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Fleeting moments

March 14, 2020

Peace too far

Opinion

March 14, 2020

The peace agreement between the US and the Taliban signed on February 29 went up in gun smoke sooner than expected. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declined to release 5000 Taliban prisoners who were to be set free according to the agreement. In return, Taliban fighters attacked government forces, killing twenty soldiers and policemen in Helmand province. And US forces retaliated by launching airstrikes to defend the Afghan national army – a scenario all too familiar.

As if killing soldiers and policemen soon after a peace deal was not enough, a carnage took place at a rally of the Hazara ethnic group, killing 32 and wounding many others. The rally included Abdullah Abdullah who had contested the Afghan election last September against President Ghani and had lost. Following our politics as good neighbours, Abdullah refused to accept the election result and lambasted the government for rigging the election.

More interestingly, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah held separate inauguration ceremonies to claim presidency. When both ceremonies were in progress, huge blasts took place forcing many among the audience to run for cover. Instead of negotiating peace terms for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the two presidential claimants involved themselves in a bitter struggle for power. This must leave the Taliban or various factions of Afghan fighters, whatever one may like to call them, confused. Clearly, all layers of society from top to bottom are at war with one another.

However, Afghanistan has always been easy for foreign invaders to march into but difficult to pull out from. The British first rode into it more than a century and a half ago, the Russians rolled in on tanks in 1979 and stayed there until 1989. The good Americans parachuted about a decade later. They’re now struggling to extricate themselves.

A Pashtun friend sent a cartoon carried by a foreign English newspaper. In it, an Afghan fighter clutches the hand of an American wearing an old-style star-spangled vertical hat typical of Uncle Sam. Cringing and drawing backwards, the American pleads, “Please let me go now. It’s enough I think”. Unmoved, the Afghan seems to say, “Not so soon, the game has not yet ended. It was your beginning but it won’t be your end”.

Historically, Afghanistan is a land of tenacious fighters. It’s surprising why the US decided to withdraw its troops in phases, reducing them from 13000 to 8600 in about four months and remaining troops to pull out in 14 months. Also, it’s unfathomable why leave about 6000 troops behind on its bases. How would such a small contingent safeguard US interests in Afghanistan when coalition forces of about 1,42, 000 could not in about 19 years?

There seems no hope for any peace agreement to hold between the US and the Taliban on the present terms. The Taliban have already claimed that they have the right to rule over Afghanistan. They also hold sway over a large part of the landscape compared with the government’s writ limited to Kabul and a few other cities. Whether other countries like it or not, large swathes of Afghans will not tolerate living under a government propped up by the US.

Without foreign support, the Afghan national army may not be able to sustain itself. Its soldiers might desert en masse to join their tribes. The scene in Afghanistan could return to one of usual infighting and struggle for power among various tribes.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]