The game is now over. The United States suffered a humiliating defeat. This time it is in Afghanistan. This should not have happened. The United States invested over $2 trillion in the past twenty years. Its army lost 2,448 best equipped soldiers and over 20,000 returned home with grave injuries. President Biden's fantasy and obstinacy orchestrated this debacle. His exit strategy disapproved by the military leaderships and advisors caught the Afghan government and political leaders by surprise. Biden's decision to pull out all American soldiers by end August demoralised the Afghan army. It realised that in absence of American intelligence support and air coverage, the Taliban could not be confronted. This marked the beginning of the desertion in the Afghan army. Conversely, the Taliban offered money and amnesty to those shifting loyalty to the insurgency.
Taliban offensive intensified since Biden announced the decision to pull out all American troops in April. President Ghani and his advisor Dr. Mohammed travelled to Washington and met Biden. They thanked Biden for America's generous assistance to Afghanistan but could not persuade the American president to extend the deadline. They returned emptyhanded and the people in Afghanistan concluded that they were going to be abandoned by the United States as they were after the expulsion of Soviet troops in 1989. Those welloff found their way out of Afghanistan but the majority who had experienced Taliban's heavy-handedness in enforcement of Sharia law during 1996-2001 and possessed little resources got worried about their future.
It became clear in early July that over 60 per cent of the countryside have fallen under the control of the Taliban and the fighters were marching towards the urban areas. During the first week in August about 17 provincial capitals fell to the Taliban. The Afghan army was putting up little resources. Kandahar, the second largest city in the south was overrun by Taliban after a fierce fight with the Afghan army. Soon after, the other cities in the south rapidly came under Taliban control. Security observers warned that without the help of the American army the Afghan government would collapse soon and that the Taliban take-over was inevitable. Biden dismissed the security warning and encouraged the Afghan security forces to fight since it was better trained, well equipped and outnumbered the enemy fighters. He refused to postpone the pull out of troops and reiterated that the United States would continue to support the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces with all necessary resources. Biden lost sight of the vacuum resulted from the transfer of the surveillance mechanism and heavy equipment from Bagram airbase and made the Afghan army vulnerable to the insurgency which had advanced close to Kabul city.
The dramatic transformation of the situation in Afghanistan was not surprising but seemed beyond the calculation of the Biden administration. The State Department hurriedly convened a largest gathering of countries including Russia, China, neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, the European countries and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations in Doha on August 11 to impress upon the Taliban that forceful seizure of power in Kabul would not earn them legitimacy and international recognition. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "We are actively engaged in diplomacy because there is no military solution to this conflict." American Peace Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad emphasized, "We don't see a military solution to the war in Afghanistan. There must be a political agreement for a lasting peace and we will stay with it." These pronouncements are nothing but fantasy. The Taliban firmly believed in military solution of the conflict and they saw dividend of military offensives on the ground. They were in power from 1996 to 2001. No countries other than Pakistan and United Arab Emirates had accorded recognition to Taliban government. Nevertheless, they mercilessly ruled for six years without caring for international recognition.
Former President Trump began a peace talks with the Taliban more than two years ago. He was keen to bring the war to an end and wanted a political settlement of the crisis. That was an appropriate move. It is undeniable that Taliban represent a significant segment of the population and their representation in the government is quintessential. Likewise, there are other segments and ethnic groups in the country whose views were apotheosis to Taliban. This was the impetus for multi-ethnic peace talks and under the leadership of Zalmay Khalilzad the talks made some progress. Though the details remained undisclosed, it was presumed that a power sharing formula was discussed, and Taliban was not averse to sharing power with their erstwhile enemies. Had Biden showed a bit patience and refrained from announcing total troops pull out by end August, the peace talks could have culminated into a power sharing agreement paving the way for peaceful transfer of power. Biden wrecked the peace negotiation.
Biden emerged from the Camp David the day after the fall of Kabul. He tried to defend the indefensible and justified his decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan. He said, "I have learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. The result would have been the same five or fifteen years from now." The chaos that followed at the Karzai airport after the fall of Kabul is reminiscent of what had happened in Saigon some 46 years ago. Had there been a thoughtful exit strategy the outcome would have been totally different. The President was telling half-truth - he blamed his predecessor for setting end-May as the cut off date for troops pull out and said it was an obligation for him to honour the agreement.
Biden has ordered deployment of 6,000 US troops to secure Karzai airport. About 2,000 have already arrived and remaining 4,000 would arrive in the next few days. They have a different mandate - they would ensure safe evacuation of staff at the diplomatic missions, about 15,000 American nationals and citizens of third countries - all estimated to be 80,000. Diplomats and staff of US embassy have been evacuated by Tuesday, August 17.
Taliban leaders and fighters are now in Kabul. It has not yet formed the government. It's spokesman in a press conference on Tuesday, promised to uphold human rights, freedom of women and girls' education within the framework of Sharia law. He assured there would be no witch-hunting and hinted general amnesty for Afghans who collaborated with the previous government and foreign troops. He insisted, "Nobody will be harmed in Afghanistan."
But people in Afghanistan are scared and unable to trust the Taliban. "They keep saying it will not be as harsh as the last time, which means they won't lash everyone on the first day, but the rules are the same," said a fellow at the Hudson institute. Thousands of people clamour for a flight out of the country, convinced that life under the Taliban will return to intolerable oppression as prior to the US led invasion. A female activist remarked international pressure is the main force holding the Taliban to its word. Expressing grave concerns, she said, "Once Afghanistan becomes irrelevant and it's dropped from the headlines, like it was before 2001, the Taliban will start targeting every single individual who has been vocal in the past or whoever has the intention to raise a voice on behalf of herself."
Ned Price, State Department spokesman said on Tuesday, "We are going to look for their actions rather than listen to their words." He did not rule out US recognition of a Taliban government, but listed several conditions including protection of women's rights and not harbouring terrorists. CNN reported a recent poll in which over 52 per cent people in the United States approved Biden's decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan. It appears more than 50 per cent people will disapprove Biden's acrimonious and precipitous exit from Afghanistan. The Congress is furious at Biden's inept handling of the situation that led to the fall of Kabul government and resurgence of the Taliban. Biden is guilty of grave miscalculation in Afghanistan.
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former official of the United Nations.