Lowering the American Flag in Disgrace Demands Honest Accountability

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By Neamat Nojumi

While the flag over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was brought down, Taliban flags were raised in celebration across the city, and Russian, Chinese, and Iranian flags continued to fly lightheartedly over their embassies. This moment was shameful and embarrassing for thousands of Americans still serving in uniform, frightening for millions of Afghan civilians who considered themselves allies of the United States, and shocking for the rest of the world. For the Taliban, it was the victorious moment for which they have been fighting and dying over twenty years, and yet another emboldening example to an emerging generation of jihadists across the world. The mighty United States can be attacked – as on 9/11 – and defeated – as we see in the fall of Kabul.

The collapse of the Afghan government is another major failure of Western-promoted democratic experiments in Asia (Myanmar) in 2021. The global narrative of “democracy is a short-lived, unreliable Western project,” which has been echoing throughout Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and the Islamist militant networks worldwide has now been further confirmed. The Taliban have already declared China a friendly nation, and have offered full security to Russian diplomats and citizens in Afghanistan. The Taliban have also offered full immunity to Iranian diplomats, and in return, Tehran resumed exporting fuel and gasoline to Taliban fighters and foreign jihadists across Afghanistan.

Even though Washington had already signed a peace deal with the Taliban prior to their takeover of Kabul, what resulted better resembled a rout than a withdrawal in good order – a Dunkirk by air from a landlocked nation. The intention here is not to argue in favor of an endless military presence and the continuation of the militarization of diplomatic and humanitarian policies toward Afghanistan.  In contrast, ending the war in Afghanistan was a noble American responsibility that the U.S. president owed to the people. However, it shouldn’t have resulted in a catastrophic outcome. Why and how did this chain of events turn into a Washington-made catastrophe, and what roles did diplomatic negotiations, the military, and intelligence assessments and preparedness all play?  This article relies on firsthand knowledge of the developments on the ground to provide insights for a new way forward in the aftermath.

Why We Are Here Now

There is no doubt that the root cause of this Washington-made catastrophe is the flawed “peace deal” the Trump White House signed with the Taliban. That said, “President Biden owns the final decision, for better or worse,” to use the words of Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.  The Biden administration came to office at a time when warnings about a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan by senior U.S. officials from every segment of government and with outstanding service records in the mission – plus tremendous amounts of classified and open-source information – had been presented. During the first few months of Biden’s presidency, a number of sound and reasonable proposals were forwarded to the administration, some with pragmatic and doable possibilities vetted by informed stakeholders. President Biden, his National Security Advisor, and his Secretary of State refused to listen. Instead, they adopted Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban and rushed to a hasty exit, despite the fact that with only 2,500 American troops present the U.S. was experiencing both the lowest financial costs since 2009 and the lowest-ever casualties throughout the last five years.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Taliban political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar celebrating the peace deal on Afghanistan.

This strategic blunder recklessly destroyed the relative stability of the Afghan state, dishonored the legacy of thousands of Americans and NATO allies who were killed or wounded in action, squandered the close to $1 trillion of the American taxpayers’ investment, and dented the credibility of the U.S. on the global level. By adopting Trump’s faulty peace deal, the Biden White House granted the Taliban their first political victory, handing them international diplomatic recognition – which they had failed to gain since their inception in 1994 – and enabling them to claim political legitimacy against the Afghan national government in the process.

The Biden administration’s failure to hold the Taliban accountable emboldened the militant group to attack district centers and mobilize thousands of fighters across the border from Pakistan to achieve territorial control with impunity. By handing the Taliban this undeserved political and diplomatic victory, Washington also demoralized Afghan security forces, as they were left without a back-up strategy. The U.S. military’s unannounced evacuations, particularly at Bagram Air Base, sucked the oxygen out of the Afghan military forces, according to a senior Afghan military commander who asked to remain anonymous. With President Ghani and many of his top advisors fleeing the country without informing members of the cabinet or the security forces holding the Taliban back, Afghan senior military officers, including Acting Minister of Defense Bismellah Khan, believed that Washington was tolerating the Taliban’s advances against the urban center as part of “a secret done-deal for the reincarnation of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan.” “This is why our commanders did not put up a fight against the Taliban who, for the most part, ran over Afghanistan without any serious fight,” reasoned another Afghan military officer to this author.

