Misperceived pattern in US-Taliban ties | By Imran Khan

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Misperceived pattern in US-Taliban ties

PRESIDENT Biden enthusiastically shared the hunt of the Ayman al-Zawahiri- al-Qaida’s stalwart and co-planner of the Sept.11, 200.

After the fall of Kabul, he had resurfaced in visuals in April this year to gather the remnants of al-Qaida to reinvigorate the spirit of the global jihad.

However, the occurrence has another dimension as well to ponder. Did insider in the Taliban provided the intelligence about the presence of Ayman al-Zawahiri, anEgyptian doctor, in Kabul?

One has to walk backward into history to study checkered US-Taliban relations. Starting recently, after fighting the decades-long war, the US bade farewell to the region without installing an inclusive government- consisting of the warring factions of Afghanistan.

Several policymakers bemoaned the so-called hasty withdrawal, others relished the triumph of the Taliban’s messianic mission and exalted the treacherous terrain of Afghanistan- the black hole that devoured superpowers.

But the meticulous scrutiny of the regional history divulges otherwise. American so-called hasty withdrawal was, indeed, a masterstroke to concentrate its resources in Indo-Pacific.

Imagine one takes a time-traveling machine and visits through the late 90s, the decade transpires a lot about U.S. -Taliban relations.

Back then, the Taliban regime never posed a direct threat to U.S. homeland security. Unocal Corporation, an American oil company, was near to ink an energy agreement by displacing Bridas Corporation, an Argentinian oil firm.

Being a time traveler one would stumble over various empirical evidence which alludes to the American reluctance, before 9/11, to invade Afghanistan.

However, the shifting of Osama bin Laden (OBL) in Afghanistan swerved U.S. -Taliban relations into an abyss.

The inflating popularity of bin Laden in the Taliban’s ranks- owning to both as a vital financer to the ostracized regime and as a replenisher of the Taliban’s dwindling numbers- fomented an uproar both in the west and some of the regional states.

One thing is important to note, the Taliban never signed up for Bin Laden’s project of the global Jihad, especially against America.

Earlier to 9/11, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai repeatedly tried to convince American officials about the overthrow of the Taliban regime but it always ended by asking if he could capture Osama bin Laden.

The CIA officials asked for Masood’s help in snatching Bin Laden from the Taliban, but without offering arms or any other support.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, General Mahmud Ahmed, the chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, was in America explaining to his counterpart about Pakistan’s efforts of convincing the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden to America.

Following the bombing at the United States Embassy in Tanzania and Nairobi, al-Qaida alarmed American threat perception and the Taliban had nothing to do with all that.

September 11, 2001 explosions wounded the superpower’s prestige, and the ensuing hunt for Bin Laden crossed paths with the toppling of the Taliban regime.

After hardly passed one and a half years, the Iraq war once again drifted away American focus and support from Afghanistan, even American officials disbanded their chase mission for Bin Laden.

Critiques considered, the Iraq war as a distraction and brought about an opportunity for the Taliban’s regrouping- the spring 2005/6 offense was the outcome.

For American Vice-President Dick Cheney, the former CEO and Chairman of Halliburton, the oil reserves of Iraq took precedent over the barren deserts of Afghanistan.

Even on the eve of 9/11Donald Rumsfeldhad ordered to sift through -go massive— sweep it all up, things related and not- for Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 catastrophe.

Nevertheless, that was the unfortunate occurrence of 9/11 and the subsequent attack on Afghanistan which delayed Bush’s Iraq adventure not vice-versa.

During the Taliban rule, Afghanistan transformed into a safe haven for the globally sparsely spotted Jihadists.

It enhanced concerns among most of the neighboring states and the US invasion proved a blessing in disguise, at least for some of the nearby states.

Even a week earlier 9/11 mayhem, the Taliban’s foreign minister warned America about deadly attacks.

In post-9/11 Afghanistan, American officials pressurized Pakistan and Afghan warlords to hunt down Bin Laden and Arab fighters, it least bothered Taliban leaders.

Dostum held secret negotiations with Mullah Dadullah, a senior Taliban commander, and offered to give the Taliban free passage to Kandahar—as long asDadullah handed over the Arabs.

The Kunduz airlift was another example of the indifference of the Bush Administration regarding the Taliban.

After May 2, 2011, the Obama administration further reshuffled the hierarchy of choices.

In October 2011, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, clearly signaled the shift and wrote in foreign policy magazine “ The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action”.

In June of the same year, Obama announced a troop drawdown to begin in Afghanistan. America has relocated its more than 60% naval strength to the Indo-Pacific while in 2014, Obama announced the American total troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2016.

President Donald Trump’s National Defense Strategy, Sharping the American Competitive Edge, officially sealed the War on Terror declaring revisionist China and Russia as the primary threats to US national security rather than terrorism.

On the new geopolitical Chessboard to contain China, the Taliban (in light of their radical approach in the region) has the potential to emerge as an ally, not by design but by default, in the US grand designs in the region.

For stable Afghanistan- in absence of indigenous resources for revenue to run the state affairs- it will remain dependent on international donors, the majority of which are western states.

Distinct from the past, now, the Taliban are less cohesive, bifurcated into moderate and ultra-violent factions, and are moving in opposite directions- in favor and against the reintegration into the international arena.

For decades-old US demand – Afghans must render their due role in the stability of Afghanistan- the Taliban are more reliable than other factions in the country.

Taliban can be a better jockey for US conditional investment than Ghani’s administration to run the horse of stability and peace in the region.

Neither in the past Taliban fomented any direct threat nor did their actions impart an impression of a protracted fight against America. The only irritant between them was al-Qaida.

As Ayman al-Zawahiri perished, the stumbling block (al-Qaida) between US and Taliban is thrown into a deep pit, for the time being.

—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Peshawar

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