On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Following this event, the USA went into Afghanistan to uproot terrorism. George Bush’s address to a joint session of Congress and the American people. He confirmed that “This war (Afghanistan) will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion”.
The Afghan war is estimated to have cost $2-trillion. Afghanistan lost hundreds of thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers. In 2020, 19 years later, under Donald Trump’s regime, the USA planned to exit from Afghanistan through a deal with the Taliban. The agreement was signed in Doha, Qatar.
The Afghan-born US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, signed on behalf of the United States. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a current Taliban deputy and a figure from the original Taliban government signed for the Taliban. According to the former diplomat, Rakesh Sood, there were four main objectives of Zalmay Khalilzad in the context of this deal – First, get assurance from the Taliban that the insurgent and terrorism will not be allowed on Afghan soil.
Second, they would engage the Kabul government directly to find a lasting solution to the civil war. Third, going for a permanent ceasefire. It means giving break from a long going war. Fourth. Withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in which the U.S. has committed to pull some 14,000 troops from Afghanistan in a phased manner.
Time has changed but the US ways have been consistent. US-Taliban deal forces us to remember the deal done after the Vietnam war. In 1971, U.S. President Richard Nixon had faced a similar dilemma that Donald trump faced in 2020. In 1971, National Security Advisor (NSA) during Nixon, Henry Kissinger assured Zhou Enlai (Chinese diplomat) that the U.S. was prepared to withdraw completely from Vietnam in return for the release of U.S. prisoners of war and a ceasefire.
Henry Kissinger and Nixon knew that the deal would leave their ally, the South Vietnamese govt led by President Thieu, vulnerable. Similarly, Donald Trump’s unilateral effort to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan would leave their ally, the Afghan government led by Ashraf Ghani, vulnerable.
Victory of Taliban
Ideas behind the desperate attempt to pull out US boots from Afghanistan and “unilateral retreat” by Washington could be – First, Mr. Trump wants to be seen as the dealmaker who brought American troops back home and ended the longest U.S. war. He is following the pattern of Richard Nixon, who has re-elected with a record margin in 1972 on the platform that peace was at hand regarding retreat from Vietnam.
Second, Face saving exit from Afghanistan because the Taliban has been severing its links with other international terror groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Third, the USA had done its own job because after all, the U.S. troops entered Afghanistan to neutralize al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden after 9/11.
Foreign policy experts around the world are looking at this deal as the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan questions the conception of ‘truth and non-violence. Taliban has defeated the two biggest powers of the world in Afghanistan. First, the Taliban had defeated Russia on the battleground in Afghanistan with the financial backing of the USA and military support of Pakistan.
Second, the Taliban has now defeated the USA on the diplomatic table. Taliban adopted the policy of ‘hit and wait’ against the US in Afghanistan. It gave the upper hand to the Taliban and forced the US to come back on negotiation table again and again through all three possible routes – First was the Doha track with the Taliban; a second was with Islamabad/Rawalpindi and the third was with Kabul to ensure that the Afghan government would accept the outcome.
Finally, the Taliban coerced the USA to adopt the Doha route and agree on those points which the Taliban wanted for a long time. It coerced the USA – First, To legitimizes the Taliban as the primary factor in deciding the future of Afghanistan. Second, To withdraw US military boots from Afghanistan. Third, To sideline the elected government in Kabul led by Mr. Ghani. However, the Taliban never recognized the Kabul government as legitimate.
Fourth, U.S. has made several concessions to the Taliban in the agreement even at the cost of violating the sovereignty of Afghanistan. The USA had promised in the deal that the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for 1,000 captives released by the Taliban. But President Ashraf Ghani has rejected Taliban prisoner release. Even in the description of Al Qaeda in the agreement, the Taliban refused to accept the word “terrorist.”
Issues in the deal
This deal gave birth to some of the legitimate concerns. First, U.S.’s Taliban engagement deliberately excluded the Afghan government because the insurgents do not see the government as legitimate rulers. By giving in to the Taliban’s demand, the U.S. has practically called into question the legitimacy of the government it backs. Second, the Taliban was not pressed enough to declare a ceasefire. Taliban has neither promised to adhere the international norms nor it has made any promises on whether it would respect civil liberties or accept the Afghan Constitution.
Third, This deal is giving legitimacy to an organization whose rule is known for strict religious laws, banishing women from public life, shutting down schools, and unleashing systemic discrimination on religious and ethnic minorities. Taliban got what it wanted – the withdrawal of foreign troops without making any major concession.
Fourth, It may have weakened the legitimate Kabul government. It would alter the balance of power both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. The biggest challenge is that a weakened government will have to talk with a resurgent Taliban. The U.S., in a desperate bid to exit the Afghan war, has practically abandoned the Kabul government and millions of Afghans who do not support the Taliban’s violent, tribal Islamism, to the mercy of insurgents.
Fifth, it is going to give the wrong impression of the USA to its allies all over the world. It may motivate the fringe elements of the international sphere to aspire to get power through the violent mean. For example, it may mislead the youth of Kashmir to go for armed struggle against the Indian state on the line of the Taliban. But do remember that those who get the power through the violent mean, would definitely rule the territory through the same violent mean.
The diplomatic victory of Pakistan over India
India was excluded from Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s “thank you” list, which included Pakistan (special mention), China, Iran, and Russia. A matter of fact is that New Delhi has pumped in about $3 billion in developmental projects in Afghanistan. The end game of India in Afghanistan is the strategic influence through the phenomena of goodwill among the people of Afghanistan.
We must remember one thing that history had always given space to those who have been the mightiest. That’s why it is rightly called – ‘might is right. History gives space to power, not to truth. Ajit Doval right questioned in ‘Hindustan Times Summit 2004’ – Why there is Babur road in Delhi, not Rana Sanga road? Rana Sanga had the truth but Babur had power. Similarly in Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani has truth and the Taliban has power.
The ‘defeat’ of the US in Afghanistan can be called the finest hour of Pakistan’s statecraft. India has not able to make the Afghan government so strong militarily as Pakistan made the Taliban in terms of Power. The end game of Pakistan in Afghanistan is to curtail India’s influence in Afghanistan and generating a bargaining chip in dealing with the U.S., which was pivoting towards India.
Political calculation of Pakistan was that – First, if the Taliban was not defeated in the war, the U.S. would be forced to engage with the group, and the road to engaging with the Taliban goes through Islamabad. Second, if the U.S. directly engages with the Taliban and pulls out of Afghanistan, it would strengthen the Taliban vis-a-vis the Afghan govt. This is what happens now after this deal.
This deal has ended the strategic dilemma of Pakistan. Stanly Johny recognized this dilemma in his article “Who won the Afghan war?” It can’t antagonize the U.S. which was leading the war on terror, but it can’t shun the Taliban either, which would weaken its geopolitical standing in the region especially in the context of India. To overcome this dilemma, Pakistan adopted a double game i.e. continue to fight alongside the U.S. in the war on terror while retaining its deep ties with the Afghan Taliban.
Afghan Taliban deal further leads to the decline of the legitimacy of the pro-India government. The stature of Pakistan has increased for the USA after this deal because the U.S. would continue to need Pakistan’s assistance to save the deal and retain some influence on the Taliban. Lastly, If the Taliban captures power in the future or even if the Taliban is accommodated into the government as part of some peace agreement, Pakistan would use its leverage on the Taliban to undercut India’s influence in Kabul.
Hypocritic politics in south Asia
Once upon a time when Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan, got the Nobel peace prize. She became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate followed by she became an ‘activist’. She is known for human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school.
Surprisingly, Malala is silent when the same Taliban is capturing power in Afghanistan through violent and unjust means. I can recall those atrocities of the Taliban mentioned in her book, “I am Malala” when the Taliban destroyed video cassettes & televisions, Banishing women from public life, Shutting down schools.
Indian politicians like Mr. Owaisi in 2016 tried to pinch the government in power and suggested the government of India open talks with the Taliban because they are about to come into power. Understand the pattern of hypocrisy – First, In India, he propagates the truth and non-violence of Gandhi, and at the same time, he prefers to open talks with the violent Taliban who want power through the barrel of the gum.
Second, He projects himself as a hardcore believer in democracy, and simultaneously, he is ok to recognize the country, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, based on religion. Third, He advocates for civil liberty in India, and parallelly, he prefers a mainstream organization whose rule is known for massive human right violation.
In the end, we can conclude that the USA has betrayed its allies around the world. First, in 1971, Richard Nixon & his NSA Kissinger, in spite of knowing the vulnerability of the deal, left their ally, the South Vietnamese govt led by President Thieu, vulnerable. Second, the USA had made Pakistan, a scapegoat and had never helped neither in development nor in wars.
Third, Recently USA abandoned Kurds, who helped the USA to fight against ISIS and contain Russia, on their fate to get hit by Turkey. Fourth, the US-Taliban deal 2020 legitimizes the Taliban as the primary factor in deciding the future of Afghanistan by sidelining its ally, the elected govt in Kabul led by Mr. Ghani. Thus, Thanks to pundit Nehru who preferred to stay away from the USA.
- The Hindu | The sum and substance of the Afghan deal
- History | September 11 Attacks
- The Guardian | Text of George Bush’s speech
- The New York Times | Taliban and U.S. Strike Deal to Withdraw American Troops From Afghanistan
- BBC | President Ashraf Ghani rejects Taliban prisoner release
- The Hindu | A big, bad deal: On U.S.-Taliban agreement
- The Print | Taliban dropped India from its thank you list
- Decoding Dream India | Hate Speech and medieval mindset of Pakistan at UNGA
- The Hindu | Who won the Afghan war