The longest war of America, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is coming to an end. Given the spoilers in the region as well as the war hawks in Washington DC, we should remain cautiously optimistic. It was hard to believe that President Joe Biden would end the war in Afghanistan but he announced the withdrawal to begin right away and finish on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. As expected, all the reasons given were selfish such as the war continuation being a drag on the economy and a diversion from more pressing issues such as climate change and a divided state of America battered by the pandemic. There was not even a pretense of showing remorse for killing an enormous number of innocent people in Afghanistan.
The peace deal signed between the Taliban and the Trump administration required the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan on May 1. An extension of a few months should not be whined about. As the often-repeated Taliban adage goes, “You have the watches, we have the time.” The peace agreement has the Taliban provide the guarantee that they would not allow their soil to be used by any foreign terrorist group to plan and execute attacks against the US. In return, the Americans would return. Truth be told, it is nothing more than a face-saving statement only to make it sound like the US bargained hard and the Taliban relented. Furthermore, there is no promise the Taliban wouldn’t be attacked again in future, even if they kept their end of the bargain.
It all boils down to hope. That is the name of the insurance policy surrounding Afghanistan. The Taliban are hoping the Americans would not come back invading their land. The Americans are hoping the Taliban would behave and prevent the water in Afghanistan from boiling. Actually, this American hope has taken a new shape. Those in the Washington power system who advocate for the withdrawal argue that the Taliban wouldn’t create violence in Afghanistan because they yearn for international recognition very deeply. Even in the 90s, that is what the Taliban had wanted. Then, only three countries were willing to extend that recognition: Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Pakistan. They will behave to earn global recognition as a legitimate political force of Afghanistan. They have proven their military credentials by beating the mightiest army mankind has ever seen.
Also, the hope for recognition would have to be sweetened with the strongest sweetener mankind has ever made: US dollars. So, the Taliban are hoping they would be able to march triumphantly to Kabul and snatch power from the Ghani-led regime without being stopped by the Americans as long as they can convince the world of their hope that all they desire are global recognition and American cash.
Those against the American withdrawal make their case based on the argument that the Taliban are not to be trusted and they will violate women’s rights, etc. They call it wishful thinking and the story they tell themselves to feel good about the withdrawal. Sure, there is storytelling involved but not in connection with making the case for withdrawal only, it is rather more about telling themselves the story that they care about women’s rights and the potential violence in Afghanistan. Let us speak the truth, shall we? This was never about women’s rights, educating the Afghan youth, or some other nice sounding cause. This was about revenge, power, and control.
The saddest part is that when the rationale for the war was being made in America, there was not much noise against that war drumbeat. Today, the rationale for withdrawal is also made in America, but there is a lot of noise against it. The Taliban haven’t given up but are willing to end the war. The Americans gave up, yet are unwilling to end the war.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2021.