The fuss over the US Senate Bill
TWENTY members of the opposition in the US Congress have introduced a bill ‘Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight and Accountability Act’ to sanction Taliban and their supporters.
The question that it seeks to answer is how the Taliban, who were no match to the 300, 000 strong well-equipped Afghan Army, were able to take over more than 30 provincial capitals and Kabul in a blitz, two weeks before the US troop drawdown deadline of August 31.
Kabul falling in the hands of Taliban had brought chaos at Kabul airport where the panicked American and European citizens gathered seeking evacuation along with remaining US troops.
The situation could be far different if the Afghan Army met the expectations of President Biden and resisted the Taliban blitz for some weeks, if not months.
Since the bill’s proponents are from the opposition (Republican Party), the ruling Democratic Party will try to shift the focus of the debate to an agreement reached between the Trump Administration and the Taliban (Islamic Emirate) in Doha last year to prove that the US troop drawdown decision was a continuation of the policy of the previous regime.
As for awkward troop withdrawal from Kabul, many interpretations can be made, including the failure of intelligence and the involvement of an outside hand. President Biden has already said he has no regrets about withdrawing from Afghanistan.
While making decision to this end the President had two points in mind. Either the matter was left to the next President or he himself swallowed a bitter pill and moved ahead on the agreement signed with Taliban last year. In this regard, he also mentioned how costly the Afghan mission was.
Too, Biden’s new defence policy which sought containing China and Russia, also required quitting and leaving Afghanistan in the hands of the Ghani government protected by supposedly a strong Army.
On the other hand, American citizens need to be told what has been gained from the financial and human losses of the last twenty years to stabilise Afghanistan.
If the goals and objectives have failed and the same Taliban have returned to power whose government was overthrown on the ground that they sheltered militant outfits like Al-Qaeda and were indulged in worst human rights violations, then who should be held responsible? Temperature would be down in Senate if the foreigners stranded in Kabul returned home safely.
It would certainly change the rhetoric of the political parties across the divide when the debate on the bill opens.
Clearly, the bill introduced in the Senate, which the ruling party says was not taken into confidence on, is for setting the record aright. If the bill passes, a joint narrative of political parties and the Pentagon will emerge on the US longest war fought in Afghanistan.
But, of course, it is not an easy task to review the 20-year performance of various US governments vis-a-vis Afghanistan. It means collecting and classifying a lot of data and drawing conclusions.
Quite understandably, the bill could be debated for months. Given the rivalry between the ruling party and the opposition, it is uncertain whether the bill will pass so quickly.
Last week, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Forces Committee in a briefing that the United States had suffered a strategic defeat in Afghanistan and that he had advised President Biden to station at least 2,500 US troops to ensure peaceful withdrawal.
General Mark Milley’s statement refutes Biden’s insistence in a TV interview last month that the military did not ask him to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan.
Thus, on the one hand, the ruling party cannot use intelligence failure as an excuse for its failure and, on the other hand, Biden’s lie can be taken akin to deceiving the nation.
It is quite possible, if not certain, that both political parties pass the bill, taking credit for the fact that US troops have returned home safely due to an agreement with the Taliban
This can be troubling because in that case, the parties will save their skins and their institutions, but they will throw the rubble of strategic failure in Afghanistan on someone else.
The news of the Senate Bill on Afghanistan has caused a lot of uproar in Pakistan, increasing the dollar rate and falling of stocks.
Because the reason is that the Republicans-sponsored bill mentions Pakistan and seeks to know whether this country helped Taliban during the US invasion and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and, also if it had helped the student militia in the occupation of the Panjshir Valley. This is clearly an assumption that needs to be substantiated by irrefutable evidence.
The reaction from the government, whereby America has been termed as a non-grateful country, can be merely a complaint! That is, whenever the United States needs it, Pakistan supports it, but as soon as its objectives are achieved, it turns away from it.
Let America turn away, ignore its sacrifices, but it should not be seduced by Islamabad’s ‘eternal’ enemy and side with it! Now, if one sees Islamabad’s narrative on US Senate bill in the light of well-established diplomatic requirements or even in the context of sovereignty, one would only suggest silence and not being vocal on the matter of US behaviour towards Pakistan.
Needless to say, sovereign countries never ‘sacrifice’ the lives of their people for the benefit of another country. It is also against diplomatic etiquette to say that one country can mislead another.
By saying such things, it seems as if our rulers are preparing themselves to get the arms of the nation ‘twisted’ once again by the US.
Remember: it’s a time when Americans need airbases for their ‘Over the Horizon’ strategy, the dollar is skyrocketing and the public is bewildered by ever-rising inflation!
—The writer is politico-strategic analyst based in Islamabad.