The victory of the Taliban is not merely the defeat of the US-backed regime of Afghanistan or anti-Taliban groups but the failure of the US-led coalition’s policy and approach in the name of “war on terror” since 9/11. After 20 years, peace is still a dream and the world today is much more unsafe than it was in 2001.
One of the reasons of the failure of the so-called war was the way the West in general and the US in particular linked terrorism and extremism to Islam, spent trillions of dollars instead of looking into the causes behind the rise of extremism and hatred against American policy.
There is a lesson for the US, the Taliban and Pakistan. The American-led coalition attacked Afghanistan to capture or kill the al-Qaeda leadership and to some extent achieved it but in the process, their policies created more groups and general dislike of America for its constant policy of interference and leaving “friends” when they needed it most. Pakistan is an example which has a history of disappointment with the US.
For all practical purposes, the so called war on terror ended with the US exit from Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban and that too with more force and power. Thus, the America-led coalition is the biggest loser in the war as after 20 years the world is more unsafe than it was on 9/11, which resulted in the death of over 3,000 innocent people. Today, we mourn the deaths of hundreds of thousands killed in the name of war, which also resulted in the destruction of several countries, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya. Global conflicts, like Palestine and Kashmir, still remain unresolved.
I still remember when I attended one of the State Department’s briefings by its spokesman in 2010. During the question and answer session, when I asked whether despite spending so much money from Iraq to Afghanistan, terrorism and extremism in the world had increased or declined, after a pause for few seconds he said, “increased.”
Today, not only the Afghan Taliban are celebrating their victory but extremist groups all over the world, including Pakistan, also see it as a crushing defeat of the Americans and the puppet regime. Unlike the post-Soviet withdrawal which resulted in the civil war, the Taliban hardly faced any resistance either from the Afghan forces or from groups like the Northern Alliance.
However, it is premature to say what lesson the Taliban have learnt in the 20 years, which would be watched closely once they begin their new journey. But one lesson they should learn is not to allow its territory to be used by “outsiders.”
The success of the Taliban would depend on how they run the government and bring the country to a position where people instead of flying return to the country, including over three million Afghan refugees.
Their handling of economic, foreign and internal policies would be a test besides religious freedom, including rights for minorities and respect for human rights. They have hinted at a change in their past policy.
The Taliban adopted a smart strategy as compared to the US-led coalition and kept their strength intact till the exit of the foreign forces and did not lose much of manpower. One also wonders whether those who had joined the Afghan police, army or intelligence agencies in post-9/11 Afghanistan were loyal to the regime or to the Taliban? In the process were fully trained as well.
Another reason for the Taliban’s victory was their decision not to fight a global war against America or the West beyond Afghanistan, unlike al-Qaeda or Daesh. Perhaps, the Taliban’s biggest mistake was the decision to allow al-Qaeda to use Afghan soil for global attacks and created a situation which led to the attack on Afghanistan in October, 2011.
In fact, the Americans never had a conflict with the Taliban before 9/11, and had the then Taliban leadership listened to the advice of the former President (R) General Pervez Musharraf Afghanistan might not have been attacked. The US-led coalition had no justification for attacking the country for capturing a group of alleged global terrorists, remaining there for 20 long years and running the country through puppet regimes.
The Americans are now trying to justify their exit from Afghanistan on the pretext that they have achieved what they went for i.e. they eliminated al-Qaeda and either caught or killed its top leadership. Even if it is true the war is far from over as US policies have given new dimensions to extremism.
The Arab Spring is the manifestation of such policies which surprised the world as even Egypt fell to the Islamic extremist group but through Western democracy. Yet, they did not recognize the legitimate government. The US policy on Iraq also reflected its failure as they wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein. They created the myth of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and used the United Nation for attacking Iraq and even when no “Weapons of Mass Destruction” were found and it proved to be fake, the UN could not have guts to hold the US accountable. In Iraq, the US, the so-called champion of human rights, was also exposed when it allowed showing Saddam Hussein’s “hanging” on TV.
There is also a lesson for anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, you can’t win an ideological war with the backing of foreign forces. Instead, they should have come out with a counter-narrative, something which was missing in Afghanistan during the last 20 years. Whether it is the government of Hamid Karzai or Ashraf Ghani/Abdullah Abdullah, they miserably failed in establishing a legitimate government and depended on the US-led coalition.
Pakistan has a lot to learn, not only what happened in the last 20 years but also in the last 40 years since the beginning of the first Afghan war. The two might not be our wars but it was we who suffered most because of our position, stand and involvement in the making of Afghan Mujahideen and also in the making of the Afghan Taliban in the 80s and 90s, respectively.
Pakistan has a strong challenge ahead perhaps, much bigger than the Taliban as our society, culture, ethnic and sectarian dimensions are far more complicated than our western neighbour.
For many religious parties and extremist groups the victory of the Taliban is a hope for them but for the State Pakistan comes first. For the Americans and the West there are a lot more to learn including the respect for sovereign nations.
In the last 20 years, the Taliban have certainly been the winners and Americans the losers. The world changed after 9/11, how much will it change after the Taliban rule, one has to wait and see and that too how much would it change the life of the common man.
The writer is a columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang