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Fleeting moments

October 28, 2019

Peace anytime?


October 28, 2019

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper landed unannounced in Kabul on October 21 to pick up the peace thread severed by President Trump on October 5. Peace talks between the superpower and the Taliban have gone on for more than a year without making any tangible headway. The nearer the talks seem, the more elusive they become.

‘Elusive’ is the operating word used by many international reporters who commented on the peace parleys since these began in the beginning of last year. On the face of it, the world hears one side of the story painted by the mainstream US media and not what the Taliban demand. The nub of the matter is that the US lost the eighteen-year war in Afghanistan, yet it demands peace at its own terms. The Taliban don’t agree to these terms as they’re rightly convinced that they’ve conclusively won the war and succeeded in confining the occupation troops within their bases.

Without doubt, the Taliban hold sway over large part of territory in Afghanistan; otherwise, Secretary Mark Asper would not have chosen to land in Kabul unannounced. Not only Asper, even the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi along with her entourage of lawmakers landed in Kabul unannounced. Beside meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the Pelosi-led group met the US force commanders and members of the civil society.

Pelosi also insisted that Afghan women be included in the process of peace talks. It refreshes the memory of the US attack on Afghanistan about two decades ago when, beside locating and killing Bin Laden and ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban stranglehold, emancipation of Afghan women was the then president Bush’s noble goal. Despite the dawn of a ‘modern’ era and successive democratic governments in the country, Afghan women still shroud themselves in blue cloaks.

Even though Donald Trump, in his typical hubris, called off the peace talks, in fact the US is more desperate to negotiate peace and withdraw its troops from Afghanistan than are the Taliban. Is it a coincidence that when Pentagon Chief Asper and Nancy Pelosi visited Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad embarked on a separate mission to visit European countries and later fly to Moscow to garner support to end the war? Perhaps not. It’s a multi-pronged effort on the US's part to negotiate peace in Afghanistan and withdraw its troops holed up in garrisons. It’s also reported that Trump may suddenly order withdrawal of all troops from there.

When talking about history, it’s often said that the human lifespan is a mere flicker compared with the historical events spanned over centuries. But sometimes history repeats itself within a short duration of less than three decades. Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and withdrew in 1989, badly bruised. At that time, Pakistan supported the Taliban to fight against the Russians. And generous support both in military hardware and finances was provided by the US and Saudi Arabia, matching dollar for dollar.

The then US president Ronald Reagan coined the famous phrase ‘evil empire’ for Russia and called the Taliban ‘Mujahideen’. Now the most interesting part: the Americans wanted to teach the Russians a lesson by bleeding them in Afghanistan. Bled, lesson learnt, the Russians departed in 1989. Russia ceased to be the Soviet Union. Enter the adventurous Americans in 2001. Eighteen years later, lesson learnt, body bags counted, billions of taxpayers’ dollars sunk, they approach the Russians to rescue their tail out of the black hole of Afghanistan.

When the US urgently wants to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, it doesn’t mean there’s a change in its policy of dispatching troops to foreign lands. In Afghanistan, US troops are marking time as a demoralised force facing constant threat posed by the Taliban. As observed, whenever peace talks proceed, Taliban attacks against them become imminent.

On the other hand, the US recently sent 3000 troops to Saudi Arabia. 'Washington Post' quoted Donald Trump: “You read where we’re sending some troops to Saudi Arabia. They’ve agreed to pay fully for the cost of everything we’re doing over there. . . . Saudi Arabia is paying for 100 percent of the cost, including the cost of our soldiers. And that negotiation took a very short time – like, maybe, about 35 seconds.” While Afghanistan is nightmare for the US troops, Saudi Arabia could be a dreamworld for them, not to mention the inflow of petrodollars.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]

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