Nearly two decades after the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan post-9/11, and after an interminable war costing over $ 2 trillion, there’s hardly anything “historic” about a possible peace deal that may be signed in Doha this coming Saturday between Washington and the Taliban.
We should start by stressing three points.
1- The Taliban wanted all US troops out. Washington refused.
2- The possible deal only reduces US troops from 13,000 to 8,600. That’s the same number already deployed before the Trump administration.
3- The reduction will only happen a year and a half from now – assuming what’s being described as a truce holds.
So there would be no misunderstanding, Taliban Deputy Leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, in an op-ed certainly read by everyone inside the Beltway, detailed their straightforward red line: total US withdrawal.
And Haqqani is adamant: there’s no peace deal if US troops stay.
Still, a deal looms. How come? Simple: enter a series of secret “annexes.”
The top US negotiator, the seemingly eternal Zalmay Khalilzad, a remnant of the Clinton and Bush eras, has spent months codifying these annexes – as confirmed by a source in Kabul currently not in government but familiar with the negotiations.
Let’s break them down to four points.
1- US counter-terror forces would be allowed to stay. Even if approved by the Taliban leadership, this would be anathema to the masses of Taliban fighters.
2- The Taliban would have to denounce terrorism and violent extremism. That’s rhetorical, not a problem.
3- There will be a scheme to monitor the so-called truce while different warring Afghan factions discuss the future, what the US State Dept. describes as “intra-Afghan negotiations.” Culturally, as we’ll see later, Afghans of different ethnic backgrounds will have a tremendously hard time monitoring their own warring.
4- The CIA would be allowed to do business in Taliban-controlled areas. That’s an even more hardcore anathema. Everyone familiar with post-9/11 Afghanistan knows that the prime reason for CIA business is the heroin rat line that finances Langley’s black ops, as I exposed in 2017.
Otherwise, everything about this “historic” deal remains quite vague.
Even Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was forced to admit the war in Afghanistan is “still” in “a state of strategic stalemate.”
As for the far from strategic financial disaster, one just needs to peruse the latest SIGAR report. SIGAR stands for Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. In fact virtually nothing in Afghanistan has been “reconstructed.”
No real deal without Iran
The “intra-Afghan” mess starts with the fact that Ashraf Ghani eventually was declared the winner of the presidential elections held in September last year. But virtually no one recognizes him.
The Taliban don’t talk to Ghani. Only to some people that are part of the government in Kabul. And they describe these talks at best as between “ordinary Afghans.”
Everyone familiar with Taliban strategy knows US/NATO troops will never be allowed to stay. What could happen is the Taliban allowing some sort of face-saving contingent to remain for a few months, and then a very small contingent stays to protect the US embassy in Kabul.
Washington will obviously reject this possibility. The alleged “truce” will be broken. Trump, pressured by the Pentagon, will send more troops. And the infernal spiral will be back on track.
Another major hole in the possible deal is that the Americans completely ignored Iran in their negotiations in Doha.
That’s patently absurd. Teheran is a key strategic partner to its neighbor Kabul. Apart from the millenary historical/cultural/social connections, there are at least 3.5 million Afghan refugees in Iran.
Post 9-11, Tehran slowly but surely started cultivating relations with the Taliban – but not at a military/weaponizing level, according to Iranian diplomats. In Beirut last September, and then in Nur-Sultan in November, I was provided a clear picture of where discussions about Afghanistan stand.
The Russian connection to the Taliban goes through Tehran. Taliban leaders have frequent contacts with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Only last year, Russia held two conferences in Moscow between Taliban political leaders and mujahideen. The Russians were engaged into bringing Uzbeks into the negotiations. At the same time, some Taliban leaders met with Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives four times in Tehran, in secret.
The gist of all these discussions was “to find a conflict resolution outside of Western patterns”, according to an Iranian diplomat. They were aiming at some sort of federalism: the Taliban plus the mujahideen in charge of the administration of some vilayets.
The bottom line is that Iran has better connections in Afghanistan than Russia and China. And this all plays within the much larger scope of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The Russia-China strategic partnership wants an Afghan solution coming from inside the SCO, of which both Iran and Afghanistan are observers. Iran may become a full SCO member if it holds on to the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, until October – thus still not subjected to UN sanctions.
All these actors want US troops out – for good. So the solution always points towards a decentralized federation. According to an Afghan diplomat, the Taliban seem ready to share power with the Northern Alliance. The spanner in the works is the Hezb-e-Islami, with one Jome Khan Hamdard, a commander allied with notorious mujahid Gulbudiin Hekmatyar, based in Mazar-i-Sharif and supported by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, more interested in restarting a civil war.
Here’s a blast from the past, reliving the context of the Taliban visit to Houston, and showing how things have not changed much since the first Clinton administration. It’s always a matter of the Taliban getting their cut – at the time related to Pipelineistan business, now to their reaffirmation of what can be described as Pashtunistan.
