Hard lessons not learnt

THE last 10 years have witnessed the economic cost of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan soar to around $4tr. Spending an additional $120bn in Afghanistan this year alone, America will be paying its bills for decades to come.

With Costs of War by the Eisenhower Study Group at Brown University estimating 236,000 lives were lost since these wars begun (the number includes at least 138,000 civilians) and that more will lose their lives in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan because of constant conflict among internal and international parties it appears no lessons have been learnt from the mistakes made.

Many Americans talked about the cost of civil liberties lost as the world condemned secret CIA-led renditions, disappearances and torture in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Guantanamo. American commanders on the ground talked about counterinsurgency strategies in Afghanistan, about protecting populations, saying that if killing insurgents and picking up terror suspects resulted in collateral damage that meant more insurgents recruited, and that was counterproductive to their war.

But few have talked about how ordinary Afghans will manage without security guarantees after the Americans pack up. Not only have violence and corruption boosted the Taliban’s popularity, widespread corruption, too, has dented the government’s credibility in Afghanistan, especially after the 2010 elections.

In October this year, Obama announced that US troops would leave Iraq at the end of the year; and with an exit timetable of 2014 for Afghanistan, it appears the Americans are cutting their losses with no stomach left for winning the battle of hearts and minds. That there hasn’t been a holistic assessment of the consequences of the costs of these two wars, including the human toll with tens of thousands dead confirms the above.

After 2004, as many or more civilians have died in Pakistan as in Afghanistan, reports Costs of War and there appears little concern for the human and economic costs in the next decade when it comes to civilian populations suffering from poverty, lack of security and displacement.

Working on strategic and political alliances is a prerequisite to regional peace, but looking into the consequences for those who fought these wars, for civilians who lost their homes and security, for democracy, for human rights and civil liberties, and for the economies of the affected countries that continue to sustain on budget deficits is critical for the future.

The resultant effects on civil liberties with increased electronic surveillance especially in America and Europe, and Muslims subjected to security checks at airports, fingerprinted, questioned, deported and some even held without charge is part of the cost of a conflict that has reshaped and pitted socio-political ideologies against each other and adversely altered the landscape of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

The US has held detainees with no access to lawyers in CIA-led prisons after 2001, and, according to Human Rights First, America had 25 detention facilities in Afghanistan holding as many as 50,000 prisoners in the first three years of this conflict.

Thousands of terror suspects, including Pakistanis, have apparently been rendered to secret ‘black sites’ or passed on to foreign countries with no human right standards and where torturing detainees is permissible, often done in collusion with the prisoner’s home government.

Hundreds of detainees imprisoned for years at Gitmo, Bagram and prisons across Iraq, Afghanistan, even Central Europe, Tunisia and Egypt have been released without charge over the years, initially locked away as a preventive measure.

This has enflamed anti-American sentiment among those communities and families where male breadwinners have been taken away, kept without trial and shackled in windowless cells, often in inhumane conditions. When talking about the psychological effects of war, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, former detainees say they are unable to get a job, have lost out on their education and carry emotional and physical scars. Not only have livelihoods been lost with war displacement, an
entire generation has been left without access to proper schooling and a normal family life.

A long-term legacy of the war on terror in Pakistan the CIA-led covert drone strikes in the northwest have increased since 2004. Clive Stafford Smith, director at Reprieve, a UK-based legal aid charity says that’s because “the administration has a take-no-prisoner policy so the alternative is increased drone attacks in Pakistan”.

Collateral damage is classified as war-related death, though legal experts assert drone attacks are illegal and the Obama administration that acts with impunity must explain the legal basis for such strikes when not restricted to situations of armed conflict.

According to the independent London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, America has launched a minimum of 291 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, with more than 168 children reportedly killed — 56 have died during Obama’s term in office. A New America Foundation study reports 70 drone strike deaths in 2011, with approximately 2,000 militants killed between 2004 and 2011.

According to the Pakistan Body Count, a website that claims to gather information from media reports, hospitals and other sources on the Internet, 35,600 Pakistani civilians were killed between 2004 and 2010. Because security forces do not allow journalists and aid workers access to conflict zones, or to embed frequently during military operations it is difficult to
investigate the exact number of dead or injured. “There is no governmental or military mechanism that systematically and publicly investigates or collects data on civilian casualties,” reports Civic, the Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict.

Ten years after the 2001 Bonn conference, history is repeating itself. Last month, Hamid Karzai asked for American security support and assistance to continue after 2014; Hillary Clinton reassured Afghan women that their political emancipation was intact; and India pledged greater development for Afghanistan. Questions pile up about why this opportunity for political rapprochement was not taken by all stakeholders at Bonn.

So as the region simmers, players affected by terrorism are so immune that until they learn to buy into the idea of fighting for peace, the younger generation of Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis and Americans will spew more violence, plundering their political and spiritual resources.

The writer is a senior assistant editor at the Herald.