If Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is wise, he should take a lesson from the not-so-distant history of his country and go into exile, perhaps to the United States, which he serves loyally.
As the US prepares to end its military operations in Afghanistan, withdraw troops by 2014 and gets ready to start peace talks with the Taliban, the enemy it has been fighting for 12 years, the question that arises is: “Will the fate that befell Mohammed Najibullah befall Karzai?”
The pro-Soviet Najibullah was Afghanistan’s President when the Soviet Union withdrew its troops in December 1989 after ten years of occupation. Before he became president, Najibullah was the head of the dreaded Afghan intelligence agency, Khad. Even after Soviet troops withdrew, Najibullah’s government received military and economic aid from an economically ailing Soviet Union which was breathing its last. When the Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991, Russia, which took over the responsibilities of the dissolved state, showed little or no enthusiasm to help Afghanistan or Najibullah. With the Mujahideen who fought the Soviet troops taking over the country in 1992, Najibullah took refuge at the United Nations office in Kabul. The Mujahideen regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani let Najibullah stay at the UN office. But the Taliban who took over Kabul in 1996 were no respecter of diplomacy or international law. They raided the UN office, seized Najibullah, castrated him, dragged him along the streets of Kabul and hanged him in public.
Karzai, who last month admitted he was being bribed by the CIA, carries a derisive sobriquet ‘the mayor of Kabul’ because his writ does not extend beyond the borders of the capital. The countryside is largely Taliban territory. Even Kabul is fast becoming a Taliban territory. Tuesday’s daring attack shows that even Karzai’s presidential palace, the second most highly fortified place in Kabul after the US embassy, is not safe. Eight Taliban suicide bombers clad in Afghan security forces’ uniform and carrying forged identity papers passed through the checkpoints leading to the palace and launched a daring attack on a building in the compound.
The ease with which the Taliban penetrated the fortifications at the presidential palace compound and the Kabul airport some days before that indicates the large presence of Taliban moles in the Afghan security forces. In recent times, the incidence of Afghan security forces turning their guns on US-led NATO forces has increased alarmingly.
As his power wanes, Karzai, who was reelected to office in a highly rigged presidential election in 2009, has tried in recent times to win public support by publicly declaring he is against the occupation and condemning various US excesses – such as the burning of the Quran and US soldiers displaying body parts of Afghans as war trophies. Yet, the tide has not turned in his favour. The sooner Karzai leaves the safer he will be. He cannot expect the Americans to look after him once the Taliban take over the country post-2014.
The Americans are desperate to leave Afghanistan and each time they ask the question ‘Whither Afghanistan once the US-led NATO troops leave’, the answer they get is the Taliban. The United States cannot stay on as occupier of Afghanistan. Neither can it afford to sustain the rising troop casualties in the war zones and even back home.
A recent suicide note written by US soldier Daniel Somers has stirred a major debate in the United States and brought to light the shocking fact that there were more military suicides than combat deaths in 2012. According to statistics, some 22 military veterans back home commit suicide every month, unable to cope with their troubled consciences after they committed war crimes in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan at the behest of their superiors. As the veterans commit suicide, men like Dick Cheney and other neocons who started the war fatten themselves on profits from arms sales, oil deals and construction work though the spiritual realities are that they dehumanise themselves.
Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has no oil, though it is rich in other minerals which remain untapped due to decades of war.
Before the US troops invaded Afghanistan in 2001 as punishment for the Taliban regime giving sanctuary to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his followers, who, the Americans say, had carried out the 9/11 attacks, the Americans were on speaking terms with the Taliban. The US had granted de facto recognition to the Taliban regime which had the de jure recognition of only three countries – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – all US allies. The US companies were dealing with the Taliban to build a pipeline that was to carry oil and natural gas from landlocked Central Asian countries to the warm-water ports of Pakistan.
The whole bloody Afghan game is now back to square one. After nearly 12 years of war, the US is getting ready to once again start formal talks with its avowed enemy, the Taliban, virtually admitting that once the US troop withdrawal takes place next year, it will be only a matter of time before the Taliban walk through the gates of Kabul and Karzai’s presidential palace.
