Even when the US does get it right, it tends to do so for mostly the wrong reasons. The Afghan Taliban, according to a White House spokesperson, are not a terrorist organisation but an armed insurgency.
A belated, welcome realisation — and a correct one at that — on the part of the US government, but then there are the circumstances that triggered it.
The war in Afghanistan is over — at least the war that the US-led coalition was fighting since 2001 — and the fight against the Islamic State is picking up, so now it appears the time is right to do everything possible against the new enemy and try and get along with the old.
That the White House deputy spokesperson Eric Shultz was trying to explain why it was possible to do a prisoner swap with the Afghan Taliban but not the IS makes the matter all the more farcical.
The consequences though are anything but. It was only in the very recent past after all that the US turned a blind eye as it allies in the Middle East did everything they could to topple the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad — including supplying arms and creating the conditions that led to the rise of IS.
Now, the Americans are reluctant to talk about Mr Assad and everything is about IS. But before IS and Assad, there was Iraq. And before Iraq there was Afghanistan.
And before that there was Latin America. And before that there was some other region or country in which the US made disastrous miscalculations — and then left it to others to pick up the pieces.
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To be sure, the Afghan Taliban, whether designated an armed insurgency or terrorist organisation, have made some terrible decisions of their own — not least of which was the choice to align with and protect Al Qaeda on Afghan soil.
Ultimately, however, the Afghan Taliban have no ambitions outside the territory of Afghanistan, and are an inwards, nationalist movement that has little in common with the pan-Islamist ideology of groups such as Al Qaeda and the banned TTP.
While the US corrects its past mistakes — and makes new ones elsewhere — it only emphasises the need for the Afghan and Pakistani states to put their own regional house in order.
After outlasting the American will to fight and with an Afghan army and police system that is already reeling, the Afghan Taliban believe they have more reason than ever to keep the pressure on, go for outright victory and take Afghanistan back into the 1990s.
Where then is their incentive to negotiate with the Afghan government? Even some of the best-case scenarios describe a non-reconciled future as involving an Afghan government that cannot be toppled and an insurgency that cannot be defeated. The key, as ever, remains Pakistan: push the Afghan Taliban to negotiate and accept that a return to the 1990s is unacceptable.
Published in Dawn February 2nd , 2015