Not every Pashtun is a Taliban, but the overwhelming majority of Taliban are Pashtuns.
The Washington establishment never did their “know your enemy” homework, trying to understand how Pashtuns from extremely diverse groups are linked by a common system of values establishing their ethnic foundation and necessary social rules. That’s the essence of their code of conduct – the fascinating, complex Pashtunwali. Although it incorporates numerous Islamic elements, Pashtunwali is in total contradiction with Islamic law on many points.
Islam did introduce key moral elements to Pashtun society. But there are also juridical norms, imposed by a hereditary nobility, that support the whole edifice and that came from the Turko-Mongols.
Pashtuns – a tribal society – have a deep aversion to the Western concept of the state. Central power can only expect to neutralize them with – to put it bluntly – bribes. That’s what passes as a sort of system of government in Afghanistan. Which brings the question of how much – and with what – the US is now bribing the Taliban.
Afghan political life, in practice, works out from actors that are factions, sub-tribes, “Islamic coalitions” or regional groups.
Since 1996, and up to 9/11, the Taliban incarnated the legitimate return of Pashtuns as the dominant element in Afghanistan. That’s why they instituted an emirate and not a republic, more appropriate for a Muslim community ruled only by religious legislation. The diffidence towards cities, particularly Kabul, also expresses the sentiment of Pashtun superiority over other Afghan ethnic groups.
The Taliban do represent a process of overcoming tribal identity and the affirmation of Pashtunistan. The Beltway never understood this powerful dynamic – and that’s one of the key reasons for the American debacle.
Lapis Lazuli corridor
Afghanistan is at the center of the new American strategy for Central Asia, as in “expand and maintain support for stability in Afghanistan” coupled with an emphasis to “encourage connectivity between Central Asia and Afghanistan.”
In practice, the Trump administration wants the five Central Asian “stans” to bet on integration projects such as the CASA-1000 electricity project and the Lapis Lazuli trade corridor, which is in fact a reboot of the Ancient Silk Road, connecting Afghanistan to Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia before crossing the Black Sea to Turkey and then all the way to the EU.
But the thing is Lapis Lazuli is already bound to integrate with Turkey’s Middle Corrido r, which is part of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative, as well as with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Plus, also part of Belt and Road. Beijing planned this integration way before Washington.
The Trump administration is just stressing the obvious: a peaceful Afghanistan is essential for the integration process.
Andrew Korybko correctly argues that “Russia and China could make more progress on building the Golden Ring between themselves, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey by that time, thus ‘embracing’ Central Asia with potentially limitless opportunities that far surpass those that the US is offering or ‘encircling’ the region from a zero-sum American strategic perspective and ‘forcing’ it out.”
The late Zbigniew “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski’s wishful thinking “Eurasian Balkans” scenario may be dead, but the myriad US divide-and-rule gambits imposed on the heartland have now mutated into hybrid war explicitly directed against China, Russia and Iran – the three major nodes of Eurasia integration.
And that means that as far as realpolitik Afghanistan is concerned, with or without a deal, the US military have no intention to go anywhere. They want to stay – whatever it takes. Afghanistan is a priceless Greater Middle East base to deploy hybrid war techniques.
Pashtuns are certainly getting the message from key Shanghai Cooperation Organization players. The question is how they plan to run rings around Team Trump.
it is a non event with no meaning beyond the november elections in the usa. a short boost for the republicans to campaign on by saying in ads, ‘see, we kept our promise, we are pulling out of afghanistan’.
a gesture only.
the only way washington pulls out of afghanistan and for that matter iraq and syria is when its too bloody to remain.
america has become an exhausted industrial power with too many critical components no longer designed or even made within its borders …..so washington is holding on to their current middle east/ central asian bases knowing if they leave they will never be able to return.
the ottoman empire experienced a similar moment of clarity after WW1 and history knows how it worked out for them.
No Empire ever declares “Oh well… we tried to impose our will, and we failed. We’ll fuck off now.kthnxbai“. Even when they know that they have just copped a strategic kick in the balls.
The closest to that ever happening was the behaviour of England when it was clear that they had lost the Revolutionary War – but they still kept dead-ending until the decisive loss at Yorktown.
It’s a decent rule of thumb that Empires will keep trying to throw their weight around until they suffer one of two things: complete defeat by a peer adversary, or 3 strategic defeats by non-peers.
When the adversary is a non-peer, a decisive loss is not necessary: failing to impose the Imperial Will is then a loss.
Rome’s 3 strikes: Carrhae (53BCE), Teutoberger Wald (9CE) and Caledonia (150-200CE). At Carrhae the Parthians were a near-peer, and Rome was the invader – so the home base was not at risk.