On June 18, the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in preparation for peace talks with the United States. For the past several years, the US has been making informal contact with the Taliban while the two sides continue to attack each other. On the very day the Taliban ‘diplomats’ were holding a news conference in Doha at their new office, Taliban fighters killed four US soldiers in Afghanistan.
The impending US peace talks with the Taliban raise the question of what has the United States achieved after the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Pakistanis, American, Britons and others. One of the reasons analysts cited at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was that the US was interested in Central Asian oil and gas. It planned to lay a pipeline from Central Asian oil fields to Pakistan’s ports across Afghanistan.
But today, Central Asian oil is no more an American interest because China has beaten the US there. Beijing has built and is building highways and pipelines connecting the region with China’s north-east. Russia, meanwhile, has succeeded in evicting the US from Central Asia. The US has only one base in Kyrgyzstan and the regime there is unlikely to extend the contract once it comes up for renewal. It is likely that the Kyrgyzstan base, which serves as a recreation centre for US troops serving in Afghanistan, will be dismantled by next year.
With Central Asia out of its domain, the US, perhaps, feels that its presence in the region can be secured only through closer ties with Pakistan and a stable and friendly regime in Afghanistan. Karzai cannot assure a stable Afghanistan once the Americans leave, but the Taliban can. This was the situation that existed prior to the US war on Afghanistan. The Taliban was the creation of Pakistan and the United States way back in the 1990s. Thus it comes as no surprise that the US tries to restore the status-quo-ante. Once again Pakistan may play the familiar role of being a godfather to the Taliban.
In a prelude to this, the jubilant Taliban officials in the Qatari capital on June 18 presented themselves as the representatives of the Afghan government-in-waiting. They hoisted their white flag with black Arabic lettering which said ‘there is no god, but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah’, while a plaque at the entrance to the office read “the political office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.’ It was a final warning to Karzai to step down or pack his bags with the stuff necessary for a life in exile – he must not forget the CIA money and the money his drug lord brother has accumulated.
Hurt and sidelined, Karzai cried foul over the flag and the plaque. He warned that his regime would not resume talks with the US over security cooperation after the 2014 withdrawal. Following the protest, the flag came down only to be raised again at half mast, symbolising the transition that is unfolding.
The next major landmark in the Taliban’s possible return to power is when the US and the Taliban sit down for talks. To give a veneer of legitimacy to the impending talks, the US has set some perfunctory conditions such as renouncing violence, recognising plurality and women’s rights. Whether the US is serious about the conditions is another question.
The Taliban, for their part, have sent the cream of their ‘diplomats’ to the Doha office. A New York Times article described them as “urbane and educated, they conducted interviews in English, Arabic, French and German with easy fluency; passed out and received phone numbers; and, most strikingly, talked about peace.”
The Taliban were earlier divided over peace talks with the US. But now there appears to be some agreement between their military wing and the political wing. Their English website shahamat-english.com describes Karzai and the Afghan regime as enemies of peace. In an interview published on the website, Dr. Mohammed Naeem, one of the Taliban ‘diplomats’ says the Doha office will be used for five main objectives:
1. Negotiations and understanding for improving the relations with the world countries.
2. Supporting a political solution which could guarantee the end of Afghanistan’s occupation and establishing an independent Islamic system of life there which is the aspiration and demand of the entire nation.
3. Meetings with the Afghans in accordance with the need of time.
4. Making contacts with the United Nations, international and regional organisations and non-governmental organisations.
5. Issuing political statements regarding the existing political situation and providing them to the media.
A noteworthy change in the literature on the website is the disappearance of words that reflected the Taliban animosity towards the US.
All this indicates, on the one hand the return of the Taliban and on the other that the United States has waged a meaningless war in Afghanistan for 12 long years. The plain truth is that the United States has lost the war in Afghanistan, militarily and politically. The only face-serving consolation is that it killed bin Laden.