The United States has buried the past and seems to have forgotten its war against terror that started in the wake of the 9/11 attack on America. For the purpose of counterterrorism, the US wants to engage with the Taliban that unleashed terror and violence against the people to capture power and formed a government in Afghanistan along with other terrorist outfits like the Haqqani network using weapons of mass destruction left behind so insanely by the US and its allies.
Look at the travesty – the Taliban Government will be inaugurated on 9/11.
With the Taliban in power in Afghanistan, the US has changed track. Now the US will not be engaged in any war against terror. The war has ended and there are no enemies. Now the buzzword is counterterrorism. The spirit – when it comes to confronting terror and fighting terrorists and those harboring the terrorists – has mellowed down and the (US) approach now is outright sheepish.
Of course, one would be totally off the mark if one were to give the US any credit for acting against the harbourers of terrorists all these years because it remained in the forefront when it came to funding and arming Pakistan to the hilt and using it as a US colony to train, arm and build an army of jihadis and terrorists to fight the Russians when they were in Afghanistan before 9/11. The trend continued even long after the Russians left Afghanistan.
Look at the language of diplomacy they – the Americans – are using after The Taliban have created a new interim government that includes Sirajuddin Haqqani as Afghanistan’s interior minister. As leader of the Haqqani network, known for its al-Qaeda links, he is on the FBI’s most wanted list and is a designated global terrorist. On the surface, the Taliban is opposed to the Islamic State of Khorasan but the knowledgeable are talking of the links between the Haqqani network and ISIS-K. The link between the Haqqani group and Al-Qaeda is also too well known and thats where lies the convergence among terror groups that are now in power in Afghanistan.
The US is neither naive nor ignorant not to understand the Jihadi ideology and goals. The way the Americans and partners left Afghanistan after a series of Doha talks can be summed up as nothing else but as capitulation. The Americans chose to leave the hapless citizens of Afghanistan at their own mercy after promising them the moon and this is one of the darkest chapters in human history. The world has watched the horror unfold – we have seen how people wanting to flee from the Taliban were clinging to a US Boeing C-17 on the Kabul runway. We have seen women being lashed, beaten and even killed by the Talibani fighters only because they were women. But all this has failed to stir the sensibilities of those in power in the US.
On 8 September, coinciding with the announcement of an interim government in Afghanistan, and following the US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken’s talks with allies and partners on Afghanistan, the readout by the US State Department spokesperson said that the US will continue to press for an orderly transition of power to an inclusive government with broad support, especially women and minorities.
Blinken has gone on record seeking unity among nations to hold the Taliban accountable on counterterrorism while stating that every diplomatic, economic, political, and assistance and tool will be used to uphold the basic rights of all Afghans; support continued humanitarian access (obviously with the support of Pakistan, which has all along been and still remains a safe haven and breeding ground for terrorists) to the country (Afghanistan); and ensure the Taliban honors its commitments (what about the commitments at Doha that were blown to bits when the Taliban unleashed terror and violence against the people of Afghanistan).
On leaving Afghanistan, the way it did, the US in an effort to salvage its image, now at the rock bottom, tells the world that its a mission brought Osama bin Laden to a just end along with many of his Al-Qaida co-conspirators. The US also reminds all about the cost in terms of 2,461 U.S. service members and civilians killed and more than 20,000 who were injured, including 13 U.S. service members who were killed in the second fortnight of August by an ISIS-K suicide bomber.
Is it only failure of the US intelligence to forwarn about the collapse of the Afghan military and the opening up of Kabul to the Taliban within a matter of 24-hours or there is more to it …? The world expects the knowledgeable to throw light on this…. At this stage one cannot help but throw up this question.
The US President and others in the US administration have gone on record saying that they have succeded in insulating their country from terrorist threat like necver before. Well thats too self-centred a position to be taken by a nation that shouts from rooftops about its might, both military and ecomomic, and pretends to be the saviour of democracy and protector of human rights across the world. The terrorists in Pakistan and their operatives and sleeper cells in India are bound to be emboldened with the Taliban now in power in Afghanistan.
The US has left a gaping gap by abandoning the war against terror. For a country like India which is busy restoring normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, a new war begins. If India joins the chorus with the US, it would only end up turning a blind eye to the new dangers and threats the country now faces due to the abdication of the role, the US undertook 20 years ago. In this abdication the US media too has chosen to become a partner: For the New York Times, those who have usurped power in Afghanistan are “Stalwarts” (Taliban Appoint Stalwarts to Top Government Posts). As per the Cambridge dictionary, “stalwart” means “loyal, faithful and dependable”.