But by the time the Empire was trying to extend its influence all the way to Pictavia, the Hard-Footed Men (alternatively ‘Hard Men’) of Caledonia weren’t that impressed and the Romans weren’t that keen. They tried to maintain the Antonine/Severan Wall – north of Hadrian’s – but couldn’t do it. The Fall of Rome is historically dated from the 4th century, but the loss of prestige was already crystallising in the middle of the 2nd.
For the British Empire it was the strategic losses in the American Colonies (late 1700s); Afghanistan (mid-1800s); and New Zealand (mid-late 1800s).
People will claim that the US Revolutionary Army was a peer adversary: while it was a reasonably well-organised and well-led land force, it wasn’t very well-equipped and had fuck-all navy to speak of.
If the Continental Army hadn’t had some handy assistance from the French navy, there’s a decent chance they would have been unable to get into a position that resulted in the decisive victory at Yorktown. Still, given my definition of ‘strategic defeat’ for Empires facing non-peers, it would still have been a strategic loss for the Brit Empire – because they had failed to impose the Imperial Will.
(inb4 if the English had deployed a ‘scorched earth’ strategy and been willing to commit genocide, they would have won. Some dummies say the same thing about the US loss in Vietnam)
Anyhow… the US had suffered two strategic defeats by non-peers in the 20th century (Korea and Vietnam), and Strike 3 is the Siamese Twins of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Right now the US is desperately trying to pretend that it did manage to exert the Imperial Will on both.
It has been told to sling its hook by the Iraqi Parliament – the US loses 100% of its Imperial gloss if it obeys, so attention must be diverted while it finagles ‘exit with honour‘.
This is why the US insisted on unconditional surrender by the Japs and Germans in WWII: to show the world that it was imposing its Imperial Will on two former peer Empires.
25 years after the US started bragging that they were the ‘sole hyperpower’, they are going cap in hand to a band of raggedy-assed towelheads with 1950s weaponry, begging for a chance to leave in something other than abject humiliation. Karma is delicious.
“Rome’s 3 strikes: Carrhae (53BCE), Teutoberger Wald (9CE) and Caledonia (150-200CE). At Carrhae the Parthians were a near-peer, and Rome was the invader – so the home base was not at risk.”
Not sure if I agree with your “3 strikes & you’re out” theory of imperial decline.
Take this Roman example: you are forced to add in a caveat that amounts to a contradiction — “The Fall of Rome is historically dated from the 4th century, but the loss of prestige was already crystallising in the middle of the 2nd.” Essentially, you reduce Imperial fall/collapse with “lose of prestige” which the allows you over 200 hundred years for Imperial fall. Over 200 years is hardly “3 strikes & you are out”
Further, none of the “strikes” you mention are really sufficiently severe to warrant the term “strike”.
The first was arguably not even a Roman State event. The whole campaign was driven by Crassus’ jealousy of Caesar & Pompeious.
The second was indeed a horrifying event in Roman history (although not as “fear inducing” as Cannae). However, like the third “strike” it did have the virtue of forcing the Romans to confront some strategic realities (that most of Germany & Nth Britain were simply not worth the effort)
Its not easy to name 3 Roman defeats that would qualify as major “strikes”… Samarra 363 AD – & Adrianople , 378 AD & the Sack of Rome in 410. But of course, it can be argued that the rot had set in earlier & these battles were merely symptomatic of that rot….Which again suggests that “the 3 strikes” theory is quite tricky when it comes down to it.
I rarely agree with Pepe, but this is exactly right:
This deal has no long term future. It is a stop gap measure to get past the U.S. 2020 elections.
Russia entered Afghanistan with the best of intentions. In 1989 Gobachev fully exited the country.
Trump would like to follow Gorbachev’s example and fully withdraw.
Unfortunately, NeoConDemocrats and Obama holdovers in the State Department are resisting common sense. This Globalist faction also controls a few Republican Senators (e.g. Romney), which makes it hard for Trump to execute his Gorbachev v2.0 plan.
Swamp cleaning has taken more time than anticipated, but progress is being made:
— Almost 100 Obama holdovers have been tossed from the NSC including the seditious Lt. Col. Alex Vindman.
— Grenell, the new DNI, is not from the Globalist establishment hierarchy and is known to distrust and ignore Obama holdovers.
In his 2nd term, Trump will have more room to maneuver against the Deep State. A full withdrawal from Afghanistan is likely if the GOP can capture additional Senate seats.
What is the Globalist DNC plan for Afghanistan? How many more boots would the DNC candidate place on the ground?
Even if you do not like Trump, he is vastly better than the alternative.
It looks like the deal has already been killed by Afghanistan’s internal politics: (1)
When will Trump be able to beat the Deep State to achieve a full withdrawal from this ultra-left, Globalist fiasco?
I was thinking 2nd term, but it could happen sooner.