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Be warned: Aghanistan could go down the same path as Iraq

Date

Amin Saikal

Syrian refugees streaming across the border into Jordan.

Syrian refugees streaming across the border into Jordan. Photo: AFP/UNHCR

The Middle East and its wider eastern environs are in the grip of multiple humanitarian and geopolitical crises. The entire region from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria to Palestine and Libya is in the grip of multiple humanitarian and geopolitical crisis. It is shattered by more violence and long-term structural instability than usual, perhaps not seen since the end of World War II. More specifically, the declaration of the 'Islamic State'  over vast swaths of territories in Iraq and Syria and the dangerous electoral dispute in Afghanistan, have stunned the regional and international actors.

The US and its allies, including Australia, have now resorted to measures that were unthinkable a few months ago. They have sought to coordinate what is called a 'non-combat humanitarian military assault' on IS, to rethink their policy of no direct military intervention in Syria, to re-evaluate their troop drawdown from Afghanistan, by the end of 2014, to beef up their anti-terrorism laws and to monitor closely the Muslim segment of their population.

 Intelligence failures and the rise of IS has once again embarrassed the West and revealed their poor understanding of the complexities of the situation on the ground. As President Obama has admitted, they now have no clear strategy about how to deal with the Iraqi and Afghan situation, in which the US has invested so much in blood and money. Not to speak of other regional crises, the Iraqi and Afghan fiascos have been in the making for some time.

In the case of Iraq, it goes back to the 2003 US-led invasion of the country. The US destruction of the Iraqi state along with that of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and Washington's poor understanding of the Iraqi and regional complexities and its failure to have any viable plan for a stable post-invasion order, generated a massive political and strategic vacuum in the country. In a highly socially divided Iraq, various traditionally hostile societal groups found it opportune and necessary to contest one another for filling the vacuum at the cost of each other and the invading forces. The US military exit by the end of 2011, which did not achieve any of its original objectives, left Iraq with no foundations for enduring stability and security. This situation, together with regional sectarian/geopolitical rivalries and the faltering Western policy approach to the Syrian crisis, ultimately helped a force like the IS to consolidate from 2010. As brutal as it is, IS has now secured a resourceful Sunni Arab sectarian and territorial base, which has attracted like-minded Muslim extremists from around the world to fight for IS.

The IS now cannot easily be eliminated by mere air strikes, as the US has enacted. The US and its NATO and non-NATO allies have not been able to contain and defeat the Taliban and their affiliates through direct combat operations in Afghanistan. One wonders what has persuaded them that they can wipe out IS through aerial bombardment and assistance from the demoralised and sectarian forces of Iraq's dysfunctional government alone. Whatever the nature and mode of US-led operations, they will entail blowbacks, as has been the case in the past. Their stress on the humanitarian aspect of their operations may not wash well with all those Muslims who view them as part of the usual Western double standards: war against IS, but no defence of the Palestinians under Israel's devastating fire power.

Even if the US and its allies succeed against IS, it will not necessarily mean a more stable Iraq or region. The conditions across the area are highly conducive for the emergence of another group to replace IS, and for enforcing the position of the existing ones, ranging from Afghan and Pakistan Taliban to al-Qaeda.

Afghanistan has the potential to go down the same path as Iraq. The disputed presidential election results fatally threaten the undoing of the country. After 13 years of US-led intervention at high human and material costs for the Afghan people and foreign forces, Afghanistan remains mired, similar to Iraq, in instability, insecurity and corruption. It lacks the foundations for a smooth transfer of power from one person to another through a clean and credible presidential election. The extent of fraud in the recent presidential run-off between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani is so astronomical that irrespective of which one is eventually declared the winner, he will not have the necessary basis for a stable government and a viable political order – all to the delight of the Taliban-led insurgents and their Pakistani backers. The Taliban have now indicated that they are considering the option of making a common cause with IS.

The US and its allies are badly in need of viable Middle East/West Asia strategy – a strategy that could help generate the kind of conditions in region which will prevent the rise of a group like IS and the Taliban and enable the people of the region to free themselves from dictatorial rules that have stifled their societies for too long. The use of military force may work up to a point, but beyond that what is need is a comprehensive, selfless and viable political strategy to address those underlying causes of extremism that defy military solution.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science, Public Policy Fellow and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, and author of Zone of Crisis: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq (2014).

