- NATIONAL INTEREST - AUG 16, 2021 - Michael Rubin -
The Taliban may claim victory today but, for Afghanistan, they represent less the end of fighting than one chapter in a bloody history.
The Taliban seized the presidential palace in Kabul, completing their blitzkrieg through Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani fled in disgrace. “They tied our hands from behind and sold the country,” Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi wrote. “Curse Ghani and his gang.” Meanwhile, a humanitarian tragedy is underway. The Taliban are executing those who worked with the United States and reportedly raping their families.
Within Washington, the blame game is underway. President Joe Biden blamed his predecessor, President Donald Trump, and the peace deal with the Taliban that set a deadline for American withdrawal. The Trump-era deal was ill-conceived, but Biden’s excuses are disingenuous for three reasons. First, the Taliban did not abide by the deal and so voided it. Second, its deadline for American withdrawal passed several months ago and, lastly, Biden did not abide by other Trump-era deals about the border wall and Keystone XL pipeline, and so the notion that Trump had tied his hands was nonsense.
That said, while the flag of the Islamic Emirate now flies over the presidential palace in Kabul, the Taliban victory is not the end of the story. The Taliban rampage is less a measure of their popularity and more the result of their Pakistani support and momentum: Afghans seldom fight to the death but instead defect to the stronger side. Biden’s projection of both weakness and callousness was a gift to Taliban leaders seeking to sway provincial governors to step aside in exchange for their lives.
The Taliban, however, are not as strong as they might appear. In March 2000, I visited the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate. At the time, the Taliban controlled ninety percent of the country. They lobbied Washington to recognize them as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates had and argued that they “were no more extreme than Saudi Arabia.” I drove through the Khyber Pass from Peshawar, Pakistan and then visited Jalalabad, Kabul, Ghazni, and Kandahar. In every city, Afghans said that the security the Taliban had promised when they initially arrived disappeared quickly as the Taliban themselves started preying on the people.
While some progressives, isolationists, and other critics of traditional American foreign policy say that the Reagan administration created the Taliban, this is anachronistic nonsense: The United States supported the mujahideen like Ahmad Shah Masood and others who became to core of the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban. The Taliban itself formed in 1994. It is fair to criticize Reagan and the Central Intelligence Agency on other matters, but neither armed those who were Kindergarteners when the Soviets invaded.
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