The war in Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history. After 11 years of occupation, the war with the Taliban, a war of attrition with an enemy that has no timetable and more importantly the will to keep fighting, still rages on. The problems in Afghanistan are numerous and complex, but the main issues are the impotency of the Afghan government and the lawlessness of the region between Pakistan and Afghanistan that is the Taliban’s stronghold.
After the swift defeat of the Taliban in 2001, the coalition hoped to create a functioning democracy in the country. Hamid Karzai was appointed as an interim leader and then eventually won the presidency in 2004. In the years since his election, Karzai has been unable to secure power in his country, and corruption has become rampant on every level.
Corruption is one of the primary problems facing the country right now. On the local level, officials won’t even provide services without bribes. The U.S. has tried to root out corruption to no avail, and as long it exists the government loses all legitimacy. Due to the corruption, the government lacks the power to control the country and govern effectively, an ability that is especially vital in a country where tribalism is the law of the land.
While battling corruption is essential to the health and influence of government, providing security for the people is the most important issue. The Taliban wasn’t truly defeated in 2001; they were merely pushed out of Kabul and into the lawless region of Waziristan. There the Taliban set up its stronghold, a place where its members recuperate from battle and fund their insurgency, largely through poppy trade. The US has used drones in the region to kill Taliban leaders, but it has only helped destabilize Pakistan by causing protests and extreme animosity toward the government.
Pakistan plays a key role, if not the most important role, in our exit strategy from Afghanistan. Pakistani intelligence has always seen the Taliban as an asset to consolidating power in Afghanistan. They fear that if they do not back the Taliban they could lose a foothold in Afghanistan, which will allow India to gain influence in the region.
The U.S. needs to put pressure on and convince the government of Pakistan that it is in their interest to allow the U.S. to wage war in the tribal region. We cannot rely on the Pakistan military to fight in the region; that was evident in 2004 when they waged war against the Taliban in the region and lost. In the end, they paid off the Taliban to lay down arms and sign a peace deal. If we cannot shut down the Taliban’s stronghold, we cannot win the war in Afghanistan.
To many Americans, the war in Afghanistan is a lost cause, and, in its current form, it is. The counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy put in place by General David Petraeus is ineffective without a functioning government and the shutting down of the Taliban’s stronghold. The current administration hopes trilateral peace talks with the Taliban, the U.S. and the Afghan government will help end this ongoing conflict, but they won’t. Negotiating with terrorists is not the answer, and neither is “cut and run.”
We need to double down in Afghanistan—increase special ops missions and predator attacks in the tribal region and beat the Taliban into submission. If we lose in Afghanistan, the Afghan government will crumble and the Taliban will soon be back in power. That will inevitably lead to further destabilizing of Pakistan, and neither the U.S. nor the world can afford to have a failed state in a country with nuclear weapons.