The endgame is causing panic in official circles in Kabul.
March 26, 2013, 12:35 EST
America does everything on a grand scale. Consider this: to fight a hundred or so al-Qaeda members and the rag tag band of Afghan Taliban, the US has had to spend more than a trillion dollars in Afghanistan. Now that it is preparing to leave, it has to ship out $26 billion worth of equipment. To do so will cost a cool $6 billion.
Uncle Sam will be better off leaving this equipment there. Why not give it to Pakistan, America’s ally that has done so much heavy lifting for the US? But the Washington warlords do not consider Pakistan really an ally, merely a tool to realize its own objectives. Even these have changed over the years—from destroying the Taliban to preventing them from coming to power. The latest US policy is to get them into power, albeit with a caveat: to allow US troops a safe exit. How things have changed!
The one thing that terrifies the Americans is a repeat of the Saigon moment when US helicopters were ditched into the sea as American soldiers got the hell out of there. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on one’s point of view), Afghanistan is landlocked so there will be no ditching of helicopters into the sea from rooftops. That still does not solve the dilemma of getting all the military gear out of the country. Nor do Americans want to face the humiliating retreat of the Russians whose rusting tank shells and guns still dot the foreboding Afghan landscape. The Afghans can be real cruel.
To get a glimpse into what the US needs to do, here are a few simple statistics. The US has to sort 100,000 shipping containers and strip down nearly 30,000 vehicles scattered in hundreds of bases across Afghanistan's mountains and deserts. There isn’t much time till the end of 2014. “Our workload will at least double by the beginning of the fall," said Brigadier General Steve Shapiro, deputy commander of the unit overseeing the removal, sale or destruction of around $26bn worth of equipment, known to the military as a "retrograde", according to a report in the British daily, the Guardian on March 26.
The situation on the political front is equally fraught with landmines. Afghan President Hamid Karzai hit his usual tantrum about the Bagram airbase and insisted it must be handed over to his control. After much huffing and puffing, Karzai got his wish on Sunday when the US announced it was handing over the base. Yesterday (March 25), US Secretary of State John Kerry suddenly dropped into Kabul to massage Karzai’s injured pride. He seems to get irritated very quickly these days. Perhaps the thought that Americans would soon be gone and he would have little protection.
Karzai is lashing out at the Americans and Pakistan. He accuses both of making separate deals with the Taliban over his head. Poor Karzai; he has failed to realize that puppets cannot dictate to masters. The Americans are making their own deal with the Taliban. The Pakistanis are also facilitating this and if Karzai continues to be difficult, he should know that there are many other actors in Afghanistan. On March 24, Karzai’s spokesman announced that he would be visiting Doha at the invitation of the Qatari Emir to discuss the role of Taliban. Karzai insists that any deal with them must go through him, failing to realize that he is no longer relevant.
Perhaps Kerry wanted to ease Karzai’s pain by visiting him in Kabul. The endgame is causing panic in official circles in Kabul. Who can blame Karzai who will soon become a footnote to history? Greater figures than him have been discarded. The man with the karakool hat should be grateful that he lasted in power for 12 years. This is a long time in Afghanistan’s tortuous history.