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July 23, 2019

Peace in Afghanistan

Opinion

 
July 23, 2019

Fleeting moments

By Iftekhar A Khan

The peace talks between the United States and the Taliban to end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan have gone on for some months.

After eight rounds of talks in Qatar, US Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad leading the negotiating team seems upbeat about ending the longest war the superpower has inflicted upon any country so far. The sticking point is that the superpower wants complete cessation of hostilities by the Taliban before the talks can meaningfully conclude. But the Taliban are not amenable to dictation.

The Taliban justify themselves in rejecting US dictation, as they think the superpower is in no position to dictate them when they control more than half of Afghanistan territory. And they want to negotiate peace from the point of strength. As it is, whenever the peace parleys proceed in Qatar, there’s an attack either on the government forces or on installations in Afghanistan.

In the recently held talks it was decided that government institutions, especially educational institutions, would not be attacked. But soon a blast took place outside the Kabul University. Ten people lost their lives and 33 were wounded. Even Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s seat of power – Kabul – is not safe from terror attacks.

However, it is important to point out that Taliban constitute a small minority among the Pashtuns. The Pashtun tribesmen who are in majority in Afghanistan are fearless fighters. At one stage during the negotiations, when Zalmay Khalilzad warned them of adding more troops in Afghanistan if they didn’t cease hostilities, they considered it an empty warning. For they knew that if by increasing the troops the war in Afghanistan could be won, the superpower wouldn’t have initiated peace talks in the first place.

The coalition forces unleashed their military might, including the use of ‘daisy cutters’, during the 18 years long war in the land of jagged mountains. Daisy cutters exploded in the air, sucked oxygen underneath and destroyed all things living. The world conscience didn’t stir on such inhuman and barbarous acts of the Allied troops that killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghan men, women and children.

However, some Western writers boldly criticised their leaders who indulged in glib talk to conceal facts from the people when the war in Afghanistan raged. Seumas Milne’s article ‘Mission accomplished? Afghanistan is a calamity and our leaders must be held to account’ was one of its own kinds. Published in the Guardian on December 18, 2013, he wrote: “British troops haven’t accomplished a single one of their missions in Afghanistan. Like Iraq and Libya, it’s a disaster. Of all the mendacious nonsense that pours out of politicians’ mouths, David Cameron’s claim that British combat troops will be coming home from Afghanistan with their ‘mission accomplished’ is in a class all of its own.”

War in Afghanistan is a different ballgame from wars in Iraq and hanging Saddam Hussain or in Libya chopping Moammar Gaddafi limb by limb. People of both countries offered little resistance compared with what the allied troops led by the superpower had to confront in Afghanistan. The Pashtuns have never tolerated foreign occupation of their territory.

Christina Lamb in her book ‘Farewell to Kabul: From Afghanistan To a More Dangerous World’, wrote: “Such was the feared reputation of the land of Bala Hissar (Afghanistan) that in 1963 Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan would declare, ‘Rule number one in politics – Never Invade Afghanistan’.” Much to their regret, the US-led invaders who attacked Afghanistan eighteen years ago have had to relearn what Macmillan cautioned against decades ago.

However, the quote in the first chapter ‘Getting In’ of Lamb’s book is instructive with sardonic wit: “During the First Anglo-Afghan war in 1842, a British general asked an Afghan tribal chief, ‘Why are you laughing?’ The tribal chief replied, ‘Because I can see how it was easy for you to get your troops in here. What I don’t understand is how you plan to get them out.’”

Clearly, nothing much seems to have changed in Afghanistan since 1842.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]

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