The more things change, the more they stay the same. The end of America’s longest war is in many ways similar to the end of Soviet Union’s war in the empire’s graveyard. Last November, Russia hosted a conference between the Taliban representatives and members of the Afghan peace council to eventually reach a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. At the time, it seemed like the Russian modus operandi to gain influence in the future Afghanistan was to convince the Taliban to talk to the Kabul regime, which the Taliban call the “puppet” regime. At the meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that their aim was to hold “direct talks between the government, the Taliban movement and representatives of the wide range of the country’s social and political circles”.
The part “country’s social and political circles” became clear when Russia once again hosted talks between the Taliban and some of the Afghan political bigwigs who are fierce rivals of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Shockingly, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, leading a delegation of former officials and representatives of political parties, was seen in an amicable environment with the Taliban political chief, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai. The two sides have fought a bloody civil war not too long ago. There are no permanent allies or enemies in international politics and Afghanistan is an unmatched test for this concept. Because the Americans cutting a deal to leave town is written on the wall and more than anyone, Ghani sees it and can read between the lines too. If history is any teacher, we should know that when it comes to starting and ending a war, America embraces a pain-killer approach rather than curing the cancer.
The US demand of the Taliban talking to the Kabul regime sounds outdated and might soon become obsolete. “Ultimately, we need to get to a Taliban-Afghanistan discussion”, General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, told US lawmakers. Similarly, many US officials are advocating for compelling the Taliban to talk to the Kabul government. The more the orthodox Washington insiders advocate for including the Kabul regime in the talks, the more Trump might find it juicy to defy that and simply throw the Kabul regime under the bus, so that he can claim in election campaign, not too far from now, that he never listened to the crooks of Washington.
For now, it appears that President Trump’s aim is to end the war and his behaviour indicates to the parties involved that he is flexible with the modus operandi of the exit, as long as there is an expiry date on the American presence in Afghanistan. Perhaps, Washington is embracing the lesser evil of letting Moscow, Rawalpindi, and Beijing gain some influence if the quid pro quo is to end the war and stop the bleeding of the American financial and human resource. Perhaps, the Americans have also realised that withdrawals or rather exiting the battlefield in defeat but with a face saving deal is like an abortion. You don’t want to have to do it, but when you do, you don’t do it yourself.
In a thought-provoking reversal of roles, now Moscow is midwifing America’s withdrawal or defeat in Afghanistan, just as Washington and Langley had midwifed the Soviet rollback in the February of 1989. And just like the Soviet-installed Najibullah was killed and hanged for public display in Kabul, Ghani is more and more filling that roll in this interesting Deja Vu. American withdrawal would seal his fate, which the Taliban claim has already begun and would be finished by the end of April. President Ghani should remember that India abandoned its ally Najibullah when he needed its help the most. India basically left him to die. While the nitty gritty of the end of America’s longest war would be worked out, my honest suggestion to President Ashraf Ghani is this: Run!
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2019.
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