Why Kabul Fell to Taliban
Who is Responsible?
Any conflict, at the end of the day, ends with a settled resolution. And any such resolution is not possible without any compromise. The same has happened in the case of Afghanistan after a long period of 20 years. During these two decades, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in addition to spending of more than two trillion dollars by the US. A solution was charted out in the shape of Doha peace deal whereby the US agreed to be so lenient that it accepted many of the Taliban’s demands. However, had Washington done this by the end of 2001 after toppling the Taliban, there would have been no loss of life and property, and could have avoided the humiliation it faces now. Taliban, after their fall, were eager to join the new setup but the US did not allow them.
It was the end of 2001; Hamid Karzai met a Taliban delegation in Shah Wali Kot district outside Kandahar. Taliban had agreed to surrender control of Kabul if general amnesty is given to them. Karzai’s condition that the Taliban supremo Mullah Omar must renounce terrorism was accepted and an accord, known as Shah Wali Kot agreement, was reached. As per the agreement, the Taliban were to lay weapons and go home with dignity. However, the next day, the then-US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, called Karzai and asked him to step back from the agreement and to not extend any amnesty to the Taliban. This was the point that not only prolonged the US war in Afghanistan for twenty years but also ended in its humiliation as well.
Later, Obama administration, in 2009, started the negotiations with the Taliban to help end the conflict. The complex peace process took eleven years to reach a settlement and the Doha agreement was signed in February 2020. However, two issues doomed the peace process and compelled the Taliban to take over Kabul.
First, the now former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, on the very next day of the signing of the Doha agreement, announced: “I will not release the Taliban prisoners, despite the fact that it was agreed to in the agreement.” Owing to Ghani’s stubborn attitude and vested interests to prolong his own rule, the peace process got derailed. In fact, Ghani and his aides were waiting for the upcoming presidential elections in the US. They thought that if Biden wins, he will back out of the Doha agreement like Donald Trump did in Iran nuclear deal case. However, that did not happen.
The second major factor that doomed the peace process was the ambivalent Afghan policy of the US administration. First President Trump and then President Biden could not formulate a wise policy that could save Kabul from falling into the Taliban hands. President Trump signed the deal with the Taliban but did not put enough pressure on Ashraf Ghani to show seriousness towards the intra-Afghan talks which could have led to a peaceful settlement of the issue.
Similarly, when Biden came to power, he took too much time to formulate a strategy that could achieve a peaceful settlement as well as an honourable exit of the US from Afghanistan. Biden also did not compel Ghani to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the Taliban. If the fall of Kabul has humiliated the US at global level, it has also exposed the hollowness of US policies for Afghanistan. In all, the US ambivalent policy and the Ghani administration’s stubbornness provided the basis for the fall of Kabul.
The author is Senior Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and author of the forthcoming book “The Troubled Triangle: US-Pakistan Relations under the Taliban’s Shadow” (Routledge). He tweets @yousafzaiZafar5