Regarding terrorism, the US President Donald Trump said in his inaugural speech that “we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth”. Exactly two years later, he said in a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that “Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth” if he wanted to win the war.
Although US forces resumed their air strikes against the Taliban – after reducing their military task to advisory role since Washington’s troop reduction in 2014 – militancy continued unabated. Trump’s inaugural words prompted the Taliban to intensify their attacks in Afghanistan. In turn, Afghan combatants and non-combatants sustained heavy casualties since then.
Facing military stalemate, Trump signaled for negotiations as he stated, while declaring his policy about South Asia and Afghanistan in August 2017, “Military power alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan or stop the terrorist threat arising in that country.” His tone softened and his administration ushered in direct talks with the Taliban leadership in Qatari capital of Doha.
Hosting Khan in Washington, Trump blurted out that the conflict in Afghanistan could be ended at the expense of the country’s annihilation and loss of millions of lives. The remarks have outraged the public conscience in Afghanistan and triggered official reaction across the country as the Kabul government asked the White House for clarification and reiterated the need for “mutual trust and mutual respect”. Former Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan, Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal said that Genghis Khan and other invaders had the same intentions – referring to Trump’s words of Afghanistan’s annihilation. The leader of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said that Trump had to test his power on Russia’s Putin and not innocent Afghans. And Afghan law-makers also condemned Trump’s rhetoric as unbecoming of a president.
In the first weeks of Trump’s presidency, his friends believed that he was not “acting presidential” or “restraining his behavior”, said Michael Wolff in his book “Fire and Fury”. Having no political background, Trump is inconsiderate of what he says. His recent statements are less likely to reflect official US policy. These are his personal views and does not affect relations between Kabul and Washington. Trump neither predicted a backlash nor responded to Afghan public sentiment or official reaction.
To allay the concern of Afghan officials, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to President Ghani on the phone assuring that the US policy and its South Asia Strategy towards Afghanistan had not changed.
In the meantime, the US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held meetings with Afghan officials, including President Ghani and CEO Abdullah, to brief about the seventh round of the US-Taliban talks held in Qatar, where Khalilzad is there to hold the next round of talks.
The fact is that Washington could not win the “global war on terror” declared by the W. Bush administration after the September 11 event. The conflict in Afghanistan has been the longest war in the history of the United States, but there is no sign of victory. Now the US is seeking an honorable exit from Afghanistan and seeks Pakistan support in this regard as Trump said “Pakistan is going to help us to extricate ourselves” from this war.
It is worth saying that Afghanistan is called “Graveyard of Empires” since the British Empire and the Soviet Union were defeated by Afghan Mujahidin. Now the US is the third super-power seeking withdrawal after investing “blood” and “treasure” for 18 years.
As the President of a great nation, Trump has to speak in a realistic and sensible way and does not resort to “empty talk” out of excitement. He should know that peace will not emerge with heavy casualties or heavy bombings. It is self-explanatory that Afghan people sustained colossal death tolls in the wake of the war on terror. And the US dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb, GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), in Afghanistan on 13 April 2017, but the conflict has been more complicated and militancy escalated. Thus, neither heavy bombings nor large casualties will lead to end of conflict.
Strained relations between the US and Afghanistan will put the peace process at stake. Washington has to work in tandem with Kabul to end the conflict in Afghanistan. They have to keep their relations based on mutual respect and mutual trust and focus on the ongoing peace talks with the consultation of each other.
Hujjatullah Zia is a senior commentator in Outlook Afghanistan Daily Newspaper