The Taliban’s rapid territorial gains in recent months has revealed the shortsightedness of the international community when it comes to their Afghanistan and Taliban policies.
In the not-too-distant future, I can foresee Afghanistan's Taliban being discussed in hushed and hallowed tones by doctoral scholars of international relations and unconventional warfare.
They will talk about how the leaders of a ragtag guerrilla force led by barely literate village clerics demonstrated the strategic awareness, patience and political nous to complete a remarkable 20-year journey between the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks and now.
During that time, it has completed the transition from being globally despised for its cruelty against Afghan citizens and bombed out of power because of its tight relationship with Al Qaeda, to becoming a mainstream political entity begrudgingly accepted by the international community.
Future conversations about the reasons for the Taliban's strategic success in universities, military academies and think tanks around the world will be long, winding and coloured by blame games.
Ultimately, they will invariably arrive at the same conclusion: the Taliban "won" by playing on the delusions shared by several global and regional states.
In many of those conversations yet to take place, I can imagine incredulous students will say: "Let me get this straight: they invaded Afghanistan because the Taliban refused to hand over the world's most wanted terrorists and ended up outsourcing the job of policing the same terrorists to the Taliban?!"
"What were they smoking?" class clowns will undoubtedly ask.
As cynical as that may sound, I have no doubt these conversations will take place because of the ongoing Taliban offensive, during which it has seized control of a third of Afghanistan within two months. It has exposed the naivety and shortsightedness of foreign decision makers like never before.
The Biden administration wasted three months conducting an Afghanistan policy review before concluding it should stick to Donald Trump's planned exit. But in deciding to exit four months later than agreed with the Taliban in February 2020, he handed the insurgents the political excuse they wanted to launch the current offensive — safe in the knowledge that the Afghan National Army no longer enjoyed protection and logistical support from NATO warplanes.
Biden seemed to think that the Taliban would grumble but accept the vagaries of the US electoral cycle. Like the US, other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and regional states thought international consensus and the desire for political legitimacy would persuade the Taliban to limit its military actions against the weak government in Kabul. They thought the Taliban would ultimately agree to share power under the terms of the constitution enacted by the Afghan government.
As an old player of Af-Pak poker, Biden should have known better. But it would be unfair to single him out.
Earlier this month, Pakistan's political party chiefs and senior MPs gathered for a national security briefing and discussion with the two army generals who call the policy shots under the country's so-called hybrid democracy. They emerged from the behind-closed-doors meeting in the National Assembly eight hours later in a grim mood.
Not long after, political journalists reported why.
Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Bajwa and Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, Chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), declared that the Taliban is no longer listening to them because its seizure of vast swathes of territory in Afghanistan has made it less and less reliant on its logistical networks inside Pakistan.
Having lost much of their leverage over the Taliban, the ISI chief reportedly concluded that the Afghan Taliban and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are "two sides of the same coin".
Immediately prior to the discussion in parliament, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed made the extraordinary public admission that the families of Taliban lived in towns around the capital Islamabad, and that Pakistan expected the Taliban — as a quid pro quo — to restrain the TTP militants based in Afghanistan from launching cross-border attacks.
According to several media accounts of the subsequent discussion in parliament, the prospect of forcibly expelling Taliban leaders and militants from their safe havens inside Pakistan was discussed. "That would require political will," General Bajwa was quoted as saying.
I couldn't agree more.
Internally, however, Pakistan is so divided by power struggles between its political elites that nobody seems to want to take ownership of the military's desired shift away from geopolitical confrontations with India and over Afghanistan — so much so that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi declined to call Osama bin Laden a “terrorist” in a recent interview.
Instead, there has been a series of tactical responses to the looming threat of Pakistan being sandwiched between two lengthy hostile flanks — Hindutva supremacist India to the east and chaotic Afghanistan to the west.
It started with the backchannel talks between Pakistan's spy chief and Ajit Doval, India's national security adviser, which ended several years of skirmishing along the Line of Control in Kashmir.
As desirable and necessary as those negotiations were, there has been no other movement to suggest India is really interested in the normalisation of relations Pakistan wants.
Likewise, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Monday that he is considering holding talks with nationalist rebels in western Balochistan province, but only because they are susceptible to exploitation by Pakistan's enemies.
Khan identified India, which he accused of trying to insert Kulbushan Jadhav as a spy into Balochistan in March 2016.
However, the military-led establishment's immediate concern is that the TTP and the Baloch rebels are increasingly sharing logistical networks to conduct a campaign of attacks in Pakistan, which have intensified in direct proportion to the Taliban's advances in Afghanistan.
In my back to the future classroom, scholars will wrap up their study by listing the lessons learnt by the states which mistakenly thought they could tame the Taliban. I look forward to reading their reports, if I'm still around when they are published.
Meanwhile, I am preparing to spend the remainder of my career as a journalist doing what most other veterans of the Af-Pak reporting beat have been doing since the 1980s: writing about another cycle of violence fuelled by the sheer inability of decision makers to learn from their mistakes.
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