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Readying for the Aftermath

by Khaled Ahmed
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File Photo. Noorullah Shirzada—AFP

The peace deal negotiated between the Taliban and the U.S. all but ensures a return to power for the insurgents

Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad negotiated and signed a peace deal with the Taliban on Feb. 29, committing to releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners and withdrawing 13,000 American troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the insurgents working to restrict the activities of militants groups such as Al Qaeda.

The Taliban signed on to the deal after the Americans agreed not to allow the Ashraf Ghani-led, democratically elected government sit in the negotiations. And therein lies the rub; the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners was not agreed with the sitting Kabul government, which resulted in President Ghani saying he would not commit to the agreement. He eventually retracted his displeasure, of course, proving to many observers his growing lack of legal status in the country.

The agreement with the Taliban is flawed in the eyes of Americans, who have nevertheless accepted it as a better-than-no-deal document allowing Washington to leave Afghanistan after 19 years and billions of dollars spent to shore up a status quo created by a U.N. Security Council resolution under a Chapter 7 “compulsory” provision. Ghani’s refusal to back the deal gave the Taliban opportunity to target Afghan security forces in 27 of the country’s 34 provinces—though they have continued to avoid any attacks on foreign forces. Today, the Taliban control more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since 9/11. They committed to having no truck with the Islamic State militant group—with whom they are fighting a separate war anyway—but will likely remain thick with Al Qaeda, their old patron.

The fallout of the peace deal would be worst felt by the people of Afghanistan, who would once again have to adjust to the draconian “Islamic” routine of women staying at home and wearing burqa when forced to go out. The Afghan “culture” that asserted itself during the American presence would vanish without a trace in short order as the Taliban start whipping people on the streets. There will be the usual exodus, but this time Pakistan, with its fenced border with Afghanistan, will be better able to block millions of Afghans trying to enter it to avoid getting killed in a new North-South intra-Afghan conflict.

The fleeing millions from Afghanistan will have nowhere to go if Pakistan and Iran refuse to take them. When the Americans left Vietnam in 1975, the South Vietnamese too had nowhere to go because the only way open to them was the sea. They had to become the “boat people” that the world could do nothing about. Two million of them died at sea, the number that is usually received by Pakistan every time killings start among Muslims of Afghanistan in the name of Islam. In Washington, the function of normal deju vu has been killed by routine.

As the Americans leave, the Afghans will not kiss their hands as a farewell gesture because during the past year the American operations against the Taliban and Islamic State have killed more civilians than did the “enemy,” destroying the claim of “American stabilization” in Afghanistan. The weak glue of Pakhtun-Tajik-Uzbek government in Kabul will likely become undone and the other “postponed” civil war will ensue—as is already visible in the parallel oath-taking ceremonies for the presidency that Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah hosted last week—which had been suppressed with external pressure to save the state from disintegration.

The civil war in Afghanistan will be easily won by the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine. Exit points in Iran and Pakistan will be closed to women and children fleeing torture and rape, the latter method of jihad having been “discovered” by Islamic warriors in Syria. Iran being a totalitarian state will cope better with the coming human deluge than Pakistan where internal divisions of faith will create weaknesses heretofore concealed from view. The rise of Taliban will strengthen the Deobandi madrassas that gave birth to them in the first place. Most other clergy will incline in favor of the re-emergence of the Taliban after discovering that their real enemy is “internal”: those who favor anti-Islamic movements like the Aurat March that came to grief in Pakistan on March 8, 2020.

Is Pakistan getting ready to deal with the “internal” threat that Afghanistan will pose in 2020? It has basically to adjust to the comeback of the Taliban and Al Qaeda on the scene with a “response” that will appease the far-right religious elements now disenchanted with a state that can’t stop “westernized” women staging their Aurat March. This time as the women came out in Islamabad they were stoned by the clerics supporting the return of the women’s seminary of Jamia Hafsa championed by Maulana Abdul Aziz of the banned Red Mosque of Islamabad.

This was the news in daily Dawn of Feb. 10, 2020, as Afghanistan started moving back to the hegemony of Taliban and Al Qaeda: “The deposed cleric of Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz, and the Islamabad administration reached a settlement on Sunday after three days of negotiations, with the latter agreeing to allot 20 kanals of land for Jamia Hafsa if the cleric ends its occupation. Shortly after the talks, the female students, who had entered Jamia Hafsa building in Islamabad’s Sector H-11 after breaking its seal, started leaving the seminary. Police contingents surrounding the seminary had already been withdrawn as part of the agreement.”

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