by Zia Sarhadi
That the Taliban have won and the self-proclaimed superpower has been defeated in Afghanistan is no longer in doubt. All that is left is to cross the t’s and dot the i’s on the US’ final surrender document. This is what the many rounds of talks in Doha (seven so far) between the Taliban and the US have been all about, the latest of which started on July 9.
While it is premature to talk about peace in Afghanistan just yet, there are unmistakable signs that the end game in the Hindu Kush Mountains has begun. Several developments point to this. Not only did the Americans accept the Taliban’s demand for direct talks bypassing the puppet regime in Kabul, the US has also been forced to seek the help of other players. In addition to Russia and China, the US has had to accept Islamabad’s central role in the Afghan peace process. This was evident from Pakistan’s participation in the Beijing talks involving China, Russia, and the US on July 11–12.
Pakistan was not only excluded from the previous round of talks in Moscow on April 25 but until recently US President Donald Trump was also writing nasty tweets about it. Islamabad was accused of taking billions of dollars from the US but not doing anything in return. Only an ignoramus would indulge in such rant. It seems saner heads have prevailed in Washington and Pakistan’s crucial role has been recognized.
This is a belated acknowledgement by the US. Without Pakistan’s help, peace in Afghanistan would remain elusive. More importantly, US forces would find it hard to make an orderly retreat from the landlocked country. Islamabad, however, must be careful in dealing with the US; it is extremely devious. Over seven decades, Washington has betrayed and abandoned Pakistan at crucial moments. Afghanistan itself offers ample evidence of US duplicity vis-à-vis Pakistan.
It is clear from Trump’s statements and occasional media interviews that he is desperate to leave Afghanistan. This would be a huge plus for him in next year’s presidential election that he desperately wants to win. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a notorious Washington warlord, has also turned peacenik in Afghanistan. Last June he announced the US would like to have an agreement in place by September 1.
Pakistan should watch US moves carefully. It is more than likely that once it has secured safe withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, it would abandon Pakistan. Islamabad should not repose too much trust in US pronouncements and formulate policies based on its own interests.
In Afghanistan meanwhile, the Taliban have not only proved good fighters but also sophisticated negotiators. In the seven rounds of talks with the US and intra-Afghan parleys in-between, they have skillfully secured their major demands. This was recently demonstrated in the intra-Afghan dialogue held in Doha, Qatar on July 7 and 8. The joint statement endorsed their stance that the only way to achieve peace in Afghanistan was through US-Taliban negotiations. It also accepted the Taliban’s position that Afghanistan’s future political setup would be based on Islamic principles, dismissing the Western-imposed system.
While participating in discussions, the Taliban have maintained military pressure through daring operations. The Americans have repeatedly called for a comprehensive ceasefire but the Taliban know that it is only through military pressure that the US has been forced to accept their demands. If this pressure ceased, the Americans would renege on their pledges.
Empires, unfortunately never learn from history. From Alexander the Great to the British Empire, and from Russia to the US, they all had to learn the hard way that subduing the Afghans is impossible. Instead every empire has had its nose rubbed in the dust. The American empire is the latest to face humiliation despite the vast array of weapons at its disposal.
Its soldiers covered from head to toe in body armor and never venturing out without diapers, were still no match for the lightly armed Taliban fighters clutching Kalashnikovs and often without proper shoes. Dressed in traditional shalwar kameez, wearing a turban and wrapped in chador, the Taliban took on the self-proclaimed superpower and defeated it convincingly.
It didn’t have to be this way but hubris is a peculiar American trait. Intoxicated by technological power, they thought the rag tag bands of Taliban would not be able to stand before US firepower. Technically they were right but they overlooked two crucial factors: the Taliban’s steely determination and willingness to die for their cause and honor based on faith. These are unknown factors in American calculations.
Between the false flag of 9/11 and the launch of US strikes on Afghanistan in October 2001, Taliban leader Mulla Muhammad Omar had asked the Americans to provide proof of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11. If proved, he would hand him over. Mulla Omar also offered to hold talks with the US. In his customary arrogance, then US President George Bush dismissed the offer and said, “We will see you in Kabul.”
Just before the US started to bomb Afghanistan, a Western journalist had asked Mulla Omar about his fate. The reclusive Taliban leader replied, “Afghanistan is a vast country. We will fight them in the mountains and valleys and villages, until, God willing, we have driven them out of Afghanistan like all previous invaders.”
At the time, much of the world including many in the Muslim world ridiculed Mulla Omar. They accused him of being delusional, failing to see reality, or the disaster that was about to engulf the landlocked country. True, Afghanistan has been bombed beyond the Stone Age but it is the Americans that are suing for peace.
For this, the Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, a neocon, was chosen to negotiate America’s terms of surrender. Washington hoped that using guile Khalilzad might secure better terms from the Taliban. This has not materialized. Instead, the Taliban have stuck to their objectives and are on the verge of writing another glorious chapter in the long history of Afghan resistance. Another self-proclaimed superpower has been forced to bite the dust.