America has become the Taliban’s unlikely ally in Afghanistan

Kabul has got the message: it must agree to American demands to share power with the Taliban and form an interim government if it wants US protection

Camelia Entekhabifard
Tuesday 27 July 2021 12:38
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Attacks by Taliban militants have been sharply on the rise. The departure of the coalition forces has led to more and more of Afghanistan’s territory falling to the Taliban. There is ample evidence to suggest that we should be concerned about the future of Afghanistan. Massacres of citizens; the beating up and forced marrying off of women in northern areas to Taliban fighters; an avalanche of passport and migration applications; and the approval of emergency exits for Afghan interpreters who worked with German, American or British forces.

Alongside this dark news we have the welcoming of the Taliban’s delegation in Tehran by Iran’s official government. The US, meanwhile, undergoes a fundamental change in its foreign policy as it abandons its strategic partner, the sovereign government of Afghanistan, headed by President Ashraf Ghani.

It has been two months since the Taliban’s bloody onslaught took a new turn, as did their widespread propaganda about the cities that had fallen to them. We have much evidence for the rise of popular resistance, however, including by armed women in some northern areas of Afghanistan.

On the holy day of Eid al-Adha, as President Ghani and Vice President Amrullah Saleh were taking part in a collective prayer, we saw the capital city of Kabul and the presidential palace under rocket fire. The rockets delivered a message to Kabul not just from the Taliban but from the US government.

Two days after Kabul’s rocket-filled Eid, on Thursday 22 July, the US, European Union, Nato and a number of Western governments asked Kabul to reach an agreement with the Taliban about the future of governance in Afghanistan. In a meeting held in Rome, the representatives of these countries and organisations asked the Afghan government and the Taliban to agree on an immediate ceasefire and also to thrash out details of the agreement for an interim government.

Kabul got the message: if it didn’t agree to the American demands to share power with the Taliban and form an interim government, the capital and other cities could fall and an all-out civil war could intensify. On 24 July, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry welcomed the Rome meeting in an official statement as a step toward “ceasing of violence from the Taliban, immediate ceasefire and a political solution in Afghanistan”.

Now that President Ghani had implicitly agreed to an interim government (which he had previously strongly opposed), the US did what it had agreed to do for its strategic partner: bombardment of the Taliban. The cities that have fallen to the Taliban were previously safeguarded by the US air force. It was the cutting of this support and cessation of airstrikes that aided the Taliban and allowed it to take them over.

Sensing the danger, President Ghani showed flexibility and stopped opposing the US-Taliban deal that was inked in Doha. He agreed to an interim government. It is now up to the United States to push back the Taliban and force them to accept principles that have undermined the achievements of Afghanistan’s people in the last 20 years. The US embassy in Kabul have asked the Taliban to quickly cease their military operations in Afghanistan or else face a fierce response by US air strikes.

It might feel like the momentum is now with Afghanistan’s central government. But what we witness is politicking by the United States which aims to bring to an end its 20-year presence in Afghanistan due to its high expenditures and to change its political strategy in the region. Who will pay the high cost of this decision? The people of Afghanistan.

In its newest report, published on 26 July, the UN said that, in the first six months of the year, there was a 47 per cent rise in the number of wounded and dead civilians. The report shows that the number spiked after May when the process of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan began and the Taliban intensified their attacks.

The shocking report shows that 1,659 civilians were killed and 254 civilians were wounded. In the last two months, according to a report by Afghanistan’s government, close to a million people have fled war-torn areas and lost their homes. Many schools and health clinics have been destroyed. In the occupied areas, people face ferocious oppression, while the human rights of girls and women are especially violated. Defenseless and innocent people who want little to do with politics are once more paying the highest price.

Now an interim government is being formed in Afghanistan while the US has, with much calculation, prepared the conditions so that this happens just when the Taliban and Kabul hold roughly the same amount of territory. Backed by US air strikes in the last two days, Afghanistan’s armed forces, with the collaboration of local people, were able to take back 17 districts. The Taliban now holds 193 out of 421 districts, roughly half of Afghanistan.

Ashraf Ghani’s flexibility and conciliation will soon bring out other results including the taking back of Afghanistan’s border areas including border posts of Herat province (with Iran) and other border areas with Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The path is now open for what Zalmay Khalzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, has long wanted: an interim government. He can now aim to finish the unfinished talks of Doha after two years.

The new changes, desired by the US, can also satisfy Afghanistan’s neighbours. Coordination with Iran and Pakistan, representatives of both already closely in touch with Afghan contacts, will help the formation of an interim government.

A Kabul-Taliban meeting was to be held in May in Turkey but it was postponed. The next summit, when it comes, can be as important a meeting as Bonn in 2001 which helped the transfer of power away from President Burnhanuddin Rabbani to President Hamid Karzai.

This all helps back a narrative long supported by Khalilzad and also by Barnett Rubin, a political scientist and a former senior advisor to the state department during the Obama years. More than two decades of international failure in Afghanistan, Khalilzad and Rubin claim, goes back to Bonn 2001’s decision to exclude Taliban from a share in power.

Camelia Entekhabifard is the editor-in-chief of The Independent Persian

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