The return of the Taliban
06 January, 2012
By Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
It goes to their credit that the self-proclaimed sole "superpower" of the world has finally realised that it has no way out of the Afghan graveyard except via negotiating its terms of surrender with them: Taliban are back on the world scene with the news of a quasi-diplomatic office being opened in Qatar. This is a victory that no one is going to write in the history books as victory for the ragtag bunch – people who have been vilified for over a decade as hardcore, conservative, anti-feminist, medieval looking men with beards and turbans, decapitating others with swords.
And of all places in the world, it is Qatar where the Taliban are supposed to be opening an office to engage with the "international community" (aka the United States of America). Qatar is indeed ideal. It has proven itself to be the most worthy lackey in the recent, award-winning Libyan campaign. Its self-serving rulers are far more beholden to the Americans for their survival than any other Gulf potentate; they are not as tight-fisted as the Saudis, and their obedience to Washington is total; they do not come with buts and ifs; this is a proven asset.
It may come as a surprise for some observers, but the Taliban are not naïve; they are the product of war; they were literally born under the shadow of war and they have grown up with war. They have suffered great hardships and offered tremendous sacrifices, but despite all that, they now are the most formidable political and military force in Afghanistan. And they know that the balance of war has tilted in their favour: the United States cannot afford to have its soldiers on their soil anymore and they are ready to let them go, but on their own terms. As a start, they have forced the United States to release their high-ranking leaders from the heart of darkness called Guantánamo Bay. This is, however, only the start.
This is, however, not a triumphant note in praise of the ragtag bunch, everybody had condemned to the dustbin of history; it is a sober realisation on the part of those whose coffers are running out and who are now desperate to pull out of Afghanistan. Thus, even if they do not take it as their defeat, one must give them the credit of realising the veracity of the age-old maxim: every invading army has come to Afghanistan on its own, but has only been able to leave at terms dictated by the Afghans.
The American (and later Nato) presence in Afghanistan is propped by two lies: Our soldiers are defending us from terrorists; and they are bringing freedom to the Afghans. Both lies are repeated ad nauseam in the media; both need repetition precisely because they are lies and no matter how many times they are repeated, they do not turn into truth. Truth has a force of its own; it does not need constant repetition. The old maxim still remains true: a lie, repeated millions of times, remains a lie.
The Western world has blocked the site of dead bodies from public view; and it is true that the body bags have not contributed to the recent development of finding a negotiating settlement; not many in America, Canada and Western countries are concerned about body bags. The small number who are concerned, are easily silenced.
What has really pushed the balance is actually a combination of various factors: the age of war, the economic cost of maintaining thousands of soldiers and the usual fatigue of maintaining a non-sustainable presence in a rugged land. The fact that Americans are tired of this war is no hidden secret. Even though the Afghan occupation (and that is really what it is) is not a major issue in the next presidential election, but economy is and Afghan occupation is costly.
Someone once said that no one can buy Afghans; they can only be rented. And that is exactly what Afghans are good at: they have literally drained the American coffers and there is no end to the bottomless pit. Thus, if one were to try and find reasons for the American desperation, it is simply "economic-sense" which makes any sense.
The big question, however, remains: what kind of future is envisioned by the Americans and how much room is there for any negotiation on their plans. One knows from history that the Taliban are masters of negotiation: Americans would have no patience with their tactics: they will make and break pacts so many times that the Americans will finally give up.
A bigger question is: have the Taliban learned anything in the art of governance during this decade? Have they learned that they need not impose their Islam and let an Islamic polity grow organically from the rubble that Afghanistan is now after decades of war? Have they learned, for example, that to make the whole world their enemy for little things is of no use? Have they learned that, in the final analysis, it is not brute power, but inner transformation, which produces long lasting results?
These and other questions have numerous "ifs" and "buts" and only the coming months will provide answers. For now, one can rejoice that there is a small possibility that peace may return to the ravaged land. Although there is no blue print, no clear-cut road map, and no clear direction to this process of negotiation, but the sheer fact that the United States is desperately looking to get out and negotiate with the Taliban, is indicative of a possibility of peace. Thus, even though one cannot yet start hoping that one day the delicious Khandari pomegranates will be once more available in abundance, one can at least start thinking of planting one.
Courtesy: The News