by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 48, No. 8, Safar, 1441)
There is only one way to describe Donald Trump’s Twitter tantrum over the Taliban’s refusal to meet him at Camp David: bizarre. He had hoped to present himself as “peacemaker” through a photo-op with the Afghan resistance group. This in turn was meant to advance his prospects for reelection next year.
The Taliban, however, refused to play by Trump’s script. The camera-shy Taliban refused to be used by the narcissist to advance his political agenda. In fact, the entire episode shows how utterly detached Trump is from reality.
Trump’s Twitter storm erupted on September 7. The category 5 storm — nay hurricane — took almost everyone by surprise. Not much remains secret in a country where political backstabbing is the norm. This is more so in the Trump White House that has been rightly described as a mad house.
Trump’s claim that he had called off the “meeting” with the Taliban set for September 8 because they had killed 12 people including an American soldier in a bombing in Kabul three days earlier was a silly excuse. Trump wants to be at the centre of events; he is the great decider; everything must revolve around him. How dare the Taliban snub him thus?
For Trump meeting the Taliban was another gimmick: preference for image over substance. The Taliban rightly saw the Camp David invitation as a trap. They had from the beginning demanded that an agreement must first be signed before they would meet Trump. Both sides had already agreed to this. The only thing pending was the date for signing the agreement.
The real reason behind Trump’s angst lies elsewhere. The Taliban have revealed that during negotiations the Americans made the following offer that the resistance group rejected (Karachi-based Urdu daily, Ummat, September 13). In return for allowing the US to use Bagram Air Base for 10 years, Washington promised to hand over power to the Taliban as well as provide billions of dollars in economic and other support.
Additionally, the US offered to pay millions of dollars in compensation to Taliban leaders that were imprisoned in Guantanamo. The US made one further demand: the Taliban should not maintain relations with China, Pakistan, and Iran.
It was the Taliban’s rejection of such demands, not the nonsensical claim that they killed Elis Barreto Ortiz, an American soldier from Puerto Rico on September 6 (it was September 5 in Washington, DC) that led to Trump’s Twitter outburst. As president, Trump has uttered many racist remarks about Puerto Rican officials so his alleged concern for a soldier from there sounds distinctly insincere, not to mention hollow.
America’s point man for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, had spent two days after the death of the American soldier negotiating with the Taliban in Doha. He tried but failed to convince them to visit Washington to sign the agreement in the presence of Trump. The Taliban snub coupled with rejection of US demands infuriated the narcissist-in-chief. How dare they refuse an invitation to Camp David to meet the man “chosen” by God Himself!
Trump, however, had to find an excuse for this colossal failure and snub. He not only announced “cancellation” of the meeting at Camp David that the Taliban never agreed to attend but also any further negotiations with them. “As far as I am concerned, the talks are ‘dead,’” Trump told reporters outside the White House on September 9.
Soon after Trump’s September 7 Twitter storm, the Taliban reported on their website that Khalilzad had mentioned the Camp David invitation at the end of August but the group had told him they wanted the agreement signed first before moving forward. Their response to the cancellation of talks was measured but firm, as published on their website,
Now, as President of the United States has announced suspension of negotiations with the Islamic Emirate, this will harm America more than anyone else. It will damage its reputation, unmask its anti-peace policy to the world even more, increase its loss of life and treasure and present its political interactions as erratic.
They vowed to continue their struggle until the complete withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan. Their statement said,
Our previous 18-year resistance should have proven to America that we will accept nothing less than the complete end of occupation and allowing Afghans to decide their own fate. And we shall continue our jihad for this great cause and maintain our strong belief in ultimate victory, Allah willing.
Appearing on TV on September 8, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Taliban had “overreached” with their bombing in the heart of Kabul. He also boasted “we’ve killed over a thousand Taliban in just the last 10 days.” And Trump chimed in, “Over the last four days, we have been hitting our enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years!”
Displaying extreme arrogance, Pompeo said the talks were called off because the Taliban were not fulfilling their “commitments.” What commitments? No agreement has been signed yet. Further, while both Trump and Pompeo claimed to have “killed a thousand Taliban” — a gross exaggeration — they seem to be bursting with anger at the killing of one American soldier!
All of this is mere theatrics. That is what American politics are all about. Human life has no value. During his July 22 meeting with visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House, Trump had boasted, “I could have the war in Afghanistan finished in a week by killing 10 million people but I don’t want to do that.” How touching! America is nearly there; it has killed more than 5 million people since 9/11. But what has that achieved? Killing millions of people is not bravery; it is barbarism.
Trump’s — and America’s — options in Afghanistan are limited. The US has lost the war. It will have to pull its troops out, sooner rather than later. It could do so now and leave with some honor. Later, American soldiers may have to flee without their boots.
And Trump’s announcement that he has called off talks with the Taliban is also not the last word. He has a habit of saying he has changed his mind. Trump is desperate to leave; it is his need because of the 2020 elections. The Taliban can wait him out. If they have fought the self-proclaimed superpower for 18 years, they can easily fight him for another 18 months.