THE recent meeting of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and senior politician Abdullah Abdullah with Joe Biden in the White House, as well as the US secretary of state questioning whether the Afghan Taliban are serious about the peace process, indicates that hectic efforts are afoot to chalk out a game plan for the post-US withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan.
The message from President Biden was clear: the “Afghans are going to have to decide their future”. However, the Americans have failed to understand Afghanistan, and their policies towards the country have not achieved positive results. Unsettling as it may be, it appears that the countdown to the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul has begun, and the Americans have yet to come to grips with the fact that after decades of involvement in Afghanistan, costing thousands of lives and billions of dollars, their strategy has failed.
The sad fact is that over the past few decades, there has never been a negotiated transfer of power in Afghanistan. In 1973, the king, Zahir Shah, was overthrown by his relative Daud Khan and from then onwards, power has been taken by parties that have seized Kabul by force. So while the Taliban should respond to peace overtures, expecting them to break with this ‘tradition’ is unrealistic. The Americans should see this, considering their lengthy involvement in Afghanistan, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, US blunders in Afghanistan go back to the Soviet invasion, when, fired up by Cold War rhetoric, Washington opposed the communist government in Kabul by playing the religion card and creating the ‘mujahideen’.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were willing partners in this project. Unfortunately, it was out of this milieu that Osama bin Laden emerged and the philosophy of transnational ‘jihad’ took a more solid form. The world is now paying the price for these experiments. After the Soviet withdrawal and in the midst of mujahideen infighting the Americans lost interest. And when the Taliban took power amidst this chaos, the US and other Western powers made the mistake of not recognising them, forcing them to turn to the likes of Bin Laden for funds. Things have come full circle, with the Taliban once more poised to take Kabul, despite the Mr Ghani’s claims that his forces have made “significant progress”.
Unless by way of a miracle all Afghan stakeholders agree to a peaceful transfer of power, the US, Pakistan and other regional states must prepare themselves for another Taliban government in Afghanistan. The international community should be willing to engage with them, provided they are given assurances that fundamental rights will be respected and extremist groups will not be given refuge. Without such pledges, a new security nightmare will await Pakistan and the rest of the world.
Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2021