If you can’t beat them, join them. Well, not really join, but nonetheless beat a meek retreat. Whatever gloss they might put, last Saturday’s announcement of a deal between the US and the Taliban represents a loud and clear acknowledgement by the greatest military and economic power on the planet that it failed to tame the barbaric Afghan jihadi group. It is no peace deal as Trump would like the world to believe. It is a surrender. Viewed from the perspective of Trump and other like-minded Americans, it could well be argued that it was a sensible decision. Withdrawing from a theatre of armed hostilities where the enemy was cunning and indefatigable, capable of inflicting enormous human and material costs on the foreign forces as well on local allies and ordinary people, cutting both material and human losses was the most prudent policy under the circumstances. It also fitted in the current inward-looking American mood where there is an increasing weariness against the country paying heavy costs in money and men for playing the global policeman. According to one estimate, the Afghan war has cost the Americans $ 2 trillion and the lives of over 3,000 coalition troops, essentially Americans. The Americans led a NATO force to vanquish the Taliban and Osama bin Laden soon after the 9/11 terror attack on the Twin Towers in 2001 which killed 3,000 people and injured several more. At one time, the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan over 1 lakh. The Taliban lay low for a while, with Pakistan sheltering them as part of its hunt-with-the-American-hounds and run-with-the-Afghan-hares policy. Soon they regrouped and unsettled the land-locked country with their jihadi terror and an adherence to a medieval version of Islam where women are no better than unpaid serfs and men have to necessarily surrender to their arbitrary edicts. The writ of the so-called elected regime in Kabul, backed by the Americans, barely ran outside the main urban centers where the hinterland was ruled by tribal overlords complicit fully with the Taliban. Given that it was one of the main election promises of Trump to bring back the boys from Afghanistan, the Americans engaged the Taliban in talks with Qatar as the main facilitator. But two things need be noted. The ISI was never out of the picture, being the Taliban’s main patron all along. The Americans relied on Pakistan to deliver the deal. Two, the government of President Ashraf Ghani was barely in the picture, with President Trump’s points-person Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad holding direct talks with the Taliban in Doha. There were many misses in this off-and-on powwows since mid-2018. But the proximity of his re-election in November seems to have paved the way for the deal at long last. Yet, it is a matter of time before the Taliban overrun the country, destabilising the Kabul regime and clamping their Sharia straitjacket of a fundamentalist and militant Islam.
It is significant that within a couple of days of the deal being signed, major differences have cropped up over the exchange of prisoners. The Kabul regime has refused to release 5,000-odd Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of 1,000 prisoners held by the Taliban unless an agreement is reached on post-withdrawal power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban. Thus, the start of the intra-Afghan dialogue next week, as envisaged in the Doha deal, has already come under a shadow. The Americans, who have over 14,000 troops currently in Afghanistan, plan to pull out 5,000 immediately once the intra-Afghan talks start. The plan for phased withdrawal is also linked to the reduction of violence by the Taliban. But having revealed its weak hand, even if the Americans and the civilian regime in Kabul were to now talk tough, it is unlikely that the Taliban would wait for long before taking over the country in the next few months. The Pashtun-dominated Taliban might want to accommodate President Ghani, a fellow Pashtun, in some capacity in a new set-up, but other ethnic groups such as Tajiks and Uzbeks are bound to feel the heat sooner than later. Meanwhile, India might have decided to attend the signing ceremony in Kabul, but it cannot but look with some trepidation at the increased security threat, with the ISI-backed Taliban in Kabul serving as a springboard for jihadi terror attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. But we cannot complain. The Americans wanted to cut their losses. We have to shore up our own defences against growing jihadi terror from domestic and foreign quarters. Meanwhile, the US withdrawal and, decades earlier, the Russian defeat give the Afghans the bragging rights for having defeated two of the mightiest militaries in the world. Global Jihadi Inc. has reason to rejoice, Afghanistan is staring at the return of barbarians.