What we are witnessing today in Afghanistan was not to be anticipated – Washington started negotiations with the Taliban movement which it itself designated terrorists. Just recently, deputy assistant to the US President, Lisa Curtis announced that the White House is prepared to engage in peaceful dialogue with representatives of the Taliban movement. This statement was preceded by a similar one made by US permanent representative to the UN, Nikki Haley last January, after she visited the Afghan capital – Kabul.
These announcements are nothing short of a complete failure of the strategy that Washington has been pursuing throughout the Afghan conflict. The changes that US President Donald Trump introduced to this approach made little to no difference in the long run, which Washington must now reluctantly acknowledge.
The US certainly maintained an open line of contact with the Taliban before these announcements were made, but there was no goal for the negotiations other than beginning the negotiations themselves, with each side going after each other’s throat on the ground. Now there’s a clear goal in sight – the integration of the Taliban movement and those groups that are close to it into the Afghan government. The leading part in this process will undoubtedly be played the United States, which plays both the driving force behind this process and one of its main sponsor. However, the idea came from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who originates from the eastern Pashtunistan region and belongs to a tribal confederation of Gilzai, whose representatives are widely represented in both the chain of command of the Taliban and at its lower ranks.
Formally, the talks were kick-started back in February by a statement from Ashraf Ghani himself about the readiness of his government to launch the peace process and announce a cease-fire without any preconditions. He has also promised to recognize the Taliban as a political force, to open an office representing the Taliban in Kabul, while handing out passports and visas to all the members of the movement and their families.
All of the above mentioned facts were made in spite of the fact that back in 2003 the UN Security Council officially recognized the Taliban as a terrorist organization.
After the United States wasting billions of dollars on futile attempts to put an end to the Taliban, the latter is now in de facto control of well over 70% of Afghan territory, as it’s been announced by the BBC. It remains remarkably strong in the provinces of Helmand and Uruzgan, the homeland of the founder of the Taliban, Mullah Omar. After the withdrawal in 2014 of the better part of the international coalition forces led by NATO, the territory controlled by the Taliban or those that are under constant threat of their attacks has significantly expanded. However, according to Stars and Stripes, a memo from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John F. Sopko states that the Pentagon was straightforward in its demand not to disclose these facts Congress or the general public, so that nobody would come to grips that a total of 17 years of constant warfare resulted in Washington finding itself cornered in a dead end.
That is why, in President Trump’s presentation of his “new US strategy for Afghanistan” made last summer, the main emphasis was put on increasing the number of boots on the ground and putting more political pressure on Pakistan and India.
However, some of the provisions of this strategy only worsened the situation and intensified the uncompromising geopolitical confrontation in the country, which is called the graveyard of empires for good reason. It is enough to recall that back in 1842, a 16,000 strong British army was completely wiped out in Afghanistan, including every single member of its camp being put to the sword.
US intentions to get India more heavily involved in Afghan affairs serves as a source of constant source of aggravation for its neighbor – Pakistan. As a result, one can expect Islamabad to mend its old ties with its age-old partners – the Taliban, which in turn might strengthen the latter even further.
It is hardly necessary to talk about the prospects of the plan to partition Afghanistan. Since 2001, American think-tanks were considering a number of options regarding such a scenario, as a way of finalizing the Afghan problem and appeasing the region. However, one of the reasons they turned their back on it initially was the fear that northern Afghanistan would fall into Iran’s sphere of influence. But these fears can only be described as groundless, as local residents are mainly Sunni. Only the Hazaras of central Afghanistan are Shiites, but most of them are fighting for Iranian citizenship in Syria.
But perhaps the main reason behind Washington’s rejection of this approach is its adherence to its tried and tested formula of dealing with ethnic conflicts – “unite and conquer.” That is, to play on the contradictions of the communities, while keeping them together by depriving local groups of the opportunity to seek their own way. This is how Washington acts in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, leashing together the half-dead confederation of Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims for the last quarter of a century, while torturing the Serbs with the guilt for the so-called “Srebrenica massacre.”
That’s why the US has decided once again to “mold the Afghan nation together”. Until recently, the Taliban and the radical militants of ISIS were recklessly exterminating each other as soon as only blood enemies could. Today, a part of the Taliban, for example is already cooperating with Afghan ISIS militants, while awaiting the fall of Kabul.
In recent years, Russia and several other countries have been actively working to prevent the union of these two groups and have tried to encourage the Taliban to engage in dialogue with Kabul in order to reduce the level of armed confrontation in this country. Nobody tried to make a big secret out this fact, but then the Trump administration decided to level another round of groundless accusations at Moscow by announcing that it was supplying arms to the Taliban, it thwarted Russia’s attempts to seek peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict.
Against this background, the US president promised in August 2017 “to eradicate terrorism in Afghanistan,” for which he set the goal of increasing the number of US troops stationed in the country to 15,000 servicemen. The reason for the US remaining tightly engaged in this military campaign can be found in the recent study of Yale University which states that there’s a huge group of employees of both military and civilian agencies who make a living off this endless war. Officially they claim otherwise, but facts state the exact opposite.
It’s hard to believe that the US was anticipating any other steps from the Taliban than an abrupt increase in hostilities. The Taliban launched attacked against pro-US forces all across the country, while ceasing any raids against ISIS completely. If there’s no ceasefire between the two groups, then a secret pact of non-aggression is definitely in place.
But in fact, this “Trump plan” to reconcile the Taliban with the ISIS after the withdraw of American troops, was aimed at creating a “non-healing ulcer” on the body of Central Asia, creating a host of problems for China, Russia, and Iran, as well as an increasingly alienated Turkey and especially Pakistan (traditionally friendly to China and even more hostile towards the US than ever) for many decades to come.
Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”