It is small wonder that the USSR lost the war of occupation that it was waging in Afghanistan in 1988, or that President Donald Trump hoisted the flag of surrender to the Taliban in 2020, causing both him as well as (undeservedly) the US military to be subject to international ridicule. After 20 years of effort and at the cost of countless lives and treasure, if the forces of the US and its allies could not subdue a rag-tag band of irregulars, what good was it anyway in the non-conventional wars of the future? President Joe Biden was correct in withdrawing US ground forces from Afghanistan, given their disastrous record in combat. He was wrong in his penny-pinching reductions in US air, weapons and logistical support to the forces mobilised by the Afghanistan government headed by President Ashraf Ghani. Should Biden’s reductions in US assistance to President Ashraf Ghani continue, Biden will open the door to another 9/11 attack on his homeland, just as Bill Clinton did when he anticipated the policy of Donald Trump and facilitated the installation of the Taliban in Kabul in 1996. Afghanistan is a frontline state insofar as the security of the US is concerned. As for the Taliban, it has always had a high number of Stockholm Syndrome-affected US “experts” who have championed its cause. They were successful in persuading the 46th President of the US to go along with his predecessor’s craven policy of unconditional surrender to the Taliban, promising that very soon a “peace agreement” would be reached between the warring sides. Since the aftershocks of the 2020 Trump surrender and the consequent shrinking of US assistance to the Ashraf Ghani government, the morale of patriotic Afghan forces has plummeted, and the militia backed by Pakistan and China (and reluctantly accepted by Russia as a consequence of pressure from Beijing) has swarmed over large parts of the country, causing local citizens to take to arms in defence of their liberty and often, their lives. They need assistance, including in weapons, but more important is the need to block the routes into and out of Pakistan, the country that has uninterruptedly provided safe haven to extremist militias since the period in office of Chief Martial Law Administrator Zia-ul-Haq from the 1970s. Military and other means, including sanctions on army officers in the Pakistan military who are complicit in the care and feeding of the Taliban, need to be applied by the US, EU and countries such as Japan and India that have a stake in the survival of the Ghani government and the defeat of the Taliban
While India can provide training to the Afghan army, the US needs to ensure that this force is constantly replenished with weapons and other equipment needed to best the Taliban in combat. The EU and Japan need to step forward to ensure funding for the Ghani government, so that it is able to repeat the feat of the Northern Alliance in 2003-04, of defeating the Taliban with substantial tactical assistance from the US. Even during the 1939-45 war between the followers of Adolf Hitler and the European democracies, it was the flow of materiel from the US to the USSR that enabled Soviet forces to halt the German advance, reverse it subsequently and finally annihilate the Nazi forces. The pounding received by the Taliban in 2003-04 at the hands of the Northern Alliance once US assistance—and not ground forces—arrived can be repeated in 2021 once a similar approach gets implemented by President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris. It will not be forgotten that the period before President George W. Bush launched his war on the facilitators of those responsible for 9/11 saw a surge in the progress of the Taliban, and a tightening of control by that medieval collective of religious supremacists over the people who lived in the zones taken over by them. George W. Bush launched his initially correct strategy in order to avenge 9/11. Joe Biden needs to do likewise, this time to prevent another 9/11 from occurring as a consequence of (lack of) action taken by him. Unlike in the past, when both the Soviet and US militaries declined to inflict any damage on the Pakistan army, this time there needs to be (a) blockage through bombing inside Pakistan of supply routes to the Taliban, (b) blockading of air and sea ports of Pakistan to prevent pro-Taliban regimes from sending supplies that are intended for that militia, and (c) sanctioning of those in the Pakistan military and civil establishment that have been identified as assisting the Taliban. Finally, the fact that the problem in Afghanistan will not go away unless the situation in Pakistan is taken in hand appears to have been learned in Washington, and it is time this was put into practice. The war that President George W. Bush started has failed despite 20 years of effort because the Pakistan factor was ignored by him and in large part his successors as well, just as it had been by CPSU General Secretary Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev in the 1980s. It is time for the change that has been asked for by patriotic and moderate Afghans from Rangin Dadfar Spanta to Hamdullah Mohib. It is time to cease listening to the failed nostrums of the many 1990s vintage “experts” on Afghanistan that are plentiful in Washington or Delhi, and to the Afghan experts who are actually engaged on the frontlines against the Sino-Pakistan combine’s favourites, the Taliban.