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Biden needs to start by addressing US failures in Afghanistan

  • Massoumeh Torfeh
  • 20 Jan 2021

The incoming president should make America's longest war his first foreign policy priority.

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, to announce key nominees for the Justice Department. ( Reuters )

Taliban attacks are ripping Afghanistan apart as the last of the US troops leave the country under the banner: Mission Unaccomplished.  

The combination of terrorism, acute humanitarian conditions, internal and foreign mismanagement now threaten Afghanistan with civil war. 

As Joe Biden, takes office he must put this failed US policy on the right political path rather than continued war. There is concern in Afghanistan that he has not spoken much about Afghanistan nor has he put in place a competent team to tackle its complex issues. 

President Biden has, however, pledged that he would restore American credibility and leadership abroad

It could be argued that one of the places most urgently in need of that leadership is Afghanistan where the American performance over the past twenty years could at best be described as shambolic. 

The US has been cornered by what was originally a small force of some 3,000 full-time Taliban, now far more numerous as a result of continued military and political failures. The Taliban has made a mockery of “condition based” US troop withdrawal set by the architect of the peace deal, the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

While they have all their prisoners freed, the Taliban and their affiliate terror groups have happily continued their wanton killing of civilians, and then issued denials.

Today, almost 10 million Afghan children are at risk of not having enough food to eat in 2021 and double that figure in total are in dire need of support according to Save the Children.  

A recent poll showed that 44 percent of the American public believe the United States has an obligation towards the Afghan society impacted by war. 

If the responsibility for one side of the demise falls on the US government, the other side is surely with the Afghan politicians who have failed to work in unity, fight corruption, warlordism and ethnic bickering. 

President Ashraf Ghani, who began his political career in Afghanistan as a finance minister in 2002 was renowned for his plans to fight corruption. He created teams of young educated Afghans inside the ministry and recruited international experts through the United Nations Development Program to train them on the latest methods of holding government offices to account. 

Yet once in power he seems to have forsaken that ideal and is now accused of ethnic favouritism for Pashtuns and winning the presidency through rigged elections – accusations which he denies. 

The latest such case is a confrontation between president Ghani and the powerful former governor of the northern Balkh Province, Atta Mohammad Noor over the sacking of a series of Tajik ministers, the most renowned of which include the Health Minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani, the Minister of Education Mirwais Balkhi, and the Human Rights Minister Sima Samar.

Noor accuses Ghani of “injustice and tyranny” and warned of a “second resistance”.   

“If you cannot run the government let the Jihadi forces do it,” said Noor calling for an interim government.

President Ghani has responded to waves of similar criticism by gradually appointing more Tajik and Uzbek officials, putting some in top cabinet posts. 

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah remains his partner as the head of peace talks in Doha while the former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, was appointed as vice president and Rahila Dostum – the daughter of the Uzbek strongman, General Abdul Rashid Dostum – was recently appointed to the Senate. Dostum and Governor Noor are rivals in the northern provinces. 

Ghani also focused on Tajik civil society activists with strong public followings, such as Nader Naderi, who was appointed as his Senior Advisor on Strategic and Public Affairs. Another outspoken Tajik civil society activist Fawzia Kofi, deputy speaker of the Parlaiment who leads “Movement of Change”, also rejected Noor’s ideas about reverting the interim government. 

This time the Taliban hit back by targeting civil society activists and journalists who are the lifeline of Afghanistan to progress. 

Sediq Zaliq, a journalist in Kabul, believes Ghani’s ethnic moves appear smart. 

While that may be so, the sequence of events illustrates how he replaced good governance with ethnic manoeuvring, which is unsustainable by design. 

That is why President Biden should step in here too.  

President Biden needs urgently to create a task force with a priority to tackle the Doha peace talks holding the Taliban to account on their continued violence, putting on hold any idea of power sharing until such time that there is full ceasefire.

Ceasefire is essential but by no means sufficient.

To stop the country from collapsing into chaos the Biden administration should, in consultation with Afghan partners, focus financial and logistic support for state building, on strengthening the formation of political parties and civil society institutions, on fighting corruption and warlordism. 

These ideals were forsaken in 2003 when the Bush administration rushed to Iraq war. 

Without pursuing loftier ideals Afghanistan will likely descend into chaos becoming a failed state that President Ghani’s theories cannot fix.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

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