To American ears, the words “Taliban” and “terrorism” are often synonymous.
So naturally, people were astounded to find out that the Trump administration began negotiating with Taliban almost a year ago, desperate to end the conflict in Afghanistan that has been going on since 2001.
After planes crashed into the World Trade Center 18 years ago, the New Yorker’s Robin Wright said:
“It would have been considered delusional to imagine an American President sitting down with the jihadis tied to the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil — and at historic Camp David, no less. But it almost happened over the weekend, and may still.”
But after 18 years, 2,400 American servicemen have been killed, and 20,000 wounded in Afghanistan. And just in the past 10 years, more than 30,000 Afghan civilians have been killed in the conflict. And yet the Taliban has not been ousted, and in fact, controls almost half of the country now.
The deal that was waiting for Trump’s approval before his announcement of an abrupt halt in negotiations, included a withdrawal of 5,000 U.S. troops and closure of five military bases in return for the Taliban’s promise to keep counterterrorism measures against the Islamic State and al-Qaida, reduce fighting in the Parwan and Kabul provinces, and agree to hold talks with the Kabul government.
But brokering this type of deal with the Taliban would mean that the U.S. is ceding part of Afghanistan to the Taliban and recognizing it as a legitimate governing force in Afghanistan.
After so many years and lives lost in the conflict in Afghanistan, of course, the U.S. wants to get out.
“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that after eighteen years of trying,” Andrew Wilder, an Afghan expert told the New Yorker. “It’s clear that a military defeat of the Taliban by U.S. and Afghan security forces is not a realistic option.”
But leaving counterterrorism measures in the hands of the Taliban isn’t exactly wise. It would just be leaving one harsh and incredibly cruel Islamic fundamentalist group to stave off two other harsh and incredibly cruel Islamic fundamentalist groups. And leaving the Afghans to themselves, in all their factions and tribes could trigger another era of insanity, like the 90s when the Taliban was born.
The Taliban was birthed in the 90s as one of the many factions fighting the Soviets during the Afghan-Soviet War of 1979 – 1989. Islamist, Afghan guerilla fighters, that eventually became known collectively to the West as the “mujahideen,” rose up against the Soviet army in Afghanistan and against the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
The U.S., along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, supported the mujahideen in their struggle since, in American eyes, it was a struggle against Soviet Russia. The Taliban turned out to be one of the mujahideen groups that the U.S. supported. Without U.S. funding during the Soviet-Afghan war, the Taliban may never have had the chance to take control of large portions of Afghanistan, and commit genocide, impose stringent, militant Sharia law, ruin any semblance of Afghani infrastructure, and brutalize Afghans.
As Professor Carole Hillebrand later said, “The West helped the Taliban to fight the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan.”
But is the Taliban thankful now? No, they just want all U.S. and NATO troops out of the country as quickly as possible. So, last week when Trump announced that he was halting negotiations and dialogue with the Taliban, they were peeved and warned that this could “harm America more than anyone else.”
It’s a bad idea to give legitimacy recognition and power to the Taliban, but it’s also a bad idea for the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. There is simply no good solution.
If the U.S. stays in Afghanistan, more lives will be lost, and Afghanis will continue to struggle against a foreign power in their land — just like they struggled for centuries against the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Mongols, and eventually the British.
It may be worthwhile for the U.S. to leave in light of this, but there is enormous risk in leaving the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Many people fault Trump for trying to negotiate with the group. But many more are frustrated that our troops have been in the region for 18 years.
There is no good solution, and Afghanistan will continue to cause problems as it has for a millennium.
Abby Liebing is a senior studying history and is the associate editor of The Collegian.