The Americans are pushing for the Taliban and Kabul to share power in a future Afghanistan. That idea is rejected by Ashraf Ghani vehemently because in any power sharing arrangement, he would have to step down as president, which could mean the end of his political career and even life, depending on who you ask.
The Taliban would never share power with whom they call a “puppet”. They are going to go for the kill, literally. In their mind, they fought against the mighty American army and brought them to the table or their knees, depending on who you ask. So, why should they accept sitting across the table from the Afghan government, which they can defeat more easily? The United States has to realise that there is less or no return in power sharing and that is why it needs to invest its energy and money where there is more return and more threat: the support to the Taliban against the roaring Islamic State in Afghanistan.
While the IS is propped up by the spoilers of peace in Afghanistan, there may emerge a situation where the presence of the IS will benefit the Taliban. And I do not mean they would develop some sort of an alliance. Quite the contrary actually. Their antagonism would create an opportunity for the Taliban to receive American and Western support, pushing the current Kabul regime into further oblivion, or their graves, depending on who you ask.
There is a similar history with a potential déjà vu. At the end of the 1980s, the US withdrew its support from the Mujahideen not only because the war had ended and the Soviets had lost, but because to America, a red (communist) Afghanistan could have been acceptable but not a green (Islamic) one. They did not want Afghanistan to be overrun and ruled by the Mujahideen, whom they couldn’t always control and who could behave irrationally. Such unpredictable behaviour did not go in line with the American modus operandi of using others to control some distant land.
Today, the IS is potentially a similar problem. If the US leaves Afghanistan without providing some assistance to the Taliban, who have proved themselves strong on the battlefield, a war can emerge between the Taliban and the IS. Kabul’s ally of convenience, namely India, has already sneakily provided some support to the IS with hopes of creating shock troops checking the power of the Taliban. That could cook up into something very distasteful. IS taking over Afghanistan in the future would be worse than what Afghanistan has ever been. The American fears of seeing an Afghanistan ruled by the Mujahideen of the yesteryear would appear very benign compared to an Afghanistan infected heavily with IS.
Therefore, the most important thing for the US is not just to secure a guarantee from the Taliban to not allow any terrorist group to use Afghan soil to plan and execute attacks against the West but rather to keep an alliance with them — which has proven kinetic — and even political credentials given it has no Jihadist ambitions. The Taliban only want to free their land from the Americans. They do not have ambitions to carry some extreme version of Islam to other lands and disrupt the status quo globally. That is what the IS wants. The Taliban DNA is nationalistic. They have shown tremendous elasticity. Recently, they allowed girls to go to school.
I must say that while there is ample research and a compelling argument that one of the most effective ways to convince insurgent groups to abandon violence is to make them part of the political process and power, the Taliban by assuming power and control of Afghanistan might realise how gigantic a task this is and find their battlefield from the past an easier struggle.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2021.