At the heart of this conspiracy-like perception was Washington’s agreement with the Taliban absent any participation by the Afghan government, the Afghan parliament, or civil society. Afghan security forces built on an American-made design relied on air support, intelligence assistance, and technical logistic elements provided by the U.S. and NATO. Taking away these essential capabilities overnight left the Afghan military with inadequate ammunition, transportation, evacuation, and even food supplies, according to Lieutenant General Sami Sadat, who commanded the Afghan National Army’s 215 Maiwand Corps in southwestern Afghanistan. The rapid collapse of the Afghan government even surprised the Taliban as they ran across districts and major urban centers without a fight. Still, hundreds of Afghan Special Forces and military officers refused to hand over their weapons to the Taliban; instead, they went into hiding or joined the resistance forces rallying around Ahmad Massoud, son of the legendary resistance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, and Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan vice president and self-declared acting president, in Panjshir, the only province resisting the Taliban takeover.

Why the Peace Deal Was Flawed

There is no doubt the 20-year-long U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan has encompassed many grave strategic shortfalls, including diplomatic and military flaws. Also, there is no doubt that Afghanistan lacked many complementing capabilities, particularly skilled human resources to establish a flourishing democracy and economically independent governing system, and there is no doubt that corruption among the Afghan government elites had profound destabilizing effects. All this said, compared with 2001, tremendous progress in terms of human development capacity and access to education, health, and services has taken place. The ruin of Kabul the Taliban left behind in 2001, with a population of 500,000, turned into a booming metropolis with a population of more than 4 million, 75% of whom are under the age of 25. Afghanistan is now both internally and internationally connected as a result of the communications revolution (including nationwide cell phone network), better air transportation, and the electrification of 90 percent of the urban centers – up from only 5 percent in 2001. Afghanistan’s mass media is now ubiquitous, with over 200 TV stations (up from zero in 2001) and a larger number of radio stations and internet-based social media outlets amplifying urban-based progressive values and perspectives to the most remote corners of the country. By achieving this level of development and infrastructure-building within only two decades, Afghanistan became the only country in the region with significant improvement of freedom of press embraced by a fast-growing middle class, as well as the large-scale participation of women in both public and private institutions and enterprises.

Similarly, as of June 2021, primary and secondary education (including for girls) comprised 9 million students (out of a population of 35 million). From a poorly functioning single university in 2001, Afghanistan now has hundreds of them (most privately funded) that enroll 300,000 students, of which 100,000 are women (up from zero in 2001). There are few Afghan families that have not been impacted by the expansion of education.

Before the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, women held 27% of the seats in the Afghanistan National Parliament.

Despite Afghanistan’s serious governing and economic development problems as mentioned earlier, only a small number of U.S. and NATO forces were needed to sustain what progress had been made, as Afghan security forces had been on the forefront of all military operations since 2014. Yet instead of maintaining a low-cost/high-return stability program in Afghanistan, the Trump administration entered into a peace deal laden with profound violations of legal and international treaties.  Specifically, the peace deal had the following fundamental legal and international errors:

  • 1) Under international law, Afghanistan is considered a sovereign state, and as such decisions on war and peace have solely been the responsibility of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan – that was recognized by the international community – and not that of the United States. Signing a peace deal with the Taliban without the request or consent of the government of Afghanistan and its people was a violation of sovereignty – particularly the requirement that the Afghan government release 5,000 Taliban prisoners with no guarantee they would not return to fight.
  • 2)Under UN Security Council Resolution 2189, the U.S. as part of the NATO Resolute and Support Mission that was initiated at the invitation of the government of Afghanistan. Washington’s negotiations with the Taliban unilaterally to impose an “America First” doctrine on behalf of both NATO and Afghanistan was in direct violation of the objectives of NATO as well as its member states, and occurred when the U.S. and NATO combat mission had already ended in accordance with the 2189 Resolution.
  • 3) Nullifying the democratically elected government of Afghanistan, altering the country’s secular national constitution, and replacing it with a theocratic dictatorship based on the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia were gross violations of the democratic principles promulgated by the Afghan Constitutional Grand National Assembly (Loya Jirga) in 2004.
  • 5) Under U.S. criminal code 2339B, allowing the Taliban to use violence to take over hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons systems and other resources and capabilities that had been granted usage to the Afghan government without any payment is a gross failure of responsibility.

  • 6) According to May 2, 2012, Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan, allowing the Taliban to kill, imprison, and kidnap officials of the Afghan government while using U.S.-made weapons and resources are gross violations. Additionally, this seriously undermined Washington’s presumed support for the rule of law throughout the world.

