Judging by his recent actions, US President Joe Biden’s problem is that he forgets nothing. Several times during his career in the public eye, Biden was in effect a guest of the Pakistan military, an institution that has operationalised to perfection the exhortation in the musical “Chicago” to “Give them the old razzle dazzle”. The Pakistan military protected the top leadership of the Taliban for the two decades after 9/11, in which so many Afghan and US citizens died as a consequence of their activities. A handful of missiles from a US naval vessel in the Atlantic Ocean could have wiped out the Taliban elite from their lairs, most of which were known to the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Almost all such safe havens were in Pakistan, and a further rain of missiles could have blocked the routes through which the Taliban replenished those fighters who died as a consequence of US or Afghan military action. Not only was this not done, it was not even attempted, perhaps not even considered. The rain of gilt dust that was regularly cast in the direction of US policymakers blinded them to the reality that those engaged in acts of terror against the US and its allies, those whose mission it was to kill US soldiers, would have collapsed were their sanctuaries in Pakistan to be attacked. During those very days during the 20-year war when the actions of the Pakistan military were costing the lives of US servicemen, Joe Biden was a visitor to Pakistan or hosted Pakistan military officers in Washington. If he tried in a serious manner to get that institution to stop its backing for enemies of the US, there does not seem to have been any result of such efforts by the veteran politician. Indeed, in neighbouring India, Biden was regarded as an apologist for the Pakistan military. There was a reason why the US was defeated in Afghanistan in the way that the USSR was, and that was its refusal to acknowledge that the bulk of the problems in Afghanistan could never be resolved without bringing to account their backers in Pakistan. During 1996-2001 as well, Al Qaeda, the Haqqani network and other such groups had their life-preserving intravenous lines to Pakistan, and these remained unmolested across the two decades of the failed US effort at ridding Afghanistan of terror groups. President George W. Bush and his Man Friday, Dick Cheney handed over to the arsonist (the Pakistan military) the responsibility for putting out the terrorist flames caused by the Taliban and its associates. Barack Obama was almost as incapable of understanding the causes of the problems in Afghanistan as Bush was, and Trump was a disaster. Fortunately for the Republican Party and unfortunately for the Democratic Party, not as big a disaster in practice as his successor has been for Afghanistan. The Afghan military was reared within the confines of a dependency on US logistical and other support. Other than support by US troops, who from the start have been unnecessary in that theatre despite the expense in blood and treasure spent in deploying them. Pulling away the intravenous lines of air and logistics support from the Afghan military, plus the fact that (with infrequent exceptions), the higher the individual was in the Afghan military, the less competent or even concerned he was in actual fighting. Nothing was done to change either the dependence of the Afghan military on US support in the battlefield or the prevalence of commanders whose main purpose was to curry favour with political leaders as well as US senior personnel rather than bothering about the men serving under them.
The manner in which the US-provided life support system was yanked away from an Afghan military that had kept the Taliban at bay for several years in a context where US troops were steadily coming down in number was an act that was criminal in its effect on international security. From now onwards, should the Head of Government of a country make an error that even a high-school kid in his country would avoid if in his position of responsibility, she or he will be considered to be suffering from “Bidenitis”, the making of errors that would be comic, were the impact not so grievous. Almost to a person, the officers and lower ranks in the US military must be developing contempt for a Commander-in-Chief who has presided over a defeat that will reverberate across the history of the US, not least for its consequences on US security. From the time that