If there is an overriding message from the Taliban attack on the United States Embassy and NATO’s headquarters in Kabul, it is that the tragedy in Afghanistan, scripted to a large extent by the Americans, is no nearer ending than it was two, five, or ten years ago. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan shrugged off Tuesday’s assault, which lasted 20 hours and left at least 11 Afghans dead, as “harassment rather than a direct attack.” He would. Over the last few months, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has made out that it has successfully diminished the Taliban’s fighting capacities. Such spin enables the U.S. to claim a victory of sorts as some 30,000 of its troops are pulled out of Afghanistan, in keeping with the withdrawal President Barack Obama has promised by 2014. In some areas, including Kabul, ISAF has handed over to Afghan security forces. But Tuesday’s attack, and two previous attacks on well-protected high-profile targets in the Afghan capital — the British Council in August and the Intercontinental Hotel in June — have exposed the extreme fragility of the country’s security. It strengthens the hands of those who want western troops to remain in Afghanistan. There are bound to be fresh doubts now about the other part of the U.S. strategy — talking to the Taliban, or some sections of it. The U.S. accusation that the attack was the work of the Pakistan-based Haqqani network has only underscored the enduring complexity of getting to peace in Afghanistan, a full decade after “Operation Enduring Freedom” was launched in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In these 10 years, the U.S.-led war has taken a horrific toll of civilian lives and welfare. In a report released in July, the United Nations estimated that the violence in the country claimed the lives of 1,462 non-combatants in the first six months of 2011. While the report attributed most of the deaths to “anti-government elements,” it held security forces responsible for 14 per cent of the deaths, with air strikes as the main killer. Even for a country that has known no peace for more than three decades, such high civilian casualties are difficult to absorb. Afghanistan’s double jeopardy is that the violence is certain to continue as long as western troops remain on its soil, but it has no mechanisms in place to ensure security and stability if and when those troops leave. The so-called end-game in anticipation of the American pull-out has only increased the bloodshed as the players — Afghan, regional, and international — compete to entrench themselves and outwit one another.