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US President Donald Trump wants to withdraw 7,000 troops from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Trump is also considering a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan and handing over security, political and social affairs to the Taliban extremists instead of an elected Afghan government. Trump is a businessman and contemplates everything based on business transactions. However, it is the Afghans who have paid the highest price with blood and bonds.
After a complete withdrawal, Washington will leave a vacuum drawing in global terrorists, as the Afghan security and defense forces are left to protect the US from another 9/11 or massive bombing in Western countries.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani claimed that around 45,000 of his country’s military personnel had been killed since 2014, mostly by the Taliban and international terrorist groups. After all, the Taliban come to the negotiating table only when there is military pressure on them. This time the US and Taliban kicked off talking about peace in Doha, Qatar, while sidelining the Afghan government. But in reality, it is the Afghan government that battles the Taliban insurgents on the front lines, not the US military any more.
During 2018, most of the operations were conducted by the Afghan army against the Taliban along with other international terrorist groups such as Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K). The Afghan forces engaged in conflict with Taliban on the battle front in Ghazni province where the US provided limited air support to drive the Taliban out of the center of the province at the same time as Afghan security forces were targeting the field commanders of Taliban.
On security reform, the Afghan government has mostly focused on the Interior and Defense ministries. The reforms in the security sector are quickly moving forward and Afghanistan will be radically changed by 2024, according to Ghani.
Taliban assessment on state formation
President Ghani recently called on the Taliban “to accept Afghans’ demands for peace and enter serious negotiations.” However, the militant group have long said they will not talk to the Afghan government, mocking it as a “Western puppets” in their propaganda statements. But how are the Taliban themselves not being puppets if they gain the key to rule Afghanistan according to the rules of the Americans and not of the Afghan people?
After all, the Afghan government came to power through a democratic system, while the Taliban have refused to acknowledge democratic institutions. Though the movement’s leadership in the Qatar office later backtracked from some alarming suggestions of abolishing the Afghan National Army, the Taliban have said that all the agreements that the Afghan government had signed with other governments around the world must be revised.
A change in the attitude of the Taliban has been the biggest hope of the Afghan nation, a change that will bring all the ethnic groups living in Afghanistan together based on equality, democracy, and strong state institutions. But that hope is still missing. The Taliban will not be changed; the movement will nullify women’s rights, freedom of the press and minority rights and drag Afghanistan into intra-ethnic conflicts.
Originally the Taliban were the product of Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan. In Afghanistan the Taliban have never had any chance to participate in parliamentarian politics. While many Afghans would welcome such participation, the Taliban have no experience in politics apart from using brute force to get back their Islamic Emirate. Socially and politically, the Taliban are far weaker than the Afghan government on the military front. They have achieved their status by virtue of violence and destruction.
Furthermore, some opponents of the peace talks contend that neither party – the Taliban nor the Americans – can be trusted. Therefore comprehensive negotiating dialogue requires confidence-building measures from all sides. The Afghan government does not trust the Taliban to hold to their stated anti-al-Qaeda or Anti-ISIS stance in the future. Nobody can guarantee that the Taliban will not allow global jihadists such as Chechen militants, Uighur militants, and the Central Asian militant network refuge.
Taliban in connection with global jihadists
The movement has been seeking to overthrow the elected government of Afghanistan or at least share power with it.
During Syrian civil war, various insurgent groups competed to subvert President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and in 2012 the al-Qaeda branches in Pakistan and Afghanistan encouraged Taliban allies to send volunteers to fight against Assad. The Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban received massive funds from ISIS, which now operates in Afghanistan. By June 2014 and ISIS source claimed that around 575 Afghan Taliban and 714 Pakistani Taliban were actively involved in its ranks in Syria and Iraq.
It’s a fact that the Taliban occasionally fight ISIS in Afghanistan when they fear that the jihadists could take hold of mineral resources and generate an independent economy that could pose a greater risk to the Taliban.
In a recent interview with Fareed Zakaria on the sidelines of the WEF, Ghani said the Taliban had links with global terrorist organizations, which is an alarming issue for Afghanistan and the entire region. However, the existence of such bonds is not a new phenomenon; over the years the Taliban have had a solid connection with al-Qaeda and other militant groups from different regions. Thus these connections are based on waging a global jihad targeting any government that threatens them, and in this case the US is the prime example.
Neither the Taliban nor the Afghan government can win this war militarily. Washington is pressing the Taliban to have a ceasefire and enter a dialogue with the Afghan government. No peace can be credible until the Afghan government is brought into direct talks.