Breaking news out of Afghanistan is that the Taliban and US have reached a tentative deal in which the former agrees not to allow Afghanistan to be used by terrorist groups (wait! Aren’t the Taliban themselves terrorists? Read on….) and the latter would agree to pull its forces out, in the country since 2002, in return for a ceasefire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government.
Many would love to see the US out of Afghanistan: the Taliban of course, other terrorist groups like Islamic State in Khurasan, probably a lot of Afghans, and a sizable portion of Americans tired of the ‘war on terrorism’, the Afghan chapter of which has cost the US over a TRILLION dollars and led to the deaths of tens of thousands (mostly Afghans: over 2,000 US soldiers have been killed). For some, including US President Trump, these foreign military campaigns have been costly and done little, if anything, to make the US safer. Hence, an opportunity to get out would be welcomed by many.
What, though, are the chances that the Taliban is acting as an honest broker? Do I need to remind anyone that they are a terrorist group, responsible for heinous acts of violence against Afghan civilians, including men, women and children? Or that they promote a narrow view of Islam that seeks to create a society in which women are all but invisible? Or that they harboured Al Qaeda for many years? Or does the opportunity for the US to leave trump (no pun intended!) all that?
When I read that the Taliban were actually willing to sit down with the US (how come not the elected Afghan government – are they not more closely tied to Afghan interests?) and had actually sent one of their top guys, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, to parley, I had to do a double take. Not that I am an Afghan expert by any means but it is rare for terrorist groups to agree to talks, and especially Islamist ones. After all, the ideological founder of AQ once famously stated ” Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences, no dialogues.” So the Taliban are now shirking Azzam? Interesting.
I am not so sure that the Taliban are a trustworthy partner but then again the US presence in Afghanistan has been a magnet for terrorist recruitment for decades. Every time a civilian dies at the hands of a US soldier (or at the end of drone or airstrike) terrorist groups exploit the act as proof that the US and the West at large are the enemies of Islam.
You see, the Americans are damned if they do and damned if they don’t (why do I use that phrase a lot in my blogs? Because most things I choose to write about are complicated and not subject to easy answers, that’s why). While the initial deployment was certainly foreseeable in the aftermath of 9/11, the continued military presence is problematic for the reasons just discussed. So, the longer they stay the easier it is for the Taliban and others to recruit new members. And if (when?) they leave these same actors will portray the departure as a great victory and proof that God is on their side, much in the same way that the Soviet pull back in 1989, almost a decade after that nation’s fateful invasion of Afghanistan, was promoted.
I do not have a lot of confidence that these talks will lead to any real chance for peace in Afghanistan and for Afghans. That country has seen so much violence and will likely see more. The US plan smacks of political expediency and of a need to satisfy the tweets of a mercurial president. Then again there really are no good options on the table.