The world looks on in disbelief as America abandons Afghanistan

Afghans have paid a hefty price for the freedom and security they strived for over the past 20 years – now they have been deserted

Biden feared continued US military presence in Afghanistan would never end

The evacuation of the US-led coalition from Afghanistan is taking place with such speed, it is as if the forces had initially been sent to an unknown destination by mistake.

The US was meant to be the hero of this war. Freedom from the grip of the Taliban, and the promise of the establishment of democracy and equality between men and women were among the reasons why tens of thousands of American soldiers were dispatched to the country.

Millions of suffering girls and women who had been imprisoned in their homes found the opportunity to study, seek jobs and become members of commissions for the new constitution, loya jirga (a traditional assembly), and the country’s parliament. Masoudeh Jalal was the first woman who competed in presidential elections with Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan’s transitional government.

I happened to be in Afghanistan during the first days after the fall of the Taliban and witnessed first-hand the impact on the country’s most important cities from north to south – from Kandahar and Jalalabad to Takhar and Mazar-i-Sharif – as they were freed from the Taliban. I spoke to Mujahedin commanders who had key roles in the fight against terrorism and the Taliban, and witnessed mutual strategic cooperation in communication between American and Afghan troops.

Afghans have paid a hefty price for the freedom and security they strived for over the past 20 years. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians have given their lives fighting against the Taliban, killed in unequal fights, ambushes, explosions and suicide attacks.

More than 2,000 US soldiers have also lost their lives in Afghanistan (2,372 soldiers and civilians). Over the past 20 years, thousands of foreign soldiers under the coalition banner have been killed, too, but my focus is on the US forces. These were soldiers whose mothers sent them with pride to fight against terrorism and ignorance. I have spoken to the mothers of these victims, women who are proud of American values and consider their children as heroes who fought to defend the values and principles of democracy. And that is not to mention those whom the war has left disabled or with mental scars.

The US exit from Afghanistan signals a change in strategic policy in the region. But what is America’s answer to the families of American victims? Those young men and women who were sent to Afghanistan to defend democratic values and principles of democracy but returned home in coffins?

The US has a strategic agreement with the elected Afghan government and is committed to defending and supporting this government and the people of Afghanistan. What will become of this strategic agreement signed with Karzai on 4 July 2012 during Barack Obama’s presidency and under Hillary Clinton’s auspices?

Today, Ashraf Ghani’s government is under increasing pressure to deliver its commitment to the nation, to fulfil its duties on the one hand, and meet US government demands on the other.

Before I go into the details of that demand, let me refer to the well-known practice of bribery and corruption within Afghanistan’s government. It is widely reported that President Karzai’s administration – he was twice elected as the leader of Afghanistan – was corrupt, while the current government has been unable to fight corruption in government departments. The billion dollars that left American taxpayers’ pockets to build the country’s infrastructure and reorganise security forces and the army were wasted or, better said, embezzled.

While the Taliban government did not receive dollars in the form of aid, their attempts to cultivate opium poppies and their network of heroin smugglers turned Afghanistan into the major centre of production and illegal procurement of narcotics.

Today, the situation is no better. What we now hear about the armed Taliban sailing through the country is the outcome of the peace agreement signed between the US government envoy Zalmey Khalilzad, and the Taliban in Qatar. These are the same Taliban members who had been released at the request of the US from high-security prisons.

Throughout his years of travelling between Kabul and Doha, Khalilzad prepared the grounds for the release of dangerous Taliban members from prison as the pretext for peace. These are people at the forefront of attacks against cities, people preparing for confrontation with the central government.

Moreover, during the past 20 years, plans to eradicate Mujahedin groups who were at the forefront of fighting the Taliban and terrorism were completed. They were marginalised as warmongers, and a considerable number of effective individuals and those with experience of war against the Taliban have been assassinated in recent years.

Today, there are hardly a handful of figures from the key Northern Coalition left. Some are corrupted to the core by American taxpayers’ dollars and thus have no incentive to fight the Taliban, and some have become too old to continue.

Besides, there are no arms to combat the Taliban, because people have left the task to the police and the national army. Even in better times, soldiers of the national army could hardly feed their families with their meagre wages and now it has been months since they were paid. For whom and for what ideal should they sacrifice their lives when they see that their strategic partner has secretly vacated their base in the dead of night?

What is the United States’s reason for such hurried policy, as unbelievable to foreign observers as to the people of Afghanistan? I believe this is part of Khalilzad’s plan to impose the peace agreement with the Taliban and implement promises the US gave them in Qatar.

The Afghan government has in the past months refused to accept Khalilzad’s proposed peace plan and negotiate with the Taliban. Ghani did not accept the establishment of a transitional government and insisted that the solution to reaching peace with the Taliban lies in an early general election.

Today, the advancement of the Taliban and the United States’s refusal to support the army or prevent cities and towns from coming under their control is aimed at putting the central government under enormous pressure to the point of falling. Ultimately, the US envoy’s plan in Afghanistan is to push the government either to resign or succumb to negotiating with the Taliban and accept their request for power-sharing.

I have referred to shortcomings, to bribery and corruption and security and economic problems left unresolved, but it should be noted that over the past 20 years, schools have been built and government departments established. Afghanistan has a constitution and political, security and government offices.

The threshold of government tolerance should not be tested to the point of the annihilation of these achievements and the fall of the country into national insecurity and wars of attrition.

Like its rugged land, Afghanistan holds within its borders different tribes and cultures, none of which accept the superiority of the other. Memories of the massacre of smaller religious tribes have not been forgotten.

Perhaps it would be best if the US concentrated on security, intelligence and anti-terrorism rather than sending hundreds of thousands of soldiers to get involved in direct combat; to concentrate on building up culture and development of ideas in Pashtun areas at the Pakistani frontier, where people are more prone to extremism and the teachings of backward religious seminaries.

Today, Iran, Russia and China’s connections with the Taliban are not out of love for them but out of enmity towards their shared enemy. The US aim is to put maximum pressure on the Kabul government while leaving the Taliban a free hand to cause insecurity at the borders of Iran, Russia and China, thus forcing them to appreciate America’s presence in the region. Now with the rise of terrorist groups at their borders, these countries have to foot the bill for the security the US provided for free.

The following days are going to be decisive, but it is unlikely that, even with the fall of the central government or power-sharing with the Taliban, the confrontations will easily cease. Equally, assuming power by the Taliban will not create peace and security in Afghanistan.

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

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