The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is nearing its conclusion. It is a rather bad conclusion to 20 years of US, NATO, and international interference in Afghanistan. In the context of apologizing for the rushed move, the objectives and goals of US presence in the country were simply brought down to killing Osama bin Laden and preventing Afghanistan from becoming a springboard for terrorism again.
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If that were true, however, the withdrawal from Afghanistan would have happened as soon as bin Laden was killed when President Obama was in the White House. Questioning whether Afghanistan will remain sheltered from the flow of radical groups is also rushed and contradicts all the ideological, religious, and political indicators that govern the situation in Afghanistan today. As such, all the attempts to rewrite or reinterpret history or reformulate objectives are not a logical explanation or a convincing, rational argument. They are merely intellectual and political sophistication to gain time and overcome pressure until the crisis passes.
The US withdrawal has been expected for many years. It enjoys the consensus of both Democrats and Republicans, loud and clear; but the issue lies in the shame and confusion that accompanied the pullout. This is why President Biden insists in his statements on hiding behind President Trump being the decision-maker, despite Trump explicitly stating that the withdrawal should have happened under a tight plan that guarantees the evacuation of all US citizens and those who aided them, as well as the withdrawal of all advanced US vehicles and weapons and the bombing of military bases to prevent their use by any terrorist groups such as ISIS or others.
Historically, the defeated and losers do not call their defeats or losses as such. Instead, they twist and muddle them in specific ways, conveying untruthful messages. For instance, after the Arab’s defeat by Israel in 1967, many Arabs kept calling the defeat “naksa” (setback). To understand this rushed withdrawal, looking at the current internal political debates in the US could come in handy. For not only does the need to withdraw enjoy consensus, but objection to how this withdrawal was handled and managed is also widely agreed upon. Even the liberal, leftist, pro-Biden media could not keep silent or cover for the grave mistakes that happened. In the statements of the President and his administration is a clear, unmistakable confusion.
The withdrawal is not even complete yet, but the Taliban have already taken over Kabul. Meanwhile, the US administration lays the entire blame on the Afghani government’s shoulders, cites corruption, shows surprise at the Taliban’s swift advance, and talks of “contradictions” in US intelligence reports at the time the decision was taken. This is not something a winner would say, especially not a winner that is well aware of the repercussions of their decisions on the US, the region, and the entire world.
The withdrawal is not even complete yet, but the US is already calling on the Taliban to respect human and women’s rights, refrain from revenge, and allow the evacuation of Afghanis. These calls may have been more fit to international organizations like the UN, or states that have no responsibility for what happened in Afghanistan. But for these calls to be made from the US by the US administration itself, which ruled Afghanistan for two decades, is truly astonishing.
At the end of the day, the Taliban will be judged based on their domestic and foreign policies at this stage and in the near future, along with history, rhetoric, ideology, politics, and economics. Such complicated landscapes can be easily understood and dealt with once deciphered into minutiae and discussed subjectively and neutrally.
Strategically speaking, with the rising Chinese political and economic influence on the international scene, one must ask whether withdrawal from Afghanistan will be a problem or a gain for China. Will it facilitate or complicate China’s mission to establish control and build relations, in a large region whose countries have built solid relations with China over the past few years? The answers to these never-ending questions seem to be rushed, just like the US withdrawal, and lacking firmness, coherence, and awareness.
Meanwhile, we are still waiting to see whether the Taliban has indeed changed. The movement’s announcements in general indicate that it has chosen to abandon its previous extremism. But has it flipped toward outright “tolerance,” “coexistence,” and “peace”, or toward a new Political Islam governance model? The answer lies with the Taliban and its leaders. Incoming news from Afghanistan give observers enough details to better read the current and future scene in the country.
It is true that the Taliban cannot be equated with other groups, but observers and analysts can see the almost collective delight of fundamentalist groups, such as Political Islam and religious extremist groups around the world, as evidenced by the words of their leaders and their websites and media, where statements, fatwas, and congratulations were in order. Such large-scale reactions are part of the “logic of history” that must be considered, monitored, and analyzed given the impact and significance of its effects.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a historical moment by all means. While it is true that history and politics are intertwined and their reciprocal effects are significant, political decisions alone -- let alone rushed and ill-considered ones -- do not change history. Furthermore, even those political decisions taken by a major global empire cannot terminate conflicts, nor can they end deep-rooted and conflicting regional and international axes. Therefore, it is only natural that states seek to consider their interests and reconsider the changes that may take place and their repercussions.
Moreover, the moral aspect of the US withdrawal is of particular significance. Leaving aside any political considerations, our collective human conscience cannot dismiss the pictures of people hanging on to the wheels of planes departing from the Kabul airport, of mothers abandoning their babies, and of thousands of refugees carried by military airplanes to the four corners of the planet. Prejudice to the noble principles of humanity remains entrenched in people’s minds for years.
Lastly, these incidents reflect the mental state, fears, and ambitions of a large segment of the Afghani population. Only time will tell, but hopefully, the powerless Afghani people will find salvation in a stable and safe country after decades of seemingly unending wars.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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