America’s expectations that Afghanistan would not become a haven for terrorists (which it already was) and that the US will remain sheltered from terrorism emanating from that soil, are both misplaced, writes Lt Gen P. C. Katoch (retd) for South Asia Monitor
The surprise being feigned by the US on the interim Taliban regime having no less than 14 UN-designated terrorists is somewhat amusing. The same can be said about the statement from the US Department of State that Taliban and Haqqani network are two different entities. And now US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin comes up with the statement on the anniversary of 9/11 that Afghanistan may see the resurgence of Al Qaeda. The fact is Al Qaeda was already present in Afghanistan, firmly linked to the Afghan Taliban, and in the name of the Haqqanis.
What did the US expect after signing the Doha Agreement with the then Taliban political office head Abdul Ghani Baradar – an inclusive government of Buddhist monks? Can their final government, if the interim one is not made permanent, have any member who is not Talibanized? America has institutionalized Afghanistan as a haven for terrorists, and yet wants counter-terrorism cooperation with the Taliban.
It would be interesting to see US officials hobnobbing with Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, another US-designated terrorist with a price on his head. Some USD 8 billion Afghan funds blocked in America is perhaps the only leverage with the US; but there are already calls by the UN and many other organizations to let money flow into Afghanistan lest the country’s economy collapses resulting in a monumental humanitarian disaster.
China has already released USD 31 million for the Taliban government and more can be expected. Pakistan has sent a C-130 laden aid package. The Taliban hardly craves formal recognition from the West. Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Qatar had been reportedly invited to the inauguration of the interim government of Afghanistan formed by the Taliban before the ceremony was canceled. Diplomatic dialogue between the Taliban and these countries, therefore, already exists.
China has welcomed the Taliban government and the UK has said they want direct dialogue with the Taliban. The first commercial flight to land in Kabul after the airport was made operational by Turkish engineers was of Qatar Airways. Pakistan is resuming commercial operations soon. Given the Qatar-Taliban relationship, Qatar can be expected to soon provide financial assistance and humanitarian aid to the Taliban.
US-Taliban future ties
General Mark Milley, Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on September 1, the US may coordinate with the Taliban to carry out future counterterrorism operations against ISIS-K in Afghanistan. On September 8, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen stated that the group wants ties with all countries in the region, and is “even willing to cooperate with the US”, but not Israel.
But, concurrently, the Taliban has demanded that the Haqqanis be taken off the US terrorist list which otherwise will be a violation of the Doha deal. It will be interesting to see if the Biden administration bows to this demand and how soon. An interesting comment by Pakistani academic FS Aijazudin in his recent article reads: “Now that the prickly Panjshir valley too has fallen to the Taliban, the US and its allies refuse to parent defeat. They seek to control Afghanistan from the grave.”
Notably, the US has not uttered one single word against Pakistan, even for its "brazen attack" on Panjshir Valley in support of the Taliban, and support to the Haqqanis where successive US presidents asked Pakistan to cut off such support. Former US President Donald Trump had categorically said “this must stop now”. That Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India anyway was of little concern to the US.
America’s flawed thinking
America’s expectations that Afghanistan would not become a haven for terrorists (which it already was) and that the US will remain sheltered from terrorism emanating from that soil, are both misplaced. The casualties US-NATO troops inflicted on the Taliban over the past two decades have come to naught. And the free hand given to Pakistan has resulted in the country sitting in China’s lap. Some of the military hardware left by the US troops in Afghanistan has surfaced in Iran, which may have raised eyebrows in the US.
The effect of the Taliban rebuffing America was reflected in the dour countenance of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who has now turned to Iran, warning that time is running out for resolving the Iran nuclear deal. Iran has already said it is ready to resume talks but the US needs to lift all sanctions for the talks to progress. After surrendering Afghanistan to the Taliban, America may have to think twice before considering any physical coercion against Iran.
Time and again American scholars and strategists have argued that the US cannot use force against Pakistan because it has nuclear weapons, which is actually a sham excuse because, instead of conventional attack, the US possessed the wherewithal to subject Pakistan to intensive conflict at the sub-conventional level. But if nuclear weapons are the excuse being bandied, why should Iran not turn nuclear at the earliest, and why should China not help Iran achieve this capability having gained strategic influence in the entire Af-Pak region? Wouldn’t China love to drive that nail into America’s coffin?
(The writer is an Indian Army veteran. The views expressed are personal.)