And while we see that the various illegal groups that existed within these countries still carry on, it is also a fact that the prosperity and existence of these countries is under threat.
With the timetables shared by US President Barack Obama regarding US withdrawals from both Iraq and Afghanistan, there is now a clear stance from the US of pulling out of both of these countries. While the US military was able to obtain some successful results in the fight against international terrorism -- the elimination of both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein being prime examples -- it should not be ignored that the military lost high numbers of soldiers while in these countries.
And while the presence of the US military in Iraq has had an enormous effect on sectarian and ethnic tensions, it has also brought much more violence to the scene in Afghanistan, as efforts have been made to distance the Taliban from the government. It can also be stated with certainty that Pakistan -- where of course the bin Laden operation took place -- has been very strongly affected by all of the US operations in Afghanistan.
While official statements have already been made accepting that many Pakistani soldiers were in fact killed in both drone and NATO air strikes over Pakistan, it is quite clear that there is great worry over security among the people of the region. With this in mind, the recent denial of permission to NATO to use supply routes through Pakistan for the ongoing operations in Afghanistan -- as well as the ongoing tension between the US and Iran -- have caused great strife in US-Pakistani relations. One of the clear results to emerge from the US interventions in both Afghanistan and Iraq has been the thought that “seismic events have been created over the already existing fault lines here, and true earthquake zones have been created over the sectarian-national groups.” In addition, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq formed in the wake of clashes between the Sunnis and the Shiites in that country, the false lines of Iraq, drawn up by Britain in 1932, which created three different provinces, and the governmental crisis in Iraq these days have all worked to draw regional actors to this area. This situation also looks set to affect the regional-sectarian groups in Afghanistan.
The need for the US to examine local elements
The hit-and-strike operations carried out by the US in its foreign policies aimed at Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran over the years have highlighted many problems this time around in the region. As seen in post-Gulf War Iraq and post-Cold War Afghanistan, clearly the US needs to examine much more closely and accurately the local elements in these places.
To wit, despite the fact that the current situation in Afghanistan is being guided from under the roof of the national parliament, it must not be forgotten that the individuals composing this parliament are in fact local tribal leaders. Just as US foreign policymakers do not see this fact in either Iraq or Afghanistan, they also failed to perceive the tribal factors in the situation unfolding in Libya, instead seeing the tribal elements as some sort of classes lacking identity.
It would not be incorrect to state that politics in Afghanistan these days are being shaped and guided by the opposition stance embraced by the Afghan people against the Karzai government. It can also be said that the pressures and struggles against the Karzai government through the tribal groups are affecting the tense political atmosphere there.
Alongside this, news of events such as the deaths of civilians as a result of NATO attacks, the burning of a Quran on a US base, and allegations that an American Apache pilot sang “American Pie” as he launched a missile attack on Afghan poppy farmers, whose video footage found its way to the Internet on July 6, have all worked to place the Karzai government in a difficult position. These events in recent days, which look to be single-sided efforts aimed to raise and then lower tensions, appear to be investments aimed at the general arena of re-building both education and border security.
With clashes involving the Taliban waning a bit in the wake of the death of bin Laden, one of the newer policies put into place by the Karzai government is increased security measures along the Tajik-Afghan border. In the meantime, promises made by foreign countries to assist Afghanistan financially (including from the US, Japan and Germany) are very important to the national agenda and to the re-making of the Afghan economy. There is also a positive light shed by the Pakistani efforts to educate and train militants who have left the Taliban; these efforts are helping the Afghan leadership to fight terrorism.
Another important development in recent days has been US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to the region. Clinton declared Afghanistan to be a “non-NATO member important partner” in the region. It is generally now thought that though progress in Afghanistan is very slow, it is persistent, and that the country is actually developing in ways above and beyond its own strengths. Clinton’s statement that “this is all seen as a declaration that Afghanistan is showing strong support for the future” will no doubt provide livelihood to Afghan-US relations.
While the Karzai government is pleased by US support, another important effect of Afghanistan achieving this status will be that the US will sell weapons and provide military training to this country post-2014. During these times, the US relations with Afghanistan are also dominated in an important sense by the issues falling under the category of the “economy.” And just as Karzai -- who is not responding on the level desired when it comes to economic reforms -- may well lose legitimacy in the coming months in Afghanistan, this could lead to a return to the type of chaos seen pre-2004.
*Emrah Usta is an İstanbul-based Political Analyst and op-ed writer. He can be followed on Twitter: @Emr_Usta