The Middle East country of Afghanistan has long been in a tussle as various players have, due to different interests, sought to satisfy themselves. As the seasons have changed so have these interests. This paper aims at outlining a historical background of this crisis and also International Relations theories that may help explain the reason behind this prolonged Struggle.
Historical background to the Afghanistan conflict
Soviet invasion – 1979
In April 1978, there was a coup de tat of Afghanistan’s government that, thereafter, led to a power sharing pact between two political groups, the People’s (Khalq) Party and the Banner (Parcham) Party, who coalesced to form a government. This new government, though with little support of the population, forged a strong relationship with the Soviet Union and launched ruthless campaigns against all domestic opposition (Coll, 2001) a move that was bitterly resented by the devoted Muslim anticommunist population and would lead to uprisings against the government by tribal and urban groups of Islamic orientation, popularly known as ‘the Mujahedeen’.
In December 1978, a new bilateral treaty of cooperation and friendship with Afghanistan was signed in Moscow. This significantly increased the assistance of the Soviet military program to Afghanistan. However, relations between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union later became tense as Afghanistan’s leader, Hafizullah Amin, refused to take Soviet advice on how to run his government. The regime, which was largely dependent on Soviet military support and advice, began to collapse due to pressure from insurgents who were against it (Coll, 2001). In late December 1979, there was invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union troops, who went in with a pretext of supporting the government. They executed Amin and took over control in the country. This invasion continued until February 1989.
The Soviets invaded the country with an aim of propping up their new but faltering client state. However, a patronage of the mujahedeen by the United States caused their rebellion to grow and spread to all parts of the country. The Afghan army, which was charged with the responsibility of suppressing the rebellion, was weighed down by mass desertions causing it to be largely ineffective all through the war (Coll, 2001). The mujahedeen were politically fragmented into small independent groups with uncoordinated military efforts coupled with poor quality arms and combat organization. However, this situation gradually improved owing to increased experience and shipping of arms via Pakistan by the United States and other sympathetic Muslim countries. Muslim volunteers, from all over the world, would in addition join to boost the opposition (Scott, 2007).
The Afghan war, which by the late 1980s, was becoming a dilemma for the soviets, led to the signing of an accord between them, the United States and Afghanistan in which the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its’ troops. This withdrawal was completed in February 1989 with Afghanistan returning to its nonpartisan status.
The American response
Relations between the Soviet Union and the United States were complicated often with complex economic, political and ideological factors, which caused shifts between precautious cooperation and often bitter power rivalry. During the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union were allies against Germany with the U.S. providing the Soviets with huge quantities of artillery. The main aim, of these two countries, was to expand their sphere of ideological influence in Europe. The end of the war saw a growth of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe following Germany's defeat. This was not taken well by the western democracies, in particular the United States, which had started establishing itself both politically and economically (Scott, 2007). Therefore, the main reason that led to America supporting the mujahedeen insurgents, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was to counter the gains made by the soviets and thus ensure their influence did not grow.
The main objective of the U.S. during the early stages of the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan was basically to ensure that the Soviet exercise would be very costly. They forged relationships with intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. did not want direct involvement in the conflict and handed over the responsibility to Pakistan who then acted as a conduit (Coll, 2001). A change in the CIA’s regime led to steps to that saw the U.S. take a more aggressive position focused on ruining the Soviet’s reign. This step proved to be very fruitful and Soviets were unable to maintain a strong hold in Afghanistan. The war became far too costly for their sustenance and they decided to pull out. This decision to pull out, however, caught the US flat footed as it had not laid down a strategy regarding their next steps after the withdrawal a situation that remained so for quite a period of time.
Soviet withdrawal – 1989
The desertion of the Afghan army members would lead to the Soviets’ armies left to man very rough terrains- an exercise that was gruesome, unreasonably expensive and with a large number of casualties (Scott, 2007). The initially reluctant Soviet government later yielded to pressure and logic and sought for diplomatic interventions which led to their withdrawal.
The main undertaking during this withdrawal period was the participation of the Soviet forces in the Afghan government’s program of reconciliation of the nation. The period was characterized with the Soviets’ reduced military action and generally only supporting Afghan forces or reacting to Mujahedeen attacks. The Soviet Ministry of Defense issued an order to withdraw from Afghanistan on 7th April 1988, a week before the Geneva Accords were signed. It specified the steps that were to be followed towards withdrawal and controls that needed to be put in place for route security. The Soviet Union troops conducted their withdrawal in two phases.
Officially, the first phase of withdrawal began on 15th May 1988 and lasted through to 15th August. The initial major phase withdrew troops from Jalalabad, Ghazni, Gardez, Lashkargah and Kandahar cities. They also withdrew some combat support and combat service support units from Kabul. The final phase began in December 1988 and went on until 15th February 1989.
Rise of the Taliban – (1994 – 2001)
As earlier pointed out, insurgent groups referred to as, the mujahedeen were largely uncoordinated. After the Soviet Union pulled out of the conflict, the loose alignments in the mujahedeen led to a civil war in the country as the groups fought each other for control of major resources. This time round, the warfare was very sophisticated since the groups had good quality weapons. The groups were highly competitive and though they would eventually attempt to form allies, for example ‘the Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahedeen’, they were largely unable to form a united government. After a long period characterized with devastating fighting, an Islam theologian, going by the name Mohammed Omar- with the assistance of Pakistan, organized a new armed radical splinter group that was known as ‘the Taliban’ (Scott, 2007).
The Taliban, emerged in Kandahar province and were a popular movement against the, violence, corruption and crime of the warlords who divided Afghanistan after the end of the Soviet military occupation. The bulk of this group was drawn from Islamic religious schools, where the students were impregnated with extremely strict religious doctrines (Coll, 2001). They captured Kandahar, one of the largest cities in Afghanistan, within only a few weeks of their emergence and had captured 22 provinces by the year 1997. They went on to occupy approximately 90% of Afghanistan by the year 2001. They were able to achieve all this through an initial promise of rooting out corruption and later strengthened their grip by instillation of fear through their fearful extremist tactics.
September 11, 2001 and the American invasion
On 11th September 2011 there was a series of four terrorist attacks coordinated and instigated by the Islamist terrorist group, al-Qaeda, in New York City and Washington, District of Columbia. The attackers hijacked four passenger jets which they later crashed into the north and south towers of the world trade center and also the pentagon- the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense (Coll, 2001).
The al-Qaeda, a terrorist group, cited the United State’s support of Israel, presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and sanctions in Iraq as their main motivations for the attacks. The United States would then almost immediately respond to the attacks by initiating the War on Terror which involved the invasion of Afghanistan with an aim of toppling the Taliban regime- accused of harboring al-Qaeda (Scott, 2007). The then U.S. president, George W. Bush, gave the Taliban government an ultimatum of turning over Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leaders operating in the country or face attack. However, the Taliban retaliated with a demanded of evidence linking bin Laden to the September attacks a demand which the US refused to honor.
Subsequently, October 2001 saw US led forces invade Afghanistan to get rid of the Taliban administration. Heavy fighting ensued thereafter yielding to the capture of the capital city, Kabul. The remaining insurgents shifted to the rugged mountainous east of Afghanistan. In March 2002, they launched another operation in this region with the sole aim of destroying the remnants. Those who survived escaped to Pakistan and regrouped to continue with their offensive against the US forces (Scott, 2007). A series of firefights has been encountered between the two forces and has seen the increase of troops from the US and other sympathetic countries in a bid to deal with the insurgency. Peace talks between the Taliban and the US forces have also been initiated. There are plans for the US to leave the country by the end of 2014.
A Theoretical Approach to the Conflict
Scholars in the field of International Relations have come up with a number of theories which aim at explaining various occurrences in the arena. Here is an attempt to explain Afghanistan’s predicament based on these theories.
Class system theory
Class system theory views the causes of conflict in the context of material and economic aspects. In its view, these aspects are the main concerns in a conflict and must be the focus of the solution finding process (Daddow, 2009). This concept can be applied in the Afghan civil war that occurred after the Soviets withdrew from the country. The main feature in the traditional mujahedeen is that they waged a traditional type of jihad which, if conducted locally, is basically a contest over control of resources (Scott, 2007). In such a scenario, the ultimate power to rule was drawn upon military strength. The militia, in such armies is not paid, and therefore it has a right to loot the conquered population in order to reward their efforts. Since this is how the original mujahedeen who came to power conducted themselves, it can be said that the class theory has also been in play during the conflict. According to Coll (2001), they were focused on the country’s capital, Kabul, where the nation's wealth and other potential sources of financial support, were to be found . In the same context, the rising of the Taliban was distinguished with the pretext of rooting out corruption brought by Mujahedeen warlords, a promise which helped them to be widely accepted (Scott, 2007)
Deprivation of needs causes objections and leads to social conflict. This is directly linked to lack of participation in decisions and unequal distribution of resources (Levy & Thompson, 2010). The history of Afghanistan since the 1880s has exhibited this type of political exclusion which was a major cause of rising insurgents (Coll, 2001). The oppression caused the population to alienate their regime and increased their sympathy for the rebels, who were in turn strengthened and encouraged to irritate the regime even further (Levy & Thompson, 2010)
According to this theory, human nature is by no means benevolent but rather competitive and egocentric though not necessarily selfish. Also, sovereign states have the greatest influence on international relations. They are offensive and defensive a feat which leads to build ups of security dilemmas and ultimate instability (Daddow, 2009). States are always on the lookout for negative activities of its neighbors and take creative actions to counter these. Though international institutions sometimes dictate courses of action that concur with interests of states, non-compliance will often occur when these same institutions does not support their interests. The international systems therefore remain largely ineffective with the lack of centralized enforcement.
The competition of the soviets with the Islamists in Afghanistan brought about the Afghan war. Competition between mujahedeen groups ensured continued conflict after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union. Sovereign states have all along been involved in the conflict examples being the United States, Pakistan, Chechnya, and Russia- all with the aim of safeguarding their interests. Players in this system have had changing interests and these have to be addressed as they come up (Levy & Thompson, 2010). For instance the United States had interests against the Soviet Nations and thus supported the mujahedeen groups in their struggle. The evolution of these groups to form the Taliban groups came with terror threats and activities and the United had to get involved again this time fighting the Taliban.
Liberalism/trans-nationalism offers a different image of international relations is which contrasts realism. It implies that cooperation is the significant feature in international relations. Global encouragement of democratization and economic interdependence reduces the desire for of conflicts and on the contrary encourages long-term cooperation (Daddow, 2009). Trans-nationalists believe in the binding power of international legal obligations and the capabilities of these rules in regulation of the behavior of states (Levy & Thompson, 2010)
The cooperation of nations sympathetic to each other’s situations has been explicitly evident in the conflict. The soviets coming together in a bid to convert Afghanistan to one of their own and the counter-cooperation of Islamic countries and others including the US against Soviet alignments was a liberal move (Coll, 2001). The, more recent coalition of US, Britain, Canada, Germany in a bid to deal with the Taliban regime can also be termed liberal. The U.S. and other Western countries having realized the dangers of terrorism have taken actions to strengthen themselves by collective campaigns against terrorism or even independently by developing stronger antiterrorism legislation and military forces (Scott, 2007). All these are examples of how trans-nationalism has played a role in the continuation of the conflict.
Also influencing the conflict, though positively, is the enactment of International human rights laws meant to protect innocent civilians from the attacks on insurgents. The laws have brought about the practice of civilian protection practices among the troops that have invaded Afghanistan (Scott, 2007). The insurgents have, however, frequently used this leeway to camouflage themselves within the communities thus complicating the pacification process.
Classical theories are based on logic, science, technology and intelligent bureaucratic management to ensure success. How fast decisions are made and implemented is what determines the degree or likelihood of success. Postmodern theories of international relations tend to demonstrate the fact that causes of a conflict have a relationship between each other making it difficult to point out a certain cause leading to a conflict. In this manner, it kind of denounces the major influence of a certain player and seeks to prove how a single solution cannot really be effective on its own (Daddow, 2009).
The conflict in Afghanistan is not only due to Islamic influences or international invasion or class-based theories but rather a combination of all those factors and many more. These theories tend to move from these approaches to include a new wave of information sharing created by advances in technology. As a result, strategic operational conditions are challenged by rapidly changing realities. The people are guided not only by truths informed by traditional practices but a combination of these and new ones that emerge every minute. The restructuring of strategies that is required consequently becomes very complicated (Coll, 2001). This concept has been vividly observed in Afghanistan. Once the Taliban regime fell it became difficult to be able to define the new power stations. Its power shifted to influential individuals, influential tribesmen and warlords. The Afghan postmodern fighters neatly blended themselves with the population, changing their identifiable characteristics to be in unison of their surroundings (Scott, 2007). This has made it very difficult for the coalition forces to calm down the situation as it has been hard to differentiate the good from the bad. The different views by various factions of Islam and warlords, creates an additional burden to the peace makers who must come up with solutions that accommodate all or a majority of the groups in question.
Political Culture Theory
Politics is denoted as a discipline that is bent on influencing people civically or individually. It has great focus on relationships between people and also control of public policy. International relations practitioners have various views of political power which include its view as a measure of influence, as a means of attaining security and also as a definer of status to an individual or a country (Daddow, 2009). These views tend to include both military and economic power. Military organizations for example NATO, international organizations like the U.N , non-governmental organizations, the Roman Catholic Church, Al-Qaeda, or other institutions other than states can also acquire and exercise political power in international realms.
There have been a number of political players that have contributed to the continuation of the Afghan conflict. When the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) conducted a military coup in April 1978, it marked the start of a series of uprisings in the country. The Soviet Union again invaded the country in 1979 in a bid to replace the existing government with one that supported its ideologies (Scott, 2007). The United States which was against the Soviet Union supported the Mujahedeen insurgents in coordination with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. All these were actions focused on controlling public policy and resources. The neighboring country, Pakistan, is one party that has had a lot to do with the conflict. The country has a large powerful army with a heavy collection of artillery. Since Afghanistan is strategically positioned in the region, interests, especially with regards to oil pipelines, prompt Pakistan to be involved.
The U.N was, from early stages of the conflict, involved with trying to get solutions to the crisis. It arranged for dialogue between the main players though this was faced with a lot of hurdles due to conflicting interests (Levy & Thompson, 2010). When dialogue did not work well, the organization signed a directive to ensure the Soviet’s evacuation from Afghanistan by any means possible. This eventually led to the arming of the insurgents with missiles thus aggravating the conflict.
Human Nature/Cognitive Theory
Cognitive psychology studies how people perceive, think, remember speak and solve problems. In this field there are studies on how knowledge is formed when information comes into contact with that from previous experiences. It enables the researcher to know how different people would react to similar stimuli. It is an approach used to study the origin of norms and cultures within communities (Daddow, 2009). With such an understanding the formation of democratic peace solution is made possible. The use of such a bottom-up approach has been dimmed necessary after the failures of traditional peace building plans that are only focused on state building mechanisms (Levy & Thompson, 2010). Issues of culture and interethnic dialogue must be addressed for the achievement of sustainable peace.
The contributions made by this theory have for instance led to the quite successful development of informed counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. The goal has been to render the insurgents ineffective and non-influential through creation of strong and secure relations with the population of the nation. Studies on how the populace interacts with the insurgents, the government and non-governmental organizations and also those conducting the counter-insurgency activities have increased the strategy’s effectiveness (Price, 2013). However, the lack of a legitimate and competent government is termed as the main hurdle in the effectiveness of this strategy mainly with regard to the high levels of corruption in the general Afghan society (Levy & Thompson, 2010).
Peace Studies Theory
This refers to a multidisciplinary field of social science that defines mechanisms that lead to conflicts with a view of making human life desirable. Its interdisciplinary nature ensures the designing of solutions that satisfies all involved parties (Dugan, 1998). As such, there is inclusion of political, geographical, economical, psychological, historical, religious aspects of an issue as well as a variety of others.
The disintegration of the USSR and disengagement of the U.S. made it difficult for negotiations to create a peaceful environment in Afghanistan. Again, lack of cooperation from the key players of the civil war, which ensued after the fall of the communist regime, caused the situation to worsen (Levy & Thompson, 2010). Humanitarian aid, though widely recognized as a useful tool by peace theories, has also played a role in the continuation of the conflict. For instance, its application as a weapon for pressurizing the Taliban to change their women policies was largely linked to further deprivation of the conditions of these same women since the warring factions did not really care. Urgency in implementation of aid without proper planning has often led to further creation of tensions in the need communities (Levy & Thompson, 2010).
One major issue in the Middle East region that surrounds and includes Afghanistan is Oil transportation. Afghanistan is centrally positioned in the region near the Caspian Sea and it is therefore strategically positioned. The isolation of Central Asia due to being land locked, both geographically and politically poses a great problem. Countries in the region face difficult political challenges with unsettled wars and conflicts (Swanson, 2001). In addition, the region's pipeline network is a major obstacle in the technicalities of oil transportation. An economical option to build a pipeline to the Indian Ocean has only one possible route; Afghanistan. This is cited as an obvious reason why the country has been a center of attraction for many countries involved in the conflict. Unless an agreement is put in place between the interested parties the conflict is likely to be prolonged since dominance in this country would also mean dominance in the lucrative oil business (Chossudovsky, 2010).
Having gone through these theories, it is evident that there are a number of issues that have led to the continued strife in Afghanistan. The interrelation of these issues is evidently a major issue that mars the chance for the international relations community to easily come up with a lasting solution to the crisis.
Realism theories have been supported all over this document as various states are competing for control of regions, resources as well as ideologies like communism and Islam. On the other hand post-modernity has added to the problem by bringing about points of conflict that are increasingly unpredictable thus making the problem solving process a hectic one.
However problematic the cognitive approach might be, it seems to be the best way to counter the problem and in the long run since it is able to integrate into the peace making process derived from real experiences from the community.