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Groundhog Day in Afghanistan: US turns up 12 years late for talks with the Taliban


It was always going to be an awkward moment: the day that the US announced it would be opening formal talks with the Taliban, its avowed enemy in Afghanistan for the past 12 years.

There was, on the one hand, the obvious question: what on earth was the war for?

Why had one of the poorest countries in the world been subjected to more than a decade of invasion and occupation, if the eventual outcome was to talk to the very people that the war had been against?

Why had tens if not hundreds of thousands died, and far more been displaced or injured, if the end of this terrible war merely brought everyone back to square one?

There was, on the other hand, the embarrassing fact that the Taliban, holding a press conference in the Gulf state of Qatar, presented itself as the Afghan government-in-waiting, complete with flag and office with plaque proclaiming it 'The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan', while the US backed and funded existing president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, fumed and protested back in Kabul.

Since then the flag in the Taliban compound in Doha has been up, down and now up again on a shorter flagpole, as arguments rage.

It is worth recalling where this all began. When 9/11 happened back in 2001, Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban, then engaged in a civil war with its rival the Northern Alliance. The justification for the war launched in October 2001 by George Bush was that the Taliban was harbouring Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network (even though the Taliban appeared willing to give him up after intervention from the Iranian government). The rapid aerial onslaught overthrew the unpopular government easily, and its leaders fled into hiding in the border areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Karzai was the representative chosen by the US, head of its government in waiting which was then installed by the US at the end of 2001. Although subject to election since then, his regime is notoriously corrupt and the elections themselves rigged. Karzai was made in America, but even he has on a number of occasions had to publicly criticise the occupiers over issues ranging from the burning of Korans to repeated aerial bombardment of civilians and atrocities carried out by NATO troops.

Karzai is bitter because, with the US losing in Afghanistan, its withdrawal will probably lead to the demise of any government led by him, and perhaps to a resumption of the civil war, in which it intervened to back one side 12 years ago. He has now suspended talks on a long term security deal with the US for when the troops supposedly quit the country in 2014. This is harmful to the US which is already planning to maintain a considerable military presence with many bases in the country.

On the same day that talks with the Taliban were announced it killed four US soldiers in a rocket attack on Bagram air base. So talks are only one part of the Taliban strategy, which is pressing home its advantage in a war it knows it is winning.

The whole episode underlines the failure of the US and its allies in Afghanistan. At loggerheads with its supposed allies and planning talks with its bitter enemy, the plain truth is that militarily and politically the war is lost. The future for Afghanistan can only now lie with the people of the country and its immediate neighbours.

There is much concern that a return of the Taliban will affect women's position for the worse. But there is little acknowledgment that under 12 years of occupation, the position of women remains one of the most unequal in the world. There is some sense that the damage done by war, whoever is directly responsible for particular actions, worsens the position of women and strengthens traditional values. Many women are forced into prostitution or unwanted marriage because of their destitute position. Again the only people who can solve this question are Afghan women and the men who support them in demanding equality.

Perhaps most important should be an acknowledgement that the repeated attempts by western powers to 'rescue' what they call 'failed states' are doomed to failure. Instead, while there is a tacit acknowledgment that everything has gone wrong in Afghanistan, the problems caused as a result are being dealt with using the same methods.

The supposed cure for terrorism, lack of human rights and democracy, and dictatorial regimes is in fact a poison which is helping to recreate the problems on a wider scale. Stopping the poison is the beginning of trying to solve those problems.

Source: Stop the War Coalition

Tags: afghanistan

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