Not naivety, but stupidity … Daesh will profit from Taliban triumph
Generals and diplomats told their leaders exactly what would happen after Western forces abandoned their posts in Afghanistan — and here we are, watching cities topple one by one and jihadists from around the world rushing to embrace their new caliphate, joining thousands of foreign fighters already there.
In one of the most jarringly ill-judged statements in history, US President Joe Biden (who dogmatically insists he doesn’t regret his decision) condescendingly urged Afghans to come out and “fight for their nation,” while America flees for the exits. Biden’s administration mobilized a ludicrous last-minute diplomatic scramble via Qatar to beg a victorious Taliban to agree to a power-sharing compromise. If the Taliban had a sense of humor they would be laughing all the way to Kabul.
The Taliban promised American negotiators they wouldn’t attack cities and — surprise! — these cut-throat extremists are failing to keep their promises, just as they are failing to keep promises not to slaughter soldiers and civil servants, or promises not to allow terrorists to operate on Afghan soil. The mendacious Taliban are past masters at telling audiences what they want to hear, while adding their own silent caveats: “We will let women pursue their education” (until they are 10 years old); “We will defend women’s rights” (according to our own interpretation of Shariah).
And as the Taliban limbers up to slaughter Kabul citizens, what is the priority for US negotiators? “Please don’t attack our beautiful embassy.” If embassy staff want to avoid a humiliation comparable to those of Tehran 1979, Saigon 1975 and Mogadishu 1992, they should start scrambling into helicopters right now, leaving Afghans to their fate.
The Taliban owes nothing, expects nothing, wants nothing from the international community. Its leaders will now be even more predisposed to host terrorists — despite bafflingly stupid (let’s not say naive) predictions from Western officials that 20 years of brutal insurgency had mellowed the Taliban’s worst instincts.
As we witnessed after 9/11 and after Daesh’s emergence in 2014, spectacular successes in one location have a massive impact in inspiring jihadists elsewhere, encouraging tens of thousands of sick souls to enrol in these perverse death cults. And global terrorism was already on an upward curve. The US Defense Department concludes that Daesh is “well-entrenched” in Iraq and can “operate indefinitely” in the Syrian desert. Has America already quit these states? Perhaps not, but in trying to render itself invisible, it has hamstrung its forces to the point where they can’t do much more than protect themselves from missile strikes by Iran-backed militants who are arguably far more pernicious than Daesh, and who are again fueling the toxic sectarian climate that gave birth to Daesh in the first place.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns of an “alarming” expansion of Daesh’s affiliates throughout Africa: An Islamist insurgency seized much of far-north Mozambique. Extremists in the Congo are gleefully murdering soldiers and civilians. Daesh’s Nigerian franchise, ISWAP, has embarked on a spree of attacks against military outposts across northern Cameroon. A rival group last week massacred 26 soldiers in Chad.
By reneging on commitments to Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa, Western leaders are repeating this mistake. Daesh, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and the Houthis will maliciously reap the benefits.
France’s pledge to draw down its troops in the Sahel will give terrorism an immense shot in the arm in weak states such as Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, where jihadists have been indiscriminately massacring citizens. A plethora of related groups remain active in Libya, Algeria, Somalia, the Sinai peninsula and beyond.
President Bush’s “war on terror” was pure stupidity from the outset, with tragic consequences for war-ravaged Iraq and Afghanistan. But having invaded these nations and imposed their own governing systems, America was morally obliged to finish what it started.
When Bush declared “mission accomplished” and Trump announced “100 percent caliphate victory,” they were lying to themselves and the world. Terrorism is not defeated in a single set-piece battle, but rather through decades of patient efforts in support of stable and well-governed states throughout the developing world. Although Trump had already done a deal with the Taliban, why did Biden feel compelled to adhere to something that was so obviously catastrophic? Why would potential allies ever trust Western nations again?
The mess that America has left behind isn’t an argument against the West’s involvement in the world: 9/11 and all that followed were the consequence of chronic neglect of world affairs throughout the 1990s, creating the optimum environment for extremism and instability to flourish. By reneging on commitments to Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa, Western leaders are repeating this mistake. Daesh, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and the Houthis will maliciously reap the benefits.
Unlike Trump, Obama and Biden are conscientious human beings who desired the best for their country, but the foreign policies of all three have been equally catastrophic in creating a shattered international environment ripe for conquest by terrorists and pariah states. America and Europe, meanwhile, are menaced by far-right extremism, infesting the planet with anti-democratic, racist lies and conspiracy theories.
The Taliban’s blitzkrieg against Afghan provincial capitals is shocking in its intensity and rapidity, but these predictable events blind us to the fact that throughout Africa and the Middle East, thousands of towns and cities are there for the taking if terrorists are allowed to go back on the offensive — particularly after the ravages of COVID, environmental degradation, aid cuts and economic collapse.
The flood of Afghan refugees is just beginning, and as with Syria, Daesh and Al-Qaeda will be spoilt for choice in potential recruits among angry and disenfranchised young men whose only life experience is that of conflict and extreme brutality. In order to save the costs of a couple of thousand troops posted overseas, Biden and Trump have sown the seeds of a fusillade of conflicts yet to emerge.
“The lamps are going out all over Europe,” British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey remarked as the First World War began. The lamps today are going out all over Afghanistan, and maybe we shall not see them lit again in our lifetimes. Yet international decision-makers must ask themselves how much farther the contagion will spread in consequence of their collective failure to act in defence of global stability and peace. Naivety or stupidity? Stupidity – every time!
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.