The Middle East and its wider eastern environs are in the grip of multiple humanitarian and geopolitical crises. The entire region from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria to Palestine and Libya is in the grip of multiple humanitarian and geopolitical crisis. It is shattered by more violence and long-term structural instability than usual, perhaps not seen since the end of World War II. More specifically, the declaration of the 'Islamic State' (IS) over vast swaths of territories in Iraq and Syria and the dangerous electoral dispute in Afghanistan, have stunned the regional and international actors.

 

The US and its allies, including Australia have now resorted to measures which were unthinkable a few months ago. They have sought to coordinate what is called a 'non-combat humanitarian military assault' on IS, to rethink their policy of no direct military intervention in Syria, to re-evaluate their troop drawdown from Afghanistan, by the end of 2014, to beef up their anti-terrorism laws and to monitor closely the Muslim segment of their population.

 

The failure of their intelligence failures about the rise of IS has once again embarrassed the West and revealed their poor understanding of the complexities of the situation on the ground. As President Obama has admitted, they now have no clear strategy about how to deal with the Iraqi and Afghan situation, in which the US has invested so much in blood and money. Not to speak of other regional crises, the Iraqi and Afghan fiascos have been in the making for some time.

 

In the case of Iraq, it goes back to the 2003 US-led invasion of the country. The US destruction of the Iraqi state along with that of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and Washington's poor understanding of the Iraqi and regional complexities and its failure to have any viable plan for a stable post-invasion order, generated a massive political and strategic vacuum in the country. In a highly socially divided Iraq, various traditionally hostile societal groups found it opportune and necessary to contest one another for filling the vacuum at the cost of each other and the invading forces. The US military exit by the end of 2011, which did not achieve any of its original objectives, left Iraq with no foundations for enduring stability and security. This situation, together with regional sectarian/geopolitical rivalries and the faltering Western policy approach to the Syrian crisis, ultimately helped a force like the IS to consolidate from 2010. As brutal as it is, IS has now secured a resourceful Sunni Arab sectarian and territorial base, which has attracted like-minded Muslim extremists from around the world to fight for IS.

 

The IS now cannot easily be eliminated by mere air strikes, as the US has enacted. The US and its NATO and non-NATO allies have not been able to contain and defeat the Taliban and their affiliates through direct combat operations in Afghanistan. One wonders what has persuaded them that they can wipe out IS through aerial bombardment and assistance from the demoralized and sectarian forces of Iraq's dysfunctional government alone. Whatever the nature and mode of US-led operations, they will entail blowbacks, as has been the case in the past. Their stress on the humanitarian aspect of their operations may not wash well with all those Muslims who view them as part of the usual Western double standards: war against IS, but no defence of the Palestinians under Israel's devastating fire power.

 

Even if the US and its allies succeed against IS, it will not necessarily mean a more stable Iraq or region. The conditions across the area are highly conducive for the emergence of another group to replace IS, and for enforcing the position of the existing ones, ranging from Afghan and Pakistan Taliban to Al Qaeda.

 

Afghanistan has the potential to go down the same path as Iraq. The disputed presidential election results fatally threaten the undoing of the country. After 13 years of US-led intervention at high human and material costs for the Afghan people and foreign forces, Afghanistan remains mired, similar to Iraq, in instability, insecurity and corruption. It lacks the foundations for a smooth transfer of power from one person to another through a clean and credible presidential election. The extent of fraud in the recent presidential run-off between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani is so astronomical that irrespective of which one is eventually declared the winner, he will not have the necessary basis for a stable government and a viable political order – all to the delight of the Taliban-led insurgents and their Pakistani backers. The Taliban have now indicated that they are considering the option of making a common cause with IS.

 

The US and its allies are badly in need of viable Middle East/West Asia strategy – a strategy that could help generate the kind of conditions in region which will prevent the rise of a group like IS and the Taliban and enable the people of the region to free themselves from dictatorial rules that have stifled their societies for too long. The use of military force may work up to a point, but beyond that what is need is a comprehensive, selfless and viable political strategy to address those underlying causes of extremism that defy military solution.

 

Amin Saikal is Professor of Political Science, Public Policy Fellow and Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, and author of Zone of Crisis: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq (2014).

