Why the US is cornered in Afghanistan

Anyone with the slightest idea about Afghan dynamics will know that the 'peace talks' between the US and Taliban will not end well.

 |  4-minute read |   10-02-2019
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There is something quite surreal about the optimism and anticipation attached to the 'peace’ talks being held between the US and the Taliban. Apart from those insidiously – and in some cases, shamelessly – plugging the Pakistani line to "trust the Taliban", anyone with the slightest idea about Afghan dynamics in general and the Taliban obduracy in particular, knows that these talks are not going to end well, neither for Afghanistan, nor for the region, and certainly not for the global war on terror.

Sugar-coated poison pill

The positive spin on the "progress" in these talks by US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is at best sugar-coating the poison pill.

From whatever has emerged in the public domain, it seems that the so-called agreement on the draft of the framework for peace is steeped in favour of the Taliban. While the US is committing to something tangible – withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan – the Taliban’s assurances are fungible.

Its past track record on commitments is pretty dismal and there is no reason to think that the Taliban has changed over the years.

Its assurances that it will not monopolise power, allow international jihadists, and will soften its stand on women and the minorities are not worth the paper they are written on.

taliban1-copy_020819045144.jpgWhile the US is committing something tangible – withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan – the Taliban’s assurances are fungible. (Photo: Reuters)

Those rooting for the Taliban claim they are Afghan nationalists, and not jihadists. Regardless of this binary, the Taliban will not sever its links with international jihadist groups. Much like Islamists, they have deep fraternal, ideological and personal links with these forces.

They that do not pose a challenge to the Taliban and are duty-bound to give them sanctuary.

The Afghan code obligates them to give protection to anyone who seeks it. The argument that the Taliban has learnt its lesson and will not support organisations like the Al-Qaeda is only a self-serving one.

Taliban has re-grouped, revived and is now on the verge of winning back what it lost, all this, fighting hand in hand with the Al-Qaeda and other Islamist jihadist groups. The links that foreign jihadists established over the last 15-odd years with the Taliban makes them brothers-in-arms.

To expect the Taliban to simply cast them aside amounts to naiveté. Of course, the Taliban will not allow the Islamic State (which was born from the Taliban’s womb in the Af-Pak region) to establish itself in Afghanistan, but only because it is perceived as a threat by the Taliban.

Islamist leanings

The Taliban’s assurance on women and minorities contradicts what it has been doing in areas where it holds sway.

If anything, the Taliban of today is even more radical, reactionary and brutal than the original lot.

The biggest problem with the ‘peace’ talks is that while there will be many (read: the European Union) who will offer to stand guarantee, no one is ready to enforce the terms of the agreement if the Taliban violates it.

The bottom line is that the Taliban is smart enough to know that the US is negotiating with a very weak hand.

trump-copy_020819045215.jpgThey know about his weak hand: The Taliban is banking on Trump to lose patience and decide to quit Afghanistan. (Photo: Reuters)

It will exploit this to the hilt to extract the maximum out of the US, while conceding only lollipops in the name of ‘major concessions’. The entire trajectory of talks is determined by one variable: the impetuousness of US President Donald Trump.

The Taliban is banking on Trump to lose patience with the talks and decide to leave Afghanistan, even without a fig leaf of an agreement. They will string along the talks for as long as they can.

On the other hand, Khalilzad is scared that his boss may pull the rug from under him, so he is in a hurry to wrap up things. This is why he seems to be making big concessions in return for peanuts.

No enforcer in sight

The most untenable laughable part of these talks is the suggestion that by signing a deal with the Taliban, the US will be able to keep some of its prestige intact to disguise an otherwise humiliating defeat.

No matter how anyone spins it, the defeat is palpable in the desperation dictating the talks. What is critical is how the Taliban and Islamists around the world look at what is happening in Afghanistan. The jihadists are gloating about a glorious victory. The repercussions of this will be cataclysmic, not just for the region but for the entire world.

Instead of expecting anything positive to come from these talks, India must start preparing for the fall-out.

This means doubling-down on support for anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan and tightening the security grid at home.

With everyone focused on the General Elections, national security is at a deep discount.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Warning bells: If US troops exit Kabul, and the Taliban holds sway, Pakistan could unleash 'Ghazwa-e-Hind' against India

Writer

Sushant Sareen Sushant Sareen @sushantsareen

The writer is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation

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