The Taliban's Return

Image: Brett Sayles


In recent years, the United States has failed to accomplish any of its war goals.

On August 15, the Taliban has arrived to Kabul. Taliban leadership entered the presidential palace, which Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had vacated when he fled into exile hours earlier. The country's borders were closed and Kabul's main international airport was silent except for the screams of Afghans who had worked for the US and NATO; they knew that their lives would now be in serious danger. The Taliban leadership, however, tried to reassure the public regarding a “peaceful transition”, saying in several statements that they would not seek revenge, but would go after corruption and lawlessness.

Taliban entry into Kabul is a defeat for the United States

In recent years, the United States has failed to accomplish any of its war goals. The US entered Afghanistan with horrendous bombing raids and a lawless extraordinary rendition campaign in October 2001, with the aim of driving the Taliban out of the country; now, 20 years later, the Taliban are back. In 2003, two years after unleashing a war in Afghanistan, the US launched an illegal war against Iraq, which ultimately resulted in a withdrawal of the United States in 2011, following the Iraqi parliament's refusal to allow extralegal protections for US troops. By withdrawing from Iraq, the US launched a terrible war against Libya in 2011, which resulted in creating chaos in the region.

None of these wars – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya – resulted in the creation of a pro-US government. Each of these wars created unnecessary suffering for civilian populations. Millions of people have had their lives disrupted, while hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives in these senseless wars. What faith in humanity can a young man in Jalalabad or Sirte expect now? Will they now turn inwards, fearing that any possibility of change has been taken away from them by the barbaric wars inflicted on them and other residents of their countries?

There is no doubt that the United States continues to have the largest army in the world and that, using its base structure and its air and naval power, it can attack any country at any time. But what is the use of bombing a country if this violence does not achieve political ends? The US used its advanced drones to assassinate Taliban leaders, but for every leader it killed, half a dozen others emerged. Moreover, current Taliban officials – including the group's co-founder and head of its political commission, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – have been there from the beginning; it was never possible to behead the entire Taliban leadership. More than 2 trillion dollars have been spending by the United States in a war they knew could not be won.

Corruption was the Trojan Horse

In opening statements, Mullah Baradar said that his government will focus its attention on the corruption endemic to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, stories spread across Kabul about ministers in Ashraf Ghani's government trying to leave the country in cars full of dollar bills, which supposedly was the money that was supplied by the US to Afghanistan for aid and infrastructure. The drain on aid resources given to the country was significant. In a 2016 report by the U.S. government's Special Inspectorate General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) "Lessons Learned from the U.S. Experience with Corruption in Afghanistan," researchers write: "Corruption significantly undermined the US mission in Afghanistan by undermining the legitimacy of the Afghan government, bolstering popular support for the insurgency, and funneling material resources to insurgent groups." SIGAR created a “gallery of greed”, which listed US contractors who embezzled aid money and pocketed it through fraud. More than 2 trillion dollars have been spending in the US occupation of Afghanistan, but not to provide relief or to build the country's infrastructure. Money has fattened the rich in America, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Corruption at the top of government has sapped morale. The United States has pinned its hopes on training 300.000 Afghan National Army troops, spending 88 bibillions of dollars towards this goal. In 2019, one debug of “ghost soldiers” in the ranks – soldiers that did not exist – led to the loss of 42.000 soldiers; the number is likely to have been even bigger. Morale in the Afghan National Army has plummeted in recent years, with army desertions rising to other forces. The defense of provincial capitals also weakened, with Kabul falling to the Taliban almost without a fight.

To this end, the recently appointed minister of defense in the Ghani government, General Bismillah Mohammadi, commented on Twitter about the governments that have been in power in Afghanistan since late 2001: “They tied our hands behind our backs and sold out the homeland. Cursed be the rich man [Ghani] and his people”. This captures the popular sentiment in Afghanistan right now.

Afghanistan and its neighbors

Hours after taking power, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office, Dr. M. Naeem, said that all embassies will be protected, while another Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that all former government officials need not fear for their lives. These are comforting messages for now.

It has also been reassuring that the Taliban have said they are not averse to a national unity government, although there should be no doubt that such a government would be a rubber stamp for the Taliban's own political agenda. So far, the Taliban have not articulated a plan for Afghanistan, something the country has needed for at least a generation.

On July 28, Taliban leader Mullah Baradar met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, China. The contours of the discussion were not fully revealed, but what is known is that the Chinese extracted a promise from the Taliban not to allow attacks on China from Afghanistan and on the infrastructure of the Belt and Road Initiative in Central Asia. In return, China would continue the Initiative's investments in the region, including Pakistan, which is a strong supporter of the Taliban.

Whether or not the Taliban will be able to rein in the extremist groups is unclear, but what is abundantly clear – in the absence of any credible Afghan opposition to the Taliban – is that the regional powers will have to exert their influence in Kabul to improve the harsh program. of the Taliban and their history of supporting extremist groups. For example, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (created in 2001) recreated its Afghanistan Contact Group in 2017, which held a meeting in Dushanbe in July 2021, and appealed for a government of national unity.

At that meeting, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar, presented a three-point plan, which nearly reached consensus among the rowdy neighbors: “(1) An independent, neutral, unified, peaceful, democratic, and prosperous nation; (2) Cease violence and terrorist attacks against civilians and state representatives, resolve conflicts through political dialogue, and respect the interests of all ethnic groups, and (3) Ensure that neighbors are not threatened by terrorism, separatism and extremism".

That's the most that can be expected at this point. The plan promises peace, which is a huge step forward from what the people of Afghanistan have been experiencing for decades. But what kind of peace? This “peace” does not include the rights of women and children to a world of possibilities. During the 20 years of US occupation, this “peace” was also not in evidence. This peace has no real political power behind it, but there are social movements under from the surface that can emerge to put this definition of “peace” on the table. The hope is there.

*Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian and journalist. Director General of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research. Author, among other books, of Bullets from Washington: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations (popular expression).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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