After 20 years of constant occupation and taking all Afghan affairs in their own hands, the chief of the United States administration, Joe Biden, has come up with the ‘moonshot’ strategy for Afghanistan — basically an idea of finding extremely radical solutions to huge, seemingly impossible problems.
But how did giving back their freedom to a people and letting them live their own lives with their own self-determination and with sovereign control on their own land and resources become such a pie in the sky for the US that requires moonshots to resolve?
Two decades ago, the US came parading over the country and arrogantly assured that they, the beholders of civilisation, were to deliver the bliss of ‘democracy’ and ‘progress’ to the uncivilised Afghans. But instead, they trampled the lives and dreams of millions beneath their boots, have delivered nothing but the promise of chaos and ‘spiraling violence’ for the Afghan future as they, for themselves, look for a ‘dignified departure’.
But there is another reason why Biden equated the new US strategy for Afghanistan as a moonshot strategy — an unprecedented solution for an impossible problem. The reason was that because the Doha peace process was not yielding anything the US liked, they thought of moving the whole process to a different platform, the UN, so that things could be restarted with a different angle.
The schema of the Doha process had become dominated with the Taliban narrative based on a complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the Afghan soil. The US was simply finding itself in a compliant position, eventually agreeing to a complete withdrawal by May 1, 2021. The downside of the Doha process was that along with being able to corner the US in the talks, the Taliban categorically refused to negotiate with the Kabul regime or even let them have a presence in Doha, nor did they allow Indian presence in the process.
Russia, on the other hand, has been involved in the Afghan peace process since 2014, when the withdrawals began. The Russian process has also been dominated by the Taliban, and here, there have been face-to-face talks with several Afghan factions, excluding the regime itself. The mood in Russia has been that Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan should act as guarantors of fulfilling the agreements, and here again, India’s relevance as a part of the process in any manner was denied.
So now, in moonshot, Blinken has sent a letter to Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, saying “a regional conference under the UN auspices with foreign ministers of the US, India, Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran to discuss a ‘unified approach’ on Afghanistan” will be scheduled. The conference will first redraw a “roadmap to a new, inclusive government”, share it with the Taliban; then ask Turkey to host a meeting with the Afghan government in Kabul and the Taliban; and as a result, impose a “90-day reduction in violence” plan on the Taliban, basically to avoid the Taliban Spring Offensive.
The question is: what will be in this new roadmap that has not come up in the peace talks of the last several years? What seems to be new are all the things that the Taliban wanted to be kept out, and it is truly a moonshot to think that the Taliban would happily accept this new approach, however sugar-coated it may be.
‘Reduction in violence’ is especially a thorny demand on the Taliban, who have resisted the world’s biggest military alliance with their small arms for two decades. In 2001, when the Taliban were in power in Kabul, the US-NATO alliance did not give the Taliban a cushion for negotiations before they launched their ‘violent’ offensive on the already war-trodden nation. On October 7, 2001, Bush, after ordering an attack on Afghanistan, said to the American people, “Two weeks ago, I gave Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands. Close terrorist training camps, hand over leaders of the Al Qaeda network… none of these demands were met. And now the Taliban will pay a price.” How then are the Taliban expected to forsake their deterrence that they have built with their blood in the long 20 years of being brutely occupied by foreigners and to give their oppressors a full three-month cushion?
In fact, Blinken made another vilification of the Taliban and the Afghan self-esteem in general when he added to his letter a sharp comment, “As you and your countrymen know all too well, disunity on the part of Afghan leaders proved disastrous in the early 1990s and must not be allowed to sabotage the opportunity before us.” Now this clearly points to failure of the Mujahideen factions to form a united government in Kabul at that time, and the coming to power of the Taliban. The question now is: is Blinken reminding the factions that they were not civilised enough at that time to be able to form a government, or is he labeling the Taliban government as the ‘disaster’? Either way, Blinken has made a bad precedence.
Anyways, there is also talk of a transitional government and the idea is quite dreadful if we consider the very recent example of the 10-year-long transitional period in Libya. The frail UN presence in Tripoli for a decade showed the world how incapable the UN is in resolving matters around the world. With the UN-backed Al Sarraj handing over power to a new Tobruk-backed transitional government this week, one bethinks if the UN had any role there but to prolong the state of chaos.
And this also shows how Turkey and Russia took over the Libyan stage, played on both sides and created a peace process of their own leading. The same may be repeating in Afghanistan, but the question is, will Russia and Turkey be able to return power to the real ‘people’ in either Libya or Afghanistan, or will they be pursuing their own newly-found interests in these two arenas, now that they see their increasing influence in these countries.
It is the Afghan people and the Taliban who will have to ensure their own sovereignty, and that foreign elements, both friends and foes, do not infringe upon them unduly.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2021.