Doha (Qatar): After decades of hostility and mistrust, the United States and Taliban on Saturday signed a historic agreement here to pave the way for return of the US forces from Afghanistan.
The Indian Foreign Secretary attended the signing ceremony at Sheraton Hotel here.
On this occasion, US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo said: “We will closely watch the Taliban’s compliance with their commitments and calibrate the pace of our withdrawal to their actions. This is how we will ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a base for international terrorists.”
Pompeo further said:”The Afghan people have rejoiced. They are moving freely about the country to visit family and friends. They’re trading. They’re even dancing in the streets. But we’re just at the beginning. Furthering the cause of peace will require serious work and sacrifice by all sides – the United States, the coalition, the Taliban, the Afghan Government, other Afghan leaders, and the Afghan people themselves – to maintain the momentum needed to reach a comprehensive, inclusive, and durable peace.
This agreement will mean nothing, and today’s good feelings will not last, if we don’t take concrete actions on commitments and promises that have been made. When it comes down to it, the future of Afghanistan is for Afghans to determine. The U.S.-Taliban deal creates the conditions for Afghans to do just that.”
According to the US Secretary of State the agreement with Talibal became a reality when the Taliban signaled interest in pursuing peace and ending their relationship with al-Qaida and other foreign terrorist groups. They also recognized that military victory was impossible.
Pompeo went on to add the Afghan people have rejoiced. They are moving freely about the country to visit family and friends. They’re trading. They’re even dancing in the streets. But we’re just at the beginning. Furthering the cause of peace will require serious work and sacrifice by all sides – the United States, the coalition, the Taliban, the Afghan Government, other Afghan leaders, and the Afghan people themselves – to maintain the momentum needed to reach a comprehensive, inclusive, and durable peace.
Pompeo spelt out steps by the Taliban that would make the agreement a success.
“First, keep your promises to cut ties with al-Qaida and other terrorists. Keep up the fight to defeat ISIS. Welcome the profound relief of all Afghan citizens – men and women, urban and rural – as a result of this past week’s massive reduction in violence and dedicate yourselves to continued reductions. It is this significant de-escalation of violence that will create the conditions for peace, and the absence of it, the conditions and cause for failure. All Afghans deserve to live and prosper without fear.
Sit down with the Afghan Government, other Afghan political leaders, and civil society, and start the difficult conversations on a political roadmap for your country. Exercise patience, even when there is frustration. Honor the rich diversity of your country and make room for all views. Afghan governments have failed because they weren’t sufficiently inclusive. The Afghan Government of 2020, and indeed the Afghanistan of 2020, is not the same as in 2001. Embrace the historic progress obtained for women and girls and build on it for the benefit of all Afghans. The future of Afghanistan ought to draw on the God-given potential of every single person.
If you take these steps, if you stay the course and remain committed to negotiations with the Afghan Government and other Afghan partners, we and the rest of the international community assembled here today stand ready to reciprocate.
I know there will be a temptation to declare victory. But victory – victory for Afghans – will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper. Victory for the United States will only be achieved when Americans and our allies no longer have to fear a terrorist threat from Afghanistan, and we will do whatever it takes to protect our people. The United States will press all sides to stay focused on the goal of a peaceful, prosperous, and sovereign Afghanistan and an Afghanistan free of malign foreign interference where all voices and communities are heard and are represented. This is the only way – this is the only way – a sustainable peace can be achieved. And for all of us here, and most importantly for the security of the American and Afghan people, this must happen.”
Washington DC: The Taliban today, 18 September 2019, claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack carried out by a suicide bomber in Kabul that killed more than 22 Afghans.
Taliban also has claimed responsibility for a blast in the Parwan province capital of Charikar that killed more than two dozen people at a campaign rally of President Ashraf Ghani.
For days, Afghanistan has gone through blackouts and other challenges as a result of Taliban attacks against transmission lines carrying electricity to hospitals, schools, and homes in many parts of the country.
The US in a statement today has condemned these attacks and said through these acts violence the Taliban has demonstrated blatant disregard for the people and institutions of Afghanistan. For Afghans to truly reconcile, the Taliban must begin to demonstrate a genuine commitment to peace rather than continue the violence and destruction that causes such inordinate harm to the Afghan people and the future of their country, the US has said.
After several rounds of US Taliban Peace Talks in Doha, the reluctantly agreed upon ‘so-called intra-Afghan dialogue’ scheduled on April 19, 2019 was abruptly cancelled on April 18 amid seemingly insignificant disagreements about the size and composition of the Afghan delegation, which Taliban objected to.
