Surrender to Taliban off for now

At long last, President Trump has seen reason. Conducting foreign relations through Twitter was always a recipe for disaster. It took the entire might of the State Department and its cerebral head, Mike Pompeo, along with saner voices from the wider diplomatic community to persuade Trump that the Taliban are not amenable to reason.

Their objective is to push Afghanistan back to the dark ages and impose their own peculiar version of Islam under which women are virtual slaves and men subsist at the mercy of the barbaric jihadis.

Trump was pushing for a deal ahead of his re-election campaign, having promised to bring back the troops from the godforsaken land where victory remains elusive.

America’s longest war offered no tangible gains. And whatever gains there were could have been frittered away with the Taliban refusing to recognize the civilian government in Kabul and certainly unwilling to share power with it.

In fact, the reason why even Trump was obliged to call off the year-long charade of talks in Doha, Qatar, with the Taliban was their point-blank refusal to sit with them at Camp David later this month where the final agreement was to be signed by the three parties. 

Of course, Trump did not cite this as the reason for scrapping the talks. Instead, he mentioned the death of a US soldier along with 11 others in a suicide attack by the Taliban in Kabul near the UK mission on September 5.

This did not sound convincing given that the talks had gone on uninterrupted despite a series of such attacks, which the Taliban publicly owned after each such attack.

Trump ignored the dangers of negotiating with the Taliban, thus according them respectability, and undermining the civilian government in Kabul.

A number of senior foreign policy experts, including quite a few from the Republican Party, were shocked that the Taliban were invited to sully Camp David.

The Islamic barbarians who were behind the 9/11 mass murders which killed nearly four thousand innocent people, and who had killed thousands of American service personnel after the US invasion in 2001 against Afghanistan could not be sitting as equals in Camp David with the leader of the free world.

This was unacceptable to most Americans. But then Trump has never bothered about established foreign office practice and, instead, injected himself personally as the central figure in conducting diplomacy with America’s enemies, be it the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, or the Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, wholly unmindful of the damage he inflicts on the long-term US interests and the harm  to the US relations with its  allies and friends.

It is notable that the Taliban were far from sorry when Trump scrapped the talks. They warned this would result in greater loss of American and civilian lives in Afghanistan. If only Trump had sense, he would have insisted on the Taliban suspending their campaign of violence before it could begin negotiating with the US. 

Trump’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad continued talks with the devils even as the insurgents continued their killing spree. At no stage were the representatives of the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani directly or indirectly associated with the negotiating process.

When you reveal to the enemy your weak hand, your desperation to cut a deal and run, he is bound to rub your nose in dirt. Which the Taliban did. Until, even Trump could take no more.

Of course, it is hard to predict how long Trump will stay the course and shun the barbarians who have the total support of Pakistan’s ISI, and who were pulling the strings from behind to micro-manage the negotiations with the Americans.

Unless the US gets tough with the Rawalpindi GHQ, Prime Minister Imran Khan being a cipher in these and most other matters, it cannot hope to negotiate its way out of the quagmire that is Afghanistan. Leaving it with a face-saver in the hope that the Taliban will shed their Islamist skin and embrace the path of modernity and progress is, to put it bluntly, foolish. 

And to hope that the Taliban would share power with the civilian government in Kabul, whom they were not willing to countenance as a co-signatory to the draft-agreement, whom they were unwilling to have associated with at any time in negotiations, is to reveal a complete ignorance of the basic character of the Taliban.

Even though for entirely fortuitous reasons, Trump calling off the signing ceremony at Camp David is good for all concerned. India has reason to feel satisfied that the handover of Afghanistan to the ISI at once has been shelved for now. Otherwise, the ISI would have freely used it as a staging-post for jihadi attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere in this country.

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