the Pentagon’s interests, not the Afghans … even though it was sold this way.”
While US officials have rebuked the idea that America has increasingly developed imperialistic traits over the decade, arguing instead that the United States has been but a positive influence on the world, forever democracy’s champion amid the rising radical tide, many have begged to differ.
On December 28, US President Obama emphasized America’s positive influence onto Afghanistan, stressing in a written statement, “Our courageous military and diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan — along with our NATO allies and coalition partners — have helped the Afghan people reclaim their communities, take the lead for their own security, hold historic elections and complete the first democratic transfer of power in their country’s history.”
But where US officials find collateral damages and civilian casualties justifiable in the light of their greater ambitions, others have seen the footprint of an neo-imperial power which suffers no challenge to its rule.
Back in March 2012, when US army staff sergeant Robert Bales was found guilty of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a murderous rampage, America manifested classic imperial behavior by refusing to subject its soldier to Afghan law, even though Bales had clearly operated beyond the scope of his military mandate
After all, one prime prerogative of all empires is that it is subject to no laws or accountability other than its own, even when it comes to crimes committed on other nations’ soil and against its people.
As an imperial power, the US believes that no other country – including those its invades and occupies – can ever impose accountability on Americans. There lies the very essence of imperialism and whether Washington cares to admit it or not, its officials have displayed all its attributes.
Catherine Shakdam is the Associate Director of the Beirut Center for Middle Eastern Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.