President Obama’s nocturnal visit to Kabul on May 1 made this evident. The fact that his visit occurred at night speaks volumes about the US failure in Afghanistan, with or without the proposed significant number of US personnel -- CIA, special ops, black ops, assassination squads, drone assisting personnel -- that will be allowed to remain in Afghanistan even after the projected withdrawal of US combat troops at the end of 2014, as long as 2024, as stipulated in the Strategic Partner Agreement (SPA) Obama signed with the Hamid Karzai government.
The proposed SPA is strikingly similar to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) agreed to by the US and Iraq in 2008 but which the Nouri al-Maliki government refused to sign. The full, or even partial, implementation of the SPA will most likely have the same fate.
The reasons for the failure of the SOFA and the likely failure of the SPA are also clear. Prime Minister Maliki’s State of Law government did not want US combat troops in Iraq any longer, which would hinder his ability to consolidate his power over his Sunni Arab and Kurdish (Sunni) opposition in the north of the country. Continued US combat presence would also impede Maliki from consolidating his Shi’a-led government from dominating the drilling, selling and marketing of Iraq’s abundant oil and gas resources. Oil production in the Shi’a dominated portion of Iraq is expected to reach 4 million barrels a day by the year 2015. The Maliki government thought that the presence of US combat troops would increase Sunni, Arab and Kurdish demands for sharing funds gained from the selling and marketing of oil and gas.
From May 2003 to the end of 2009, the US spent $19 billion and the Iraq government $16.5 billion on training, equipment, weapons systems and pay for Iraq’s armed forces. By May 2012 the result of these expenditures, and the billions spent from the end of 2009 to May 2012, is clear. The Maliki government is almost as authoritarian as the regime of Saddam Hussein, which the US deemed so evil that is was necessary to topple it, invade and occupy the country, which led to a decade-long war.
Afghanistan most likely to face same fate
It is obvious that the same fate awaits Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been dominated and ruled by the Pashtun peoples from its creation in 1885. The Pashtun comprise about 12 million of Afghanistan’s 30 million population. The other two major population groups are Tajiks, comprising an estimated 8 million people and Uzbeks, at about 3 million. But the Pashtun in Afghanistan are supported by the 28 million Pashtun in Pakistan. Both the Pashtun in Afghanistan and in Pakistan are in turn supported by the Pakistan government, which thinks that its ability to project its geopolitical power into Central Asia and to remain a viable globally geostrategic country depends on good relations with the Pashtun peoples.
But dominance of Afghanistan by Pashtun and the Taliban, who are largely Pashtun, will be delayed if the SPA that Obama signed with Karzai is fully implemented. Thirty-three years of war, including a decade against the USSR and a decade against the US, has hardened the nationalism of the Pashtun and the militancy of the Taliban. It is unlikely that Pashtun and Taliban leaders, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan, will permit a strong role for the Tajiks or the Uzbeks in Kabul. Rather the Tajiks and Uzbeks will assume positions more like the marginalized Sunni Arabs in Iraq or, like the Kurds, compelled to try and achieve an independent state.
It also seems likely that Afghanistan, like Iraq, with follow the authoritarian route taken by the Shi’a-led, US-tolerated regime in Iraq. Also, like Iraq, it is likely that Afghanistan, fueled by the billions of dollars that the US has already spent on building the Afghan army, and the $4 billion a year recommended in the SPA, will further facilitate the establishment of an authoritarian regime in Afghanistan -- let us hope that it will not be one and facilitates or condones terrorism.
*Robert Olson is a Middle East analyst based in Lexington, Kentucky.