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Loss of focus and failure prioritise to Taliban to blame for Afghan debacle says US policy adviser

24th Sep 2021
Loss of focus and failure prioritise to Taliban to blame for Afghan debacle says US policy adviser

Dr Hassan Abbas served as professor and department chair US Dept of Defense funded National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs, Washington DC, USA. (Photo courtsey of Professor Hassan Abbas). Right: Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (Credit: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency)

Ahmed J Versi

Washington’s shift in focus and its failure to prioritise a revived Taliban is, largely, to blame for the Afghan debacle said a US policy advisor on South Asia and the Middle East.

The withdrawal after 20 years pushes the American counter-terrorism “back to square one,” says Distinguished Professor of International Relations at the National Defence University in Washington, Hassan Abbas.

On future policy, the Pakistani-American scholar said that the West needs to “rethink the possibilities and accept at least giving the Taliban a chance to be a bit more pragmatic”.

“If they show a little, such possibilities, let’s give them a chance so that after another series of crises, we should be able to say yes, there were some signs. And we gave them enough, he told The Muslim News.

“We gave enough chance to Kabul (for) 20 years that we know you are corrupt. We know you are incompetent, but we are willing to support you for two more years.”

The professor suggests the US-led invasion of Afghanistan failed because US interest was diverted to al-Qa’ida, blamed for the 9/11 attacks in the US, but that it was the Taliban that was running the country and has come back again for the 20th anniversary.

“It is a fact that if the US attention had not been diverted to Iraq in 2003, things would have been different. The US lost its focus in terms of analysis and deep understanding very quickly within two years because we thought the Taliban were out of power.”

“The number one issue here was the diversion of attention to Iraq, which was, as we know, a huge thing. Iraq was in some ways the civilization, the language, the cultural context was so different,” he told the paper.
Abbas conceded there was some success because al-Qa’ida is no more, but warned that counter-terrorism operations across the world not only failed to resolve the threat but had “in some cases, led to more problems.”

“The Taliban want international engagement also because Pakistan now knows that what happens in Afghanistan really builds their image. Well, let’s say, God forbid, things go terribly wrong in Afghanistan. It is not only Afghanistan which will be impacted.”

“Sanctions are not only going to be on Afghanistan as these can be extended to Pakistan as well because they’ll say Pakistan is supporting the Haqqanis. The Haqqanis is now the most dominant player,” he warned.
He suggested there was a small window of opportunity, with so many neighbouring countries, Pakistan, China, Russia, central Asia, and Iran having such a “huge stake” in what happens in Afghanistan.

Apart from Pakistan’s crucial influence, the professor who authored ‘The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier’ in 2014, believes Iran has a crucial role to play, suggesting that it has learned from the past to extend its networks and has begun to speak with the Taliban, perhaps to ensure that the Shia Hazaras are safeguarded.

As for the West, Abbas maintains that the US President, Joe Biden had, “without a doubt”, made a “big mistake” in not staying involved and in not taking advice and guidance from European partners, who had a different approach to his predecessor Donald Trump who made the deal with the Taliban to withdraw.

“European partners, especially the UK, we must admit they have always had, understood Afghanistan better than the Americans,” Abbas said, suggesting that the British had a “better understanding in historical context because of the colonial legacy” but were unable to convince the Americans.

On Trump’s decision to withdraw, he said it was “a popular policy, in the minds of many people that the US was spending too much money, too many conflicts around the world and because of the economic crisis” caused by Covid-19.However, the professor believes there was “another story of how the withdrawal was botched” over the release of many thousands of Taliban as part of the Trump deal that included poor planning.

Professor Hassan Abbas is also the author of The Prophet’s Heir: The Life of Ali ibn Abi Talib
(Yale University Press, March 2021)

Afghanistan: Regional countries seek stability post messy US exit

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