The state of Afghanistan today is the result of one strategic failure after the other, demonstrating the ineptitude of international interventions.
This morning, Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived in Kandahar ten years after being captured as a criminal in Karachi in a joint US-Pakistani operation, and a year after signing a deal in Doha with the US government.
On Sunday US President Joe Biden shamelessly defended his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan twenty years after the US had promised “Enduring Freedom” in the global ‘War on Terrorism’.
The handover has been described as a catastrophe, a disaster not known since the Vietnam War or the Suez Canal crisis.
Yet there was not a flicker of care or concern in Biden’s speech about millions of people left in the hands of a terror group; a people now living in sheer panic and fear of what the future holds, knowing they have no chance of a decent life, proper education or basic freedoms for their children.
Women and girls are devastated that they cannot hold on to their achievements, their civil rights or any of the US pledges in 2001 of reconstruction, security and democracy.
Many would agree with President Biden over the need to withdraw American troops but not the shambolic method by which it was implemented. Analysts, diplomats and military and security officials have expressed their disbelief that such a strategic disaster was possible. “Personally, I hang my head in shame,” said the former British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Nicholas Kay.
The ill-judged decision dates back to February 2020 when former president Donald Trump announced the date for a troop withdrawal. But the bigger mistake was made when President Biden, instead of overruling the first mistake, announced a later precise date of August 31, providing 18 clear months for the Taliban to regroup.
Additionally, Biden’s Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, in his famous neo-colonial letter to the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, effectively elevated the Taliban, asking the former president to allow for changes in the constitution to provide room for Islamic law.
Once the Taliban and its supporters in Pakistan, Iran and Russia had the precise date of withdrawal, it began to plan and prepare.
The sophisticated military strategy that the Taliban used for rapidly overrunning large parts of Afghanistan could not have been designed by a few flimsy commanders!
Pakistan, is of course the main benefactor, and the Pakistani military intelligence, the ISI, possibly the primary designer of the strategy. We already hear the approval in the words of Prime Minister Imran Khan saying, “the Taliban have just thrown off the yoke of slavery”.
But Russia and Iran, too, have waited impatiently for the US withdrawal. The three countries have over the last year held several meetings as well as direct consultations with the Taliban.
We need to add China too. Although it is not clear if it had any direct role, the vacuum created in Afghanistan could benefit Beijing’s ambitions to replace the US and shape the 21st Century. China also nurtures good relations with the Taliban in order to restrict the Uighurs.
“So, what’s happened?” asked President Biden. “Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,” he said. Biden seems to have forgotten that for years Afghan forces fought the Taliban amassing tens of thousands of casualties on their side.
He also conveniently forgets the fact that American policy has, for 20 years, totally dominated Afghanistan’s military and political life. America has interfered in every presidential election and selected every political leader.
It was President Biden’s friend John Kerry, who, as Secretary of State, rushed to Kabul in 2014 and approved of Ashraf Ghani: “You will be the president”. Kerry intervened when the election was contested by half the population.
Responsibility for rebuilding the Afghan army was also entirely the responsibility of the United States. So if “Afghan military collapsed,” as President Biden stressed, in a matter of days rather than months, all credit goes to the Americans.
Oblivious to developments on the ground, when the Taliban contested major cities like Herat, and even up to one day prior to the fall of Kabul, the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, the original architect of the Doha deal, was beating the drums of “peace talks”.
It has been clear for at least a year that these talks were pointless. Yet Khalilzad insisted on them and travelled across Afghanistan to convince major civil society stakeholders to that end.
The Doha talks bought time for the Taliban to release thousands of its prisoners, regroup, raise funds across the region and prepare for the final push. It was part of its two-pronged strategy.
The story of Afghanistan is the documented proof of inept international operations. It reveals the fragility of the exported US-made democracies, proving that they do not necessarily lead to development, reconstruction or freedom, but could lead to chaos and violence.
There needs to be an international inquiry into the strategic decision making processes that caused such a catastrophic failure. How is it that, with billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money around the world and a huge international effort — with tens of thousands of lives lost — the setup collapsed in a matter of days?
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