US State Department conveyed their disappointment to President Ghani on April 21 and condemned the Taliban’s announcement of starting another offensive in the spring. It however was waiting to happen, as Taliban was in no mood to talk to present Afghan Government calling them a puppet Government of foreign powers. Afghanistan current regime is also not too happy with a sense of isolation in various rounds of US – Taliban Peace Talks without their participation, as Taliban continued terror attacks on them.
The Reality of Afghanistan After 17 years of war Taliban seized more territory and controls at least 50% of the country. Taliban cannot be relied upon for any kind of peace settlement for the time being with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as their Chief negotiator, released from Pakistani jail last year, who has political ambitions, and has held various appointments in erstwhile Taliban Government prior to US invasion. They will eventually find reasons to rule the country, even if they promise to allow a peaceful democratic solution. The Government in power under President Ghani and CEO Abdullah do not give the confidence of being on the same page or being strong enough to face Taliban all by themselves. Taliban is unlikely to give up the ambition of ruling through Sharia laws, irrespective of the liberalised wordings they have been using during peace talks, because they have radicalised cadre, which needs to be satisfied by their leaders. The people may not be too happy as a large segment of population has got used to some liberties like women working at common place with men. Afghan military is not yet strong enough to take on Taliban in the entire country. It still needs lot of training, capability and military hardware. With continuous attacks by Taliban and splinter groups of Daesh getting into Afghanistan, peace is a distant dream.
Significance of US-Taliban Peace Talks During US- Taliban Peace talks, there seemed to be some consensus regarding ‘Issues of Framework Agreement’. In principle US has agreed for phased withdrawal from Afghanistan after the final agreement. Timelines for withdrawal however have not been agreed as Taliban wants withdrawal in eighteen months and US is suggesting a period of five years linking it with implementation of agreement. Taliban have agreed to not to allow any terrorist group to operate from Afghan territory including getting rid of all foreign terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. This however is unrealistic and in my opinion, unlikely to happen. A comprehensive ceasefire to pave way for electoral process was commonly agreed to but is lacking implementation. The main issues still under discussion had been withdrawal of US and its allies’ troops from Afghanistan in a phased manner from Afghanistan along with implementation of other clauses of the final peace agreement.Taliban had declined talks with present Afghan Government, but later reluctantly agreed to Intra Afghanistan Talks with all stake holders including present Afghanistan Government to reach consensus among all, which have now been called off.
The US Taliban exclusive peace talks have isolated the present regime in power under President Ghani. It is clear that unless the present democratically elected Government is on board, no peaceful elections can take place, even after expiry of its term in September this year. The democratic peaceful elections are unlikely in near future unless intra Afghanistan talks take place. The ingress of pockets of Daesh in Afghanistan make situation even more complex. US want to withdraw as per their time table and President Trump wants to make such announcement before the next election. President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan will definitely alter the strategic balance in favor of Taliban, Pakistan, China and Russia. It however poses a question mark that is US willing to concede this important strategic space in Af-Pak region to its competitors so easily, after 17 years of war, knowing that China and Pakistan are waiting to grab it? Is domestic pressure on President Trump is so heavy due to election promises made by him. In an interview to CNN he had indicated that Russia, China, India and Pakistan should replace US troops in Afghanistan and resolve this problem as a regional issue. In my opinion treating it is a regional issue may not be realistic, because with radicalisation of Pakistan, growing strength of Taliban, and some existence of al Qaeda, Haqqani network and Daesh, I see a large caliphate in making, with levers of power with radicalized organisations. If the entire globe had to put in synergised effort to deal with Taliban and Daesh earlier, it is going to be even more difficult when the new grouping of radicalised elements emerges again.
The Position of Other Stake Holders There are conflicting interests of each of the stake holders. Pakistan nurtured Taliban and al Qaeda, hence would be happy if Taliban is in driving seat, but it will not compromise on Durand line because it wants strategic depth. Taliban also will not compromise on border issue with Pakistan, as they did not do so earlier. US is fed up of fighting there, but if it withdraws from this strategic space, it will be lost forever to China, which has plans to develop communication links with China Pakistan Economic Corridor there, exploit all natural resources of Afghanistan including developing cross communication links up to Iran and preferably use their port as well. Russia had entered Afghanistan earlier to deny the US influence there during cold war period. US helped Mujahedeen to counter Russia. Later Russia found the occupation unsustainable and withdrew unilaterally. I do not think that they will do the same mistake again. Russia however has been considering establishment of second military base in southern flank of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan bordering Afghanistan to fulfill its strategic interest. Russians also hosted Peace Talks on Afghanistan with all stake holders and invited India. I learnt was that some observers did attend it, but not as a formal participation by the Indian Government.