 

The Middle East and its wider eastern environs are in the grip of multiple humanitarian and geopolitical crises. The entire region from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria to Palestine and Libya is in the grip of multiple humanitarian and geopolitical crisis. It is shattered by more violence and long-term structural instability than usual, perhaps not seen since the end of World War II. More specifically, the declaration of the 'Islamic State' (IS) over vast swaths of territories in Iraq and Syria and the dangerous electoral dispute in Afghanistan, have stunned the regional and international actors.

 

The US and its allies, including Australia have now resorted to measures which were unthinkable a few months ago. They have sought to coordinate what is called a 'non-combat humanitarian military assault' on IS, to rethink their policy of no direct military intervention in Syria, to re-evaluate their troop drawdown from Afghanistan, by the end of 2014, to beef up their anti-terrorism laws and to monitor closely the Muslim segment of their population.

 

The failure of their intelligence failures about the rise of IS has once again embarrassed the West and revealed their poor understanding of the complexities of the situation on the ground. As President Obama has admitted, they now have no clear strategy about how to deal with the Iraqi and Afghan situation, in which the US has invested so much in blood and money. Not to speak of other regional crises, the Iraqi and Afghan fiascos have been in the making for some time.

 

In the case of Iraq, it goes back to the 2003 US-led invasion of the country. The US destruction of the Iraqi state along with that of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and Washington's poor understanding of the Iraqi and regional complexities and its failure to have any viable plan for a stable post-invasion order, generated a massive political and strategic vacuum in the country. In a highly socially divided Iraq, various traditionally hostile societal groups found it opportune and necessary to contest one another for filling the vacuum at the cost of each other and the invading forces. The US military exit by the end of 2011, which did not achieve any of its original objectives, left Iraq with no foundations for enduring stability and security. This situation, together with regional sectarian/geopolitical rivalries and the faltering Western policy approach to the Syrian crisis, ultimately helped a force like the IS to consolidate from 2010. As brutal as it is, IS has now secured a resourceful Sunni Arab sectarian and territorial base, which has attracted like-minded Muslim extremists from around the world to fight for IS.

 

The IS now cannot easily be eliminated by mere air strikes, as the US has enacted. The US and its NATO and non-NATO allies have not been able to contain and defeat the Taliban and their affiliates through direct combat operations in Afghanistan. One wonders what has persuaded them that they can wipe out IS through aerial bombardment and assistance from the demoralized and sectarian forces of Iraq's dysfunctional government alone. Whatever the nature and mode of US-led operations, they will entail blowbacks, as has been the case in the past. Their stress on the humanitarian aspect of their operations may not wash well with all those Muslims who view them as part of the usual Western double standards: war against IS, but no defence of the Palestinians under Israel's devastating fire power.

 

Even if the US and its allies succeed against IS, it will not necessarily mean a more stable Iraq or region. The conditions across the area are highly conducive for the emergence of another group to replace IS, and for enforcing the position of the existing ones, ranging from Afghan and Pakistan Taliban to Al Qaeda.

 

Afghanistan has the potential to go down the same path as Iraq. The disputed presidential election results fatally threaten the undoing of the country. After 13 years of US-led intervention at high human and material costs for the Afghan people and foreign forces, Afghanistan remains mired, similar to Iraq, in instability, insecurity and corruption. It lacks the foundations for a smooth transfer of power from one person to another through a clean and credible presidential election. The extent of fraud in the recent presidential run-off between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani is so astronomical that irrespective of which one is eventually declared the winner, he will not have the necessary basis for a stable government and a viable political order – all to the delight of the Taliban-led insurgents and their Pakistani backers. The Taliban have now indicated that they are considering the option of making a common cause with IS.

 

The US and its allies are badly in need of viable Middle East/West Asia strategy – a strategy that could help generate the kind of conditions in region which will prevent the rise of a group like IS and the Taliban and enable the people of the region to free themselves from dictatorial rules that have stifled their societies for too long. The use of military force may work up to a point, but beyond that what is need is a comprehensive, selfless and viable political strategy to address those underlying causes of extremism that defy military solution.

 

Amin Saikal is Professor of Political Science, Public Policy Fellow and Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, and author of Zone of Crisis: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq (2014).