 

(Note: Technically and though it would never be seriously considered for prosecution, the U.S. State Department violated U.S. criminal code 2339B, which prohibits the facilitation of material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations or making any concession to terrorist groups. Additionally, Washington’s request of the Government of Qatar to host the Taliban leaders and pay for their travel and other incurred diplomatic operating costs is also a violation of U.S. law.)

President Barack Obama and President Karzai signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement in 2012.

The peace deal was celebrated as a strategic and political victory by the Taliban and its affiliated jihadist network in Pakistan.  Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Taliban a “partner for peace and allied partner in fighting against Al Qaeda,” and the same mandates were adopted and presented to Afghan government leaders by current Secretary of State Antony Blinken. According to former National Security Advisor General H. R. McMaster, “Our Secretary of State [Mike Pompeo] signed a surrender agreement to the Taliban. This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban did not defeat us – we defeated ourselves.” These developments drastically undermined the legitimacy of the Afghan state, the national constitution and the U.S. partnership with the Afghan people.  As a result, the peace deal led to interconnected failures in the areas of diplomacy, military preparedness, and intelligence.

The U.S. signs the Bilateral Security Pact with Afghanistan in 2014.

Diplomatic Misjudgment

With the arrival of the Biden Administration, the Afghan government hoped to build a more supportive partnership with Washington to hold the Taliban accountable for the escalation of violence, an important condition for a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban.  This enthusiasm was dashed once the Biden White House took over ownership of the Trump peace deal, and reappointed Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Envoy for President Trump, to follow up on its implementation.

In the course of Washington’s negotiation with the Taliban, the existing adversarial relationship between President Ghani and Ambassador Khalilzad escalated. The Afghan government insisted on an unconditional ceasefire as a precondition for negotiations with the Taliban and rejected calls for the release of additional prisoners, which Washington and the Taliban had already agreed to.  Additionally, Afghan government leaders were willing to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban but insisted that it must fall within the broader framework of the Afghan constitution, and required the Taliban to take part in an early presidential election.  (President Ghani even agreed to resign from office in order to make such an early presidential election possible.)  Regardless of these facts, Secretary Blinken sent Khalilzad to Kabul with a threatening personal letter to President Ghani that outlined what the United States viewed as the only acceptable road map. The road map suggested the Afghan government to “move urgently” on building a) the foundational principles that would guide Afghanistan’s future constitutional and governing arrangements; b) a new, inclusive government; and c) a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. Blinken used the threat of a May 1, 2021, complete withdrawal of U.S./NATO troops to press Ghani into endorsing Washington’s proposal.

The Afghan government leaders viewed Washington’s proposal as favoring the Taliban and a concession to Pakistan. They rejected tampering with the country’s constitution and its republican system of governance as proposed. Instead, they argued for an unconditional ceasefire, a political settlement with the Taliban, and a change of government via an expedited presidential election. When Khalilzad stressed the urgency of a positive response to Washington’s proposal, Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh told the Afghans, “We will never accept a coerced and imposed peace.” Mohammed Mohaqiq, a prominent politician and senior advisor to the president, argued that “when we say that the Taliban must join [us] it is because we have a system, an army, human rights and constitution. Why should we join the Taliban? We do not want to fight against any party or join them in the mountains.”

In the end, the Taliban calculated that the Biden administration lacked the political will to support President Ghani and concluded that they now held the upper hand in their dealings with both the Afghan government and the United States. The escalation of tense diplomatic relations between Kabul and Washington along with the escalation of violence further demoralized the Afghan armed forces, whose leaders always viewed U.S. and NATO support as a critical necessary backup. Washington’s diplomatic failure to reach out to the Afghan government leaders further isolated President Ghani, who was already viewed as untrustworthy and uncharismatic by ordinary Afghans.  As stated by General Sir Richard Barrons, the former head of the U.K. Joint Forces Command, the way which the U.S. and NATO handled their withdrawal from Afghanistan was selling out of “the future of Afghanistan.”

Lack of Military Preparedness

Under the Resolute Support Mission, the U.S. military was responsible for training and equipping the Afghan security forces, and in particular, the Afghan national military, including the Afghan Special Forces. Under the Bilateral Security Agreement, the U.S. provided air support for the Afghan armed forces fighting the Taliban insurgent groups as well as U.S. intelligence assessments on diverse threats to the national government. The significance of U.S. intelligence and air assets cannot be overstated. In addition, thousands of U.S. contractors provided technical and logistical support to the small but effective force.  Due to the political miscalculation by Biden’s White House, in the summer of 2021 the Pentagon put its sole focus on the rapid withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 American soldiers, ending both air and intelligence support to the Afghan armed forces in July, before its announced withdrawal deadline of September 2021.

