The Biden administration has announced plans to finish the American withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. The Taliban are frustrated over not meeting the May 1 deadline, which both parties had agreed to. However, there has been a change in the government in the United States after quite a historic election. The good news is that President Joe Biden is not throwing that agreement out the window and is merely demanding a little extra time owing to the logistical needs of the withdrawal.
The Taliban have lately shown many signs of positive change. They have promised to allow girls’ education, which could not have been expected of them merely years ago. Respecting the conditions laid out in the agreement, the Taliban have refrained from attacking the coalition forces. They even handed over Bowe Bergdahl to the Americans. Even when 9/11 happened, they demanded proof from the Bush administration that it was indeed Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda that were responsible for the terrorist attacks before they could decide whether or not to hand him over to the Americans. The point is: they have the genes for rationality.
Therefore, there is every reason they should now understand and embrace the extra four-month time frame demanded by Biden, which is only a tiny fraction of the two decades of the American occupation of this land. The Istanbul conference has been delayed until after Eid. Usually, during the holy month of Ramazan, the fighting in Afghanistan used to stop anyway. Having an inelastic stance on the date of the American withdrawal would only embolden the spoilers of peace to kill any prospects of an American exit.
President Ashraf Ghani appeared on CNN and embraced the American withdrawal. However, the Taliban must not forget that he would gladly welcome a reversal in the American decision. He spent more than a year to keep derailing the peace process and killing the peace agreement that the Americans and the Taliban signed. The IS-K kept attacking the Hazara community in central Kabul, which allowed spoilers of peace the opportunity to keep their argument alive; that Afghanistan was still ripe for terrorist groups to regroup and execute attacks against the West.
Now is the time to show flexibility and stay focused on the larger goal: the American exit. If the Taliban wants to be taken seriously and considered a force to be reckoned with in a future Afghanistan, it needs to show negotiation skills today. The Americans would need partners in a future Afghanistan and who is to say those partners couldn’t be the Taliban? The phase where the Taliban gave bloody noses to the foreign military is over. Now is the time to show rationality and leadership skills.
There is no doubt that not meeting the May 1 deadline would represent a violation of agreement but the important fact here is that the Americans have seriously decided to leave. There is no more a need for the Taliban to convince America to leave by showing a readiness and capability to jump in the battlefield because the Americans have already arrived at the decision. It is crucial to realise that this is a new phase now because with the change in Washington’s leadership, it was feared that the new leadership may not feel inclined to end this war. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Denying the enemies of peace a chance to turn this around is what the Taliban’s aim should be right now. Because while the Taliban are united and clear in their aim, which is to make America leave their country, the US is not convinced across the board that they should withdraw. Many generals as well as civilians want to stick to the status quo and remain in Afghanistan. Flexibility to achieve the ultimate goal is what the Taliban would need in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan as well.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2021.