 

The Middle East and its wider eastern environs are in the grip of multiple humanitarian and geopolitical crises. The entire region from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria to Palestine and Libya is in the grip of multiple humanitarian and geopolitical crisis. It is shattered by more violence and long-term structural instability than usual, perhaps not seen since the end of World War II. More specifically, the declaration of the 'Islamic State' (IS) over vast swaths of territories in Iraq and Syria and the dangerous electoral dispute in Afghanistan, have stunned the regional and international actors.

 

The US and its allies, including Australia have now resorted to measures which were unthinkable a few months ago. They have sought to coordinate what is called a 'non-combat humanitarian military assault' on IS, to rethink their policy of no direct military intervention in Syria, to re-evaluate their troop drawdown from Afghanistan, by the end of 2014, to beef up their anti-terrorism laws and to monitor closely the Muslim segment of their population.

 

The failure of their intelligence failures about the rise of IS has once again embarrassed the West and revealed their poor understanding of the complexities of the situation on the ground. As President Obama has admitted, they now have no clear strategy about how to deal with the Iraqi and Afghan situation, in which the US has invested so much in blood and money. Not to speak of other regional crises, the Iraqi and Afghan fiascos have been in the making for some time.

 

In the case of Iraq, it goes back to the 2003 US-led invasion of the country. The US destruction of the Iraqi state along with that of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and Washington's poor understanding of the Iraqi and regional complexities and its failure to have any viable plan for a stable post-invasion order, generated a massive political and strategic vacuum in the country. In a highly socially divided Iraq, various traditionally hostile societal groups found it opportune and necessary to contest one another for filling the vacuum at the cost of each other and the invading forces. The US military exit by the end of 2011, which did not achieve any of its original objectives, left Iraq with no foundations for enduring stability and security. This situation, together with regional sectarian/geopolitical rivalries and the faltering Western policy approach to the Syrian crisis, ultimately helped a force like the IS to consolidate from 2010. As brutal as it is, IS has now secured a resourceful Sunni Arab sectarian and territorial base, which has attracted likeminded Muslim extremists from around the world to fight for IS.

 

The IS now cannot easily be eliminated by mere air strikes, as the US has enacted. The US and its NATO and non-NATO allies have not been able to contain and defeat the Taliban and their affiliates through direct combat operations in Afghanistan. One wonders what has persuaded them that they can wipe out IS through aerial bombardment and assistance from the demoralized and sectarian forces of Iraq's dysfunctional government alone. Whatever the nature and mode of US-led operations, they will entail blowbacks, as has been the case in the past. Their stress on the humanitarian aspect of their operations may not wash well with all those Muslims who view them as part of the usual Western double standards: war against IS, but no defence of the Palestinians under Israel's devastating fire power.

 

Even if the US and its allies succeed against IS, it will not necessarily mean a more stable Iraq or region. The conditions across the area are highly conducive for the emergence of another group to replace IS, and for enforcing the position of the existing ones, ranging from Afghan and Pakistan Taliban to Al Qaeda.

 

Afghanistan has the potential to go down the same path as Iraq. The disputed presidential election results fatally threaten the undoing of the country. After 13 years of US-led intervention at high human and material costs for the Afghan people and foreign forces, Afghanistan remains mired, similar to Iraq, in instability, insecurity and corruption. It lacks the foundations for a smooth transfer of power from one person to another through a clean and credible presidential election. The extent of fraud in the recent presidential run-off between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani is so astronomical that irrespective of which one is eventually declared the winner, he will not have the necessary basis for a stable government and a viable political order – all to the delight of the Taliban-led insurgents and their Pakistani backers. The Taliban have now indicated that they are considering the option of making a common cause with IS.

 

The US and its allies are badly in need of viable Middle East/West Asia strategy – a strategy that could help generate the kind of conditions in region which will prevent the rise of a group like IS and the Taliban and enable the people of the region to free themselves from dictatorial rules that have stifled their societies for too long. The use of military force may work up to a point, but beyond that what is need is a comprehensive, selfless and viable political strategy to address those underlying causes of extremism that defy military solution.

 

Amin Saikal is Professor of Political Science, Public Policy Fellow and Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, and author of Zone of Crisis: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq (2014).

 

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