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Between hope and despair

M. Ziauddin

For twenty long years, American led NATO occupied Afghanistan under the guise of peace, nation-building, democracy and strategic harmony. But having miserably failed in any of these challenging endeavors, the US very sensibly decided in February 2020 to stop what was seemingly turning into a ’forever’ war and entered into peace negoti- ations with the Taliban for troop withdrawal. But in this exercise as well the US seems to have bungled woefully. The twin-bomb carnage at the Kabul airport on Thursday seems to shaken the so-called transition process at its hinges. ISIS-Khorasan, the Islamic State’s Afghanistan and Pakistan arm, took responsibility for the attack.

The agreement signed between the US and the Taliban on February 29, 2020 comprises four parts: 1. Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individu- al against the security of the US and its allies;

2. Guarantees, enforcement mechanisms, and announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghan- istan; 3. Following the realization of the preceding two conditions the Taliban will start intra -Afghan negotiations with all Afghan sides; 4. A permanent and compre- hensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations. The participants of the intra-Af- ghan negotiations will discuss the date and modalities of a permanent and comprehen- sive ceasefire, including joint implementation mechanisms, which will be announced along with the agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan.

Taliban has styled itself as a political entity ingrained in the country’s peculiar geo-politi- cal culture. But the methods that it had employed for ruling Afghanistan during 1996-2001 and then the blatant resort, over the next 20 years, to the ruthless terror tactics while trying to win back the country it had lost in 2001 have won for it nothing but world-wide notoriety of being a terrorist organization.

It was, therefore, but natural for the Afghans who did not subscribe to the political ideolo- gy of the Taliban to be concerned about their future in a country now virtually under the control of the self-styled Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Therefore, the run on the Kabul airport all through the week since August 15 by Afghans who had cooperated with the occupying forces.

The new rulers will need a wide range of reconciliation efforts to settle-in for viable political governance. One cannot imagine law and order to come out of nowhere in a highly chaotic situation.

Nevertheless, for the last few days, Taliban leaders have been saying the right things on TV, on occasion even to female Afghan broadcasters. The Taliban claims it has changed. It insists it will honor the essential human rights of Afghans. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid vowed that the regime will respect women’s rights — though, he was careful to qualify, within the norms of sharia law.

The offensive that ended with the fall of Kabul on August 15 was started in May. The Taliban swept up as many as 50 beleaguered district centers. Sometimes the army and police ran, leaving arms and vehicles behind. Sometimes they agreed to hand the district over to the Taliban, to avoid bloodshed and in return for safe passage. Sometimes, they resisted.

Seemingly a spontaneous collapse is by no means unprecedented in Afghan history. Defeats in the provinces have often caused Afghan regimes to unravel quickly, as supporters switch sides or lay down their arms rather than fight to the death. Taliban’s initial rise to power, in the 1990s, its fall in 2001 and its return in recent weeks are examples of this phenomenon.

In Afghanistan, the traditional way of war often involves not confronting an enemy head-on but going to ground to fight a guerril- la war. The British, Soviets, and Ameri- cans—as well as the Taliban during their last stint in power—all found themselves on the receiving end of such guerrilla action.

The Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the Taliban’s first takeover in 1996, the U.S. intervention in 2001. Each time, violence returned before long, helped by Afghanistan’s internal fissures, rugged terrain, scarce resources, and troublesome neighbors. The same obstacles to stable rule persist today. Even if they seem well positioned to enforce order, the Taliban still face real structural challenges.

One way or another, the Taliban are likely to find governing Afghanistan to be far more difficult than conquering it.

The “forever war” may have been a disaster for the bombed, invaded and impoverished “Afghan people,” but to many inside the US it was an unmitigated success for the MICI- MATT (Military-Industrial-Counter-Intelli- gence-Media-Academia-Think Tank) complex. Anyone who bought stocks of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and the rest of that crowd is said to have made – literally – a killing.

The big business has used Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the US and Europe and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal, therefore, for big business was an endless war, not a successful war. This explains the collapse of 350,000 strong, well trained, well equipped Afghan Army in the face of Taliban’s terror filled guerrilla warfare

As the US withdrew from the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it ended Pakistan’s security and economic assistance because of its nuclear weapons program, something the US had exempted before. In fact during the 1990s Pakistan was perhaps the most sanctioned country after Libya. Pakistan went from being the most allied of allies to the most sanctioned of adversaries. That is why perhaps Pakistan threw its support to the Taliban when they started gaining ground in the 1990s.

The American disaster in Afghanistan that Mr. Biden’s impatience brought about is not a disaster just for the US. It has also been a huge boost for the Taliban, whose narrative now is that the believers, clad in the armor of the one true faith, have vanquished the infidels. That is bound to resonate around the world, and certainly next door in Pakistan where the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), which seeks the overthrow of their government — has certainly been emboldened.

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