Sino- Pak Interest China has been actively engaging with Taliban in the recent past and Pakistan harbored them even when Multi-national Forces were fighting with them earlier. I therefore see no reason why Pakistan will not be amenable to Afghanistan under Taliban Islamic rule. If Taliban guarantees China’s that it will not support ETIM operating in Xinjiang, and if Chinese feel that they can manage Taliban, they may also be amenable to Taliban Islamic rule. If China is comfortable with Islamic Republic of Pakistan, I see no reason why they will not accept Islamic rule under Taliban, so long it meets Chinese national interest. China and Pakistan will definitely see a Taliban government as a major strategic gain against USA and India. Taliban will have to be managed by China, financially or otherwise for stability of China´s New Silk road and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, because even Chinese will not trust a jihadist group for stability of its economic assets. Pakistan will expect Taliban as a facilitator of new strategic depth against India, but it cannot take them for granted because the last Taliban Regime did not compromise with Pakistan on border issue. Pakistan will celebrate if Indian investments in Afghanistan go waste, but any government in Afghanistan is likely to welcome Indian assistance.Taliban if brought to power will be interested in development of Afghanistan and the New Silk road, but I have my doubts that China and Pakistan will believe Taliban’s guarantee that it won´t be a safe haven for terrorists and jihadist and won´t interfere in internal affairs of China in Xinjian or question the Durand line, because both these countries are well familiar with ideology of Taliban. In my opinion Taliban may accept these conditions on paper to come to power, but will subsequently do what it suits them most.
Implications for India India is the largest regional donor to Afghanistan and fifth largest donor globally with over $3 billion in assistance. It has helped the country in infrastructure and capacity building of the nation and invested over $10 billion cumulative amount since 2002 in doing so. Construction of Salma Dam, Parliament building, various connectivity and power projects and supply of some military hardware are examples of the assistance provided by India. India is the largest export destination of Afghanistan and their exports stood at $ 740 million to India in 2018. The new route through Chahbahar has been activated bypassing Pakistan, to which US had granted exception from sanctions imposed on Iran, post withdrawal from JCPOA, for humanitarian assistance and rebuilding Afghanistan. Any new dispensation in Afghanistan involving Taliban if not friendly to India may jeopardize India’s investments in Afghanistan, but it will be at a huge loss to its people. Indian investment in Afghanistan including Chabahar port, connectivity projects to Afghanistan and onward to CAR republics would require the support of Afghanistan Government; therefore a friendly regime is desirable. Increased influence of Pakistan in Afghanistan is detrimental to Indian and US interest. US withdrawal will embolden Taliban and other terrorist groups and may influence the ongoing militancy in Jammu and Kashmir also. Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project passes through Afghanistan and Pakistan, hence its success or otherwise is dependent on Indo-Pakand and Indo Afghanistan relations amongst many other factors. All four countries are stake holders in this project; hence any obstruction in the project is going to be a collective loss for all. India´s has worked with all Afghan governments so far; hence I visualise that India will continue to deal with the Government of the day, as hither to fore, even if there is any change.
Taliban may not want to speak to Afghan establishment/their representatives but the talks with US only have no meaning if Afghan Government is not part of it, as the electoral process cannot begin otherwise. Peace talks should not mean that Afghanistan be handed over to Taliban unanimously by all stakeholders, despite their continued offensive and power of militancy, which will be construed as a victory against super power and global community through terror. The gesture of Taliban talking about bringing a women representative for talks is good optics, but does not make them moderates or believers in democratic institutions or equality to women.The US on their part is not going to give up its efforts to create conditions for its smooth pull out from Afghanistan.Their special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is already on new regional trip to Qatar for a new round of negotiations with the Taliban, aiming to find a political solution to the Afghan war despite the disappointment of cancellation of ‘Intra-Afghan dialogue’.
The author, MAJ GEN S B ASTHANA,SM,VSM is a veteran Infantry
General with 40 years experience in international
fields and UN. A globally acknowledged strategic & military writer/analyst;
he is currently the Chief Instructor of USI of India, the oldest Indian
Think-tank in India. Former Additional DG Infantry. Member Board/Governing
Council CEE,IOED,IPC, other UN Organisations.