Facing a well-organized mobilization of Taliban fighters across Afghanistan who were also backed by Pakistani professional military staff and retired military contractors, the Afghan army was caught by surprise. Without the technical and logistical support and with only 19 light attack Brazilian-made aircraft, eight Russian-made attack helicopters, and some U.S.-made light attack/training helicopters, the Afghan Air Force was unable to support the ground forces on many different fronts. It could also no longer deliver reinforcements to the battlefield or evacuate the wounded. The rushed abandonment of the regional bases, in particular Bagram Air Base, before the withdrawal of U.S. troops was complete left the Pentagon without any Plan B in case the situation deteriorated. Furthermore, no plans were made for the destruction of weapons systems, communication facilities, and logistics tools that the U.S. had given the Afghan forces if they were in danger of falling into enemy hands. As a result, not only did these weapon systems end up with the Taliban, they also got access to digital databases, computer hard drives, and biometric technologies with personal information that includes significant amounts of classified and sensitive information.

Both Trump and Biden were advised against the withdrawal of troops until the conditions of the “peace deal” with the Taliban were met.  According to a senior staff member in the Pentagon who talked to this author and wanted to remain anonymous, the argument against the withdrawal of troops at the senior levels of the Pentagon was known during the Obama administration and was escalated seriously under Trump’s Secretary of Defense General James Mattis. Later, most senior officers believed the withdrawal would undermine the peace deal. According to another senior U.S. officer, “A proposed withdrawal was to NOT lower the number of troops below 4,500, and NOT abandon Bagram Air Base until the Taliban fulfilled all key conditions agreed in the peace deal.” General Asadullah Kohistani, who took over leadership of Bagram Air Base, reported that the Americans left the base at 3 a.m. on July 2, but their Afghan counterparts did not realize they had left until several hours later.

The US military left behind thousands of civilian vehicles and hundreds of armored vehicles (EPA).

Abandoning Bagram Air Base more than a month before the withdrawal deadline left the Afghan military in the dark and encouraged the Taliban to move in. In addition, it left the U.S. without a secure airfield to evacuate thousands of American citizens still working on the ground in Afghanistan. This lack of preparedness and the absence of any emergency plans to support or rescue American diplomats, aid workers, and contractors resulted in some 10,000 to 15,000 American citizens and thousands of Afghan nationals who worked for the U.S. being trapped without safe exit from Afghanistan once the Taliban took control of Kabul.  As a result, the Pentagon needed to seek special authorization from the White House to deploy 3,000 military forces to rescue American diplomats and citizens and execute a herculean effort that resulted in the largest airlift in the time allowed in history. This lack of planning directly resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans desperately seeking to leave the country.

 

A Taliban fighter poses next to a U.S.-made Black Hawk helicopter and other aircraft seized from Afghanistan’s military as the insurgents boasted of their rapid takeover of Afghanistan. (Credit: Twitter.)

 

Intelligence Failure

The Biden White House was briefed about the weakness of the Afghan security forces in the face of an all-out attack by the Taliban. As a worst-case scenario, the intelligence indicated, “The Afghan military would fold.” Reportedly the president himself appeared to dispute such a possibility while his national security team relied on misjudged, miscalculated and misleading intelligence assessments. Secretary Blinken argued, “The terrorism threat has moved to other places. And we have other very important items on our agenda.” Simultaneously, the Global Terrorism Index was assessing terrorism threats in Afghanistan as the highest in the world and described Afghanistan as “the country…most affected by terror and least peaceful country in the world.” These raw political and military miscalculations led the U.S. intelligence apparatus to concentrate on a tactical assessment and neglect sound strategic analysis of the threats on the ground. In other words, U.S. decision-makers looked at Afghanistan through a soda straw and saw what they wanted to.

