Why is the Occident misreading the Taliban? | By Sultan M Hali

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Why is the Occident misreading the Taliban?


LIKE it did in the 1996-2001, the West is again failing to read the Taliban correctly, which will have explosive results.

Taliban 1.0 is a chapter of the past but there were important factors, which if interpreted correctly, would have enabled the US withdrawal to be smooth instead of chaotic and the future brighter and clearer.

Let us examine how the Taliban continue to be misread. First and foremost, some experts persist in claiming that the U.S. withdrawal was too early. Factually, the quagmire in which the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was stuck into had no timeline.

The result would have been the same if the withdrawal was a decade earlier or later. However, the current U.S. President, Joe Biden, must be commended for taking the bold step.

Where he has gone wrong, is that the mayhem created in the egress of U.S. troops could have been avoided, if the withdrawal could have been negotiated but that would have meant swallowing a bitter pill and conceding defeat.

Unlike Taliban 1.0, the current crop of Taliban leaders, some of whom had served in the previous regime, are willing to listen to reason and would have assisted in a seamless withdrawal of foreign troops.

After all, the US and Taliban are currently collaborating in an intelligence exchange against a common enemy, the ISIS.

The second error that the West has committed, is contemplating that Afghanistan will be in the grip of a civil war after the extrication of foreign troops.

Perhaps the armchair pundits in the Occident were basing their judgment on what happened post-Soviet Union withdrawal in 1989.

Warring factions and different tribal warlords, in a bid to achieving supremacy, erupted into internecine warfare, which morphed into a civil war.

Peace returned, only after the Taliban emerged, but in 1996, the Taliban too did not have control over the whole of Afghanistan. Taliban 2.0 have complete control over the whole of Afghanistan. They occupied numerous cities without a bullet being fired.

Either there was an understanding for a bloodless takeover or the people welcomed the Taliban because they were fed up with the corruption of the Karzai and later Ashraf Ghani regimes and their poor governance.

Another miscalculation by the West was banking on the Afghan National Army (ANA) to provide security to Afghanistan following the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The ANA collapsed like a house of cards despite its extensive training and sophisticated weapons.

Some observers are speculating that other nations including Pakistan have been arming the Taliban.

The fact is that the Taliban have been armed by the arsenals surrendered by the ANA or the vast caches of weapons left behind by the U.S. and its allies.

Despite the lessons from numerous strategists like Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, et-al, neither the West had a clear strategy for getting into Afghanistan nor did they have a cogent exit plan.

Now President Joe Biden states that the U.S. did not go into Afghanistan for the purpose of nation building. In fact, the West failed to understand either its enemy or the nature of its own intervention.

Various conquerors like Alexander the Great, the British and the Soviets discovered to their dismay that Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires.

The U.S. and its allies remained oblivious of the lessons of the past and repeated the blunders of former invaders.

The West has not tried to understand the psyche of the Taliban or Afghanistan. If they had just read Olaf Caroe’s epic book The Pathans 550 B C — A D 1957, they would have realized that the Afghans are a fiercely independent race of people, who abhor puppet regimes and refuse to take dictation from external sources. The West blames Pakistan for not doing enough in exerting its influence on the Taliban.

The conscientious objectors should take cognizance of the fact that Pakistan may have good relations with the Taliban but it cannot dictate them to adopt any course of action.

Another fake news story is based on UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s apprehension that the Al-Qaeda will return as soon as Kabul comes under the control of the Taliban.

His views have been echoed by former US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and numerous other commentators and politicians.

Such sweeping statements are based on misreading the historical facts as well as lack of understanding of the situation in Afghanistan and the greater Middle East.

After 2001, Al-Qaeda found more fertile ground outside Afghanistan, chiefly in places where governance was shattered and local resentments created by US invasions and bombing campaigns (Iraq, Yemen, Libya).

The Taliban has shown no inclination to take its fighting outside Afghan borders, despite many opportunities to do so.

It has vowed to ensure that its territory will not be used to launch attacks on any other country. Why can’t the West rely on the Taliban’s promise?

Contrarily, the West has frozen the bank accounts of the Afghan Government, it has stopped humanitarian assistance in a bid to choke the Taliban.

It needs a reality check; if pushed against the wall, to eke a survival, the Taliban may be forced to resume the cultivation and trafficking of drugs or become mercenaries.

The onus lies on the West to engage the Taliban not because of any love or lack thereof but because the Afghans per se have to be supported on humanitarian grounds and after wreaking havoc on them for two decades, the people of Afghanistan need support.

—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.

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