US President Donald Trump is no foreign policy strategist. His plan to bring US troops home from Afghanistan was one of his most popular pre-election pledges in 2016 and now he is rushing to fulfil it whatever the consequences to boost his flagging campaign which is why his administration is brokering negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Superficially, his efforts to end a 19-year-long conflict that began with George Bush’s invasion ostensibly to “smoke Osama Bin Laden out of his cave” might well be viewed as encouraging by people unaware of the big picture or whose memories are short.
The glaring question that should be posed to the US president is “In the 19 years that cost America 2,372 military lives not to mention billions of dollars and is believed to have killed almost 50,000 Afghan civilians, what has been achieved?”
Was Bush’s knee-jerk response to the 9-11 attacks worth it especially when Bin Laden escaped from his cave complex in Tora Bora early on to eventually meet his end in Pakistan ten years on?
‘America First’ sell-out
The sad fact is that in this case the White House is engaged in an ‘America First’ sell-out that could result in a Taliban takeover taking the nation all the way back to square one.
In 2001, the Taliban was a primitive ruling regime that used an iron fist on anyone who dared to transgress its cruel rules.
It was guilty of hosting Al Qaida primarily for monetary gain together with a shared interpretation of Islam — or should I say misinterpretation — but was not then engaged in terrorist activities.
Initially scattered by the coalition’s armies, it eventually regrouped as a terrorist organisation responsible for explosions in schools, hospitals, markets and elsewhere.
Just imagine, according to President Ashraf Ghani in the period since the peace agreement was signed on February 29 this year and July 21, some 3,560 Afghan forces were killed by the Taliban while 6,780 were wounded.
Today’s Taliban fighters are from a different generation trained from boyhood to be merciless ideologues whose sole route to getting what they want is violence.
Talks between government officials and Taliban negotiators that kicked off on Saturday in Doha aimed at establishing a power-sharing government could well bear fruit. Taliban leaders must be rubbing their hands in anticipation of being a recognised component of government.
Afghans are tired of living in a failed state where poverty, corruption, lawlessness and terrorism are rife, a country where terrorists’ bombs that kill or maim are so run of the mill they hardly get a mention in the foreign media.
But with the Taliban involved in running the show things could get a lot worse, especially for women in cities who have achieved a modicum of freedom with regard to educational opportunities, jobs and dress codes.
President Bush’s promise to defeat the Taliban before showering the population with the blessings of freedom, democracy and prosperity rings as hollow now as it did then.
Yes young women can paint their nails but have little say when it comes to marriage partners. Girls as young as six are regularly forced to marry, often bartered by their fathers unable to pay their debts.
Taliban stronger than ever
Away from the capital Kabul, warlords and tribal leaders rule the roost except in areas under the control of the Taliban. An article published on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations suggests “the Taliban is stronger now than at any point since 2001. With an estimated 60,000 full-time fighters, it controls one-fifth of the country and continues to launch attacks”.
So anyone who imagines the religiously conservative Taliban will overnight morph into a reliable coalition partner for the government of Ashraf Ghani is, to use a Trump expression, been drinking the Kool-Aid.
Disputes over the disarming of Taliban fighters and the future shape of the country, including its new flag and name, may be sticking points for the two sides with competing world views.
The name of this game from the US perspective is appeasement. Who cares if there is a complete Taliban takeover as long as our boys are home and I can boast about the many billions I’ve saved in taxpayers’ money is no doubt Trump’s thinking.
After all, he wasn’t the Commander-in-Chief who launched this stupid war purely to hunt down a single elusive rogue individual who was ultimately captured thanks to human intelligence.
America and its Nato allies in Afghanistan have failed in their mission. If a deal is struck in Doha Trump will no doubt puff up his chest hoping for a Nobel Peace Prize on par with his hated predecessor, whereas those able to see through the mainstream media spin will understand that the Taliban is the biggest winner of all.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.