Meanwhile, with the support of Pakistan intelligence, the Ministry of the Interior, and elements of (both active and retired) military, the Taliban mobilized thousands of religious students across the vast network of madrassas in Pakistan and reintegrated dozens of affiliated jihadists and Islamists, including those who were fighting in Kashmir against India, as well as foreign groups such as Jaish-e Mohammed and Ansarul Sharia Pakistan, which is connected to Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. This large-scale effort included the provision of centralized communications for dozens of mobile command and control systems that coordinated the forward deployment of fighters at regional, provincial, and district levels. The Taliban also launched an intimidation campaign across Afghan security forces and deployed dozens of sleeper cells within major urban centers and the most important rural districts. “We were dumbfounded by the Taliban attacks across key rural districts in the western and northern regions, where anti-Taliban forces and sentiment have always been the highest,” several Afghan security officers said, who requested to remain anonymous.  The intent was to neutralize popular anti-Taliban support for the Afghan government.  According to other Afghan officials, including members of the national parliament, the Taliban forcefully claimed the peace deal as Washington’s blessing of Taliban demands. “This convincing approach had already secured concessions with some of President Ghani’s senior advisors and senior military officers,” who ordered troops not to fight the Taliban and allow them to enter district and urban centers.

With the absence of U.S. and NATO air and intelligence support, the Taliban enacted their Pakistan-backed military strategy by attacking all points of entry across Afghanistan’s borders and cut supplies to the Afghan government, thus depriving it of vitally important commercial revenues.  According to government officials from western Afghanistan, “the Taliban were aided by Iranian Revolutionary Guards units in the provinces of Herat, Nimrooz, and Farah.” In most cases, aside from anecdotes across classified networks, U.S. civilian, military and legislative leaders were left out of Taliban’s Pakistan-backed grand strategy. This author’s conversations with sources among European allies reveal that NATO military and intelligence capabilities – who also traditionally rely on U.S. intelligence estimates – were also denied to Afghan leaders, further darkening any intelligence of what was happening in the country.  Additionally, U.S. intelligence failed to predict that President Ghani, his head of the national Security Council, and top senior advisors would flee the country without informing members of his cabinet, including his vice president or the Afghan parliament, even while his government representatives were in the midst of discussing a political settlement in Islamabad and Doha.

The absence of a strategic intelligence assessment resulted in the catastrophic minimization of threats including: 1) a dangerous and growing political and military vacuum that formed around the growing tension between the U.S. Secretary of State’s team (particularly the U.S. Special Envoy) and Afghan leaders; 2) state-sponsored clandestine support for the Taliban and their affiliated jihadist groups beyond Afghanistan, including through recruits in Pakistan and elsewhere; 3) tainted or intentionally incorrect human intelligence received via Pakistani and Afghan intelligence agencies that went unvetted; 4) the isolation of the Afghan government through the Taliban’s linkage with Russia, China, Iran, and other intelligence agencies in the region; 5) the possibility of the Afghan president fleeing the country; 6) secret agreements of senior Afghan government officials, particularly the military and other security forces, with the Taliban; 7) the possibility of action by known terrorists during the evacuation that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 13 Americans and dozens of Afghans; and 8) the possible “worst-case scenario” – as was eluded to in the final intelligence briefing to the White House on Afghanistan – as no contingency for protecting American citizens and resources was created. These colossal lapses in intelligence resulted from both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency failing to adequately inform the U.S. president, his national security team, members of the U.S. Congress, the Pentagon, and respected commissions in Congress about the certainty of the collapse of the Afghan government and the ensuing threats to thousands of Americans and allies still serving on the ground in Afghanistan at that time.

The poor diplomatic judgment by the Trump and Biden administrations resulted in military miscalculations and intelligence failures.  Whether one caused the other is a chicken and egg problem that will be long debated, but there is no doubt that the U.S. negotiations produced unexpected, and irreversible consequences.  The 2020 peace deal with the Taliban, without the inclusion of the Afghan government, Afghan parliament, and civil society, proved to be a mirror replay of the formation of the post-Taliban government in 2001 without Taliban involvement. This reinforces what Leon Panetta, former CIA director, recently stated: “This is the end of a chapter in the war on terrorism, but it isn’t the end of the war on terrorism.”  These unfolding events demand Washington’s proactive engagement to prevent Afghanistan from sliding into another bloody civil war and to negate the glorification of an Islamist militant victory such as the world witnessed in the post-Soviet withdrawal of Afghanistan in the early 1990s.

Ways Forward

The extent of the damages caused by the unexpected collapse of the Afghan government is not yet known. Still, the scale of the collapse of the Afghan government combined with the ensuing humanitarian crisis it has caused demands the following:

Immediate Accountability

These failures of U.S. diplomatic and military actions have led dozens of former diplomats, senior military officers, legislators, former intelligence leaders, and veterans to demand holding the responsible officials accountable for poor judgment, for accepting a flawed peace deal, for rushing what could have been an honorable and sound withdrawal, and for putting American citizens and allies in harm’s way, particularly the 13 American servicemembers who were killed at the Kabul airport. To bring the needed integrity back to key offices of the U.S. federal government, and U.S. global leadership, many credible voices called upon the following officials to honorably accept responsibility and resign:

  1. Secretary of State Antony Blinken;
  2. Security of Defense Lloyd Austin;
  3. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan;
  4. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson;
  5. Commander of CENTCOM General McKenzie;
  6. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad; and
  7. CIA and DIA senior field officials

To strengthen the institutional accountability and structural capability of the above key government institutions, and restore the credibility of the U.S. with its allies, the U.S. Congress ought to undertake a bipartisan investigation to evaluate the causes of these failures and offer recommendations for implementation across the respected agencies and institutions.

Leveraging Local and International Opportunities

Beyond the public relations campaign in Kabul to project a less brutal image than in the past, and despite some pragmatic Taliban leaders such as Mullah Baradar, the Taliban’s behaviors in other parts of Afghanistan indicate that they remain an ultra-conservative, medieval theocratic movement that seeks to establish an Islamist Emirate where Al Qaeda and ISIS will once again be able to establish a strong foothold, though for different reasons.  The Taliban did not win their victory by fighting, but found themselves, to their own surprise, filling a political vacuum created by Washington and a fleeing President Ghani. They might control Afghanistan now, but they can’t govern without a broad-based national government and legitimate international recognition. The liberal democracies of the West must work to deny these necessary conditions and seek a diplomatic solution that will disallow a Taliban Islamist theocratic dictatorship.

No future Afghan government can expect to survive long-term without international assistance, particularly from the U.S. and E.U. countries, which currently constitutes more than 40% of its GDP (according to World Bank). The cost of running a government in Afghanistan is estimated at $5.8 billion, of which international financial assistance forms more than half. The Biden administration has already frozen $9 billion in Afghan government reserves in U.S. banks, and the World Bank stopped the disbursement of reconstruction development funds committed by the international community to Afghanistan.

The three countries that the Taliban have strong ties with are Pakistan, Qatar; and Turkey the U.S. also has strong relations with both of those countries.  Washington should capitalize on these relationships – particularly with Islamabad, to support a broad-based government in Kabul. With this broad-based government, the human resources and infrastructure-building achievements of the last 20 years can be saved. With inclusive political systems across ethnic, linguistic, and religious groupings, Afghanistan can once again be part of the international community, improve stability and governance, and play its important regional role: as an economic corridor between West, Central, and South Asia. . Washington should also keep the lines of communication open with the Afghan Resistance Movement, headed by Ahmad Massoud and Amrullah Saleh. Both of these charismatic leaders have fought to keep Panjshir province out of Taliban control so to represent the legitimate grievances of millions of Afghans who embraced democracy wholeheartedly, created a secular constitution, went to elections, and liberated their girls and women with access to education, health services, and emerging public responsibility. As a result, Panjshir has become the symbolic center of the National Resistance Front (NRF) as an anti-Taliban movement and can mobilize a growing armed resistance movement like the Taliban frantically using brute force and violence to consolidate power. A mixed modern and traditional Afghanistan where its citizens are safe with dignity and where the country is a healthy member of the international community fits well within Afghanistan’s history and socio-political culture. A U.S. proactive diplomatic and humanitarian role will open a new chapter of the relationship between the two countries for which many Americans, Europeans, and Afghans lost their precious lives.

Washington and Brussels ought to recognize these legitimate grievances.  Afghan embassies and consulates around the world, including the country’s representative in the UN, are still holding the flag and mandates of the Afghan government, not the Taliban. Washington should sustain direct communication with the Taliban to ensure the formation of an inclusive government and peaceful transfer of power. The U.S. should not remove sanctions against Taliban leaders and should encourage the UN to keep their leaders on the designated terrorist list. These diplomatic tools can be used to help Afghans form a broad-based inclusive national government in which the rights of women and religious minorities are protected, and freedom of speech and press are granted.

Dr. Neamat Nojumi is an American social scientist researching diverse issues relevant to global governance and public and foreign policy. He worked as a research professor at George Mason University, a research fellow at Harvard Law School, and a senior advisor within the U.S. government.  He was also deployed five times to Afghanistan, working as a senior advisor to the U.S. and NATO leaders. He is the recipient of awards and recognitions from world leaders and national and international institutions.

 

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