The Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital on Sunday after a nine-day offensive captured one provincial capital after another. The United States had already decided to abandon the country, and without the US the other NATO states had no choice but to leave. It was quite clear that the Afghan state would crumble in the absence of a Western presence, though it seems President Joe Biden thought he would have a longer “decent interval” before the Saigon evacuation scenes and the massacres began.
Biden’s claim the withdrawal merely followed an agreement he inherited from Donald Trump is misleading in all respects. Biden has reversed many Trump policies he disapproved of. Moreover, Trump did not sign a “deal” as such with the Taliban in February 2020, but a withdrawal agreement, essentially an unconditional one. US troops had been withdrawing from Afghanistan since October 2019, if not before, and Trump had telegraphed his desperation for a fig-leaf to cover this policy.
To the extent the Taliban can be said to have agreed to anything, it was to prevent areas it controls being used by Al-Qaeda—which it cannot do, since Al-Qaeda is so deeply interwoven, practically and ideologically, with the Taliban—and to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government, which it also refused to do.
The Taliban never recognised the now-fallen Afghan government or constitution. America’s decision not to begin by insisting that the Taliban change this position, and instead to engage the Taliban directly over the heads of the leadership in Kabul, was only the first in a disastrous series of steps within the framework of this so-called peace process that gutted the capacity and morale of the Afghan state, while bolstering the Taliban, both in legitimacy and on the battlefield.
While the Afghan government was circumvented and denigrated, the Taliban was treated as a legitimate international actor. This never stopped, despite the fact that the Taliban never ceased its public affirmations that its policy was violent jihad until it had conquered the whole country. Astonishingly, US. officials were speaking until just a few days ago of the importance of what happened in Doha, Qatar, where the “negotiations” took place; the Taliban occupied nine provincial capitals by that time.
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