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Soviet Union got out of Afghanistan inside 10 years; US is struggling even after 17 years. Why

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Moscow, Feb 20: Amid all the noise in international affairs, February 15 saw a silent 30th anniversary of the erstwhile Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan after a decade-long occupation.

Soviet Union got out of Afghanistan inside 10 years; US is struggling even after 17 years. Why

It was during the height of the Cold War in December 1979 that Soviet troops had invaded Afghanistan to help the communist government there to fight the Muslim guerrillas (mujahideens) during the Afghan War (1978-82). This invasion was justified by the Brezhnev Doctrine whereby the USSR would interfere in the affairs of communist governments to strengthen communism to ensure that the West did not have an advantage.

In April 1978, Afghanistan's centrist government led by President Mohammad Daud Khan was toppled by left-wing military personnel led by Nur Mohammad Taraki. The power thereafter was shared by two Marxist-Leninist political groups - the People's Party and the Banner Party - both of which had emerged from the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.

The new government, which was an uneasy coalition, had little popular support and set up close ties with the USSR and decimated all opposition. It also started extensive land and social reforms that were opposed by the Muslim and anti-communist population and soon insurgency rose as well as the mujahideens (those who engage in jihad).

The government's internal problem as well as the uprisings saw Soviet military forces entering Afghanistan on December 24, 1979, and toppled the short-lived presidency of Hafizullah Amin. Babrak Karmal was installed in power as Afghanistan became a client state of the Soviets. Cold War foe United States backed the mujahideens, along with its allies Pakistan and China who also had a sour relation with the Soviets over ideological differences and had a border conflict in 1969.

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The Soviet Union had initially left the task of suppressing the rebellion to the Afghan forces but they were unsuccessful. The invaders then themselves tried to crush the insurgents but even though millions of Afghans fled to neighbouring Pakistan and China, the mujahideens succeeded in neutralising the Soviet attacks, like for example their air power, through use of counter devices supplied by Washington via Pakistan and other countries sympathetic to them.

The war soon turned into a quagmire, particularly for the USSR which was approaching its final days. In 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev's USSR signed an accord with the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan and decided to withdraw from Afghanistan and the process was completed on February 15, 1989.

US is today where SU was in 1979-89

Today, the then adversary of the Soviets - US - is in the same place. Following the terror attacks in New York on September 11, 2001, the US had hit out at Afghanistan to crush the masterminds but even after over 17 years, it hasn't succeeded to come out of the quagmire. The drama had started during the presidency of George W Bush, the 43rd incumbent of the White House.

Today, the 45th incumbent - Donald Trump - has completed half his tenure but yet the US is clueless about withdrawing from Afghanistan despite laying down deadlines.

In 2017, Trump committed more troops to the country and has blown hot and cold with Pakistan over the security situation in Afghanistan but nothing has changed on the ground.

Two regimes that came into power in Afghanistan since the US invasion under Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani have not been able to deliver and infighting and corruption have only gone up.

The idea of assigning the task of security to Afghanistan's local forces after training them has also not taken off so far even as the Taliban have recovered ground in the country. On the top of it, the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan has acquired several layers as countries like Russia have backed the Taliban to keep the Islamic State at bay.

The US has remained stuck in the Afghan quagmire for nearly twice the time the Soviets were and that has made Russia's media elated but one has to keep in mind the fact that the equation in the late 1980s was much more simplistic than it is in 2019.

Today's situation much more complicated than it was in 1979-89

In 1979-89, the world was witnessing a more black-and-white scenario in the fight between two ideological camps with other sides mostly playing supportive roles in either of the two superpowers' side.

But today, with the number of parties having stake in Afghanistan having multiplied (the country now is bordered by more countries that became free after the USSR's fall) and its internal players more divided, it is very difficult for the international community to find an easy solution in the country's messed-up affair.

The US is now even open to see talks being held with the Taliban which shows that it is gradually giving up on the exclusive option of military force.

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