The war is set to continue
Trump’s agreement with the Taliban shows that the United States has comprehensively failed in achieving its stated objectives, argues Yassamine Mather.
On February 29 United States and Taliban representatives signed an agreement following months of negotiations in Doha, Qatar’s capital. The deal - not involving the ‘elected’ Afghan government - is supposed to end one of the longest wars the USA has been involved in (begun in 2001) and pave the way for the withdrawal of all its troops from Afghanistan. It was signed in the presence of leaders from Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, who all backed the secret negotiations.
Like all the other Trump ‘peace deals’ - North Korea, the ‘deal of the century’, etc - this latest, much heralded agreement did not last long before it was breached. Less than five days later the US launched an air strike against Taliban fighters. On Twitter, Colonel Sonny Leggett, who acts as spokesperson for US forces in Afghanistan, claimed it was a “defensive strike” to disrupt an attack on an Afghan National Security Forces checkpoint.
This occurred only hours after US media reported a phone conversation between Donald Trump and a senior Taliban official, whom the president mistakenly called “leader of the Taliban”. According to The Guardian, the call between Washington and Doha lasted 35 minutes and it is reported that Trump told Abdul Ghani Baradar:
You are a tough people and have a great country and I understand that you are fighting for your homeland. We have been there for 19 years and that is a very long time and withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan now is in the interest of everyone.
Trump told reporters: “We had actually a very good talk with the leader of the Taliban.” He later told a meeting that the “Taliban are great fighters - they fought the Soviet Union”. Of course, we cannot expect the US president to know too much history, but, for those who might be confused, it was not the Taliban, but the Mujahedeen (along with foreign volunteers such as al Qa’eda) who fought the Soviets, with the backing of the CIA and the Saudis.
The Taliban only came into prominence in 1994, at least three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as one of the factions of the post-Soviet Afghan civil war. As their name indicates, they were mainly seminary students (talib) in traditional Islamic schools, from the east and south of Afghanistan.
The latter stages of the negotiations included arguments about the US demand for a ceasefire before anything was signed. But the deal itself stipulates:
a timeline of 14 months for the withdrawal of all US and Nato troops from Afghanistan; a Taliban guarantee that Afghan soil will not be used as a launchpad that would threaten the security of the US; the launch of intra-Afghan negotiations by March 10; and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
The withdrawal of US forces will start immediately, with American troops (and proportionate numbers of allied troops) reduced to 8,600 within 135 days. The remainder of US and allied forces will leave within 14 months - down from 14,000 US troops and around 17,000 from 39 Nato countries, many in what was supposed to be non-combatant roles.
The Taliban have made a commitment to stop “its members or members of al Qa’eda using Afghan soil to threaten American national security”. However, in the text of the deal there is no sign of how this would be verified or how the enforcement of this policy would be monitored.
Taliban leaders have made it clear they will continue targeting Afghan military forces in what has been a relentless campaign of planting bombs in major cities. By March 2 the Taliban had already resumed their attacks on the Afghan ‘National Security and Defence Forces’ despite the peace deal. In response the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, announced that he will not now release Taliban prisoners - although the Taliban claim they only launched their attack on Afghan forces after that statement.
In the meantime, one of the important sponsors of the deal, Pakistan, has accused the Afghan leaders of jeopardising the next phase of the deal. Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the press that Washington must be wary of those seeking to derail the ‘peace process’:
People want peace. Now it is time to see what the [Afghan] leadership does. Do they prioritise Afghanistan’s interests, or do they give their own personal benefits more importance? This is a very big decision.
I have lost count of the number of bombs detonated by the Taliban in Kabul alone, but for most of the last few years dozens of Afghan civilians have died every week in car bombings and attacks on hotels, restaurants, etc. Yet the leader of the ‘free world’ is now happy to speak positively about his conversations with Taliban leaders. Clearly there are ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ and after 19 years the Taliban, who were once said to be the worst of the lot, have become allies.
Sections of the US press are already expressing cynicism about the deal. As always with Donald Trump, this has more to do with spin than reality. Time magazine tells us:
There is a difference between peace and retreat. The Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban represents a full retreat ...
Let’s begin with the elephant in the room. There is no meaningful argument that the fate of Afghanistan is somehow irrelevant to our national security. The war in Afghanistan was no ‘war of choice’. On 9/11 our nation suffered its worst attack since Pearl Harbor. It suffered its worst attack on an American city since the British burned Washington DC on August 24 1814, and the Taliban were intimately involved. That attack came from an enemy operating with the permission and under the protection of the same Taliban the Trump administration deals with today.
Almost 20 years after the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan - which was supposed to bring regime change, women’s liberation, a democratic civil society - the very fact that the world’s hegemon power is signing a deal with the group that helped to facilitate 9/11 says as much about the current state of the United States as it does about the sorry saga of two decades of war and devastation in Afghanistan itself.
The US ‘war on terror’, that has so far devastated an entire region and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, started in September 2001, immediately after the 9/11 attack, with the aim of removing the Taliban from power. They were accused of aiding al Qa’eda. No doubt the Taliban did have close relations with al Qa’eda, as well as its offshoot, Islamic State, but the perpetrators of the terror attacks that took place in New York and Virginia were Saudi citizens. No-one in their right mind had any doubts about al Qa’eda’s origins and its financial connections with Saudi Arabia (and indeed in an earlier period with the CIA). Yet there was no mention of the kingdom’s role in all this: not only did it escape the wrath of the US and its allies in the ‘war on terror’: western governments continued to supply Saudi Arabia with all manner of advanced military equipment. During the ‘war on terror’, Saudi Arabia remained an ally, while Iran which, according to the US’s own admission was fighting these Salafi groups, was labelled a ‘terrorist’ country, faced sanctions and threats of war.
Under such circumstances how can anyone take US governments seriously on such questions? However, although the US president appears ill informed, stumbling from one ‘deal’ to yet another conflict, we should not forget that sections of US capital are now openly rejecting all claims of ‘nation building’, ‘adherence to international law’, and are complicit in the normalisation of political assassination and even the destruction of an entire region for the sake of maintaining and advancing US superiority.
All this is a sign of the dangerous times we live in. For all the jokes about Trump’s ignorance, the actual consequences of his policies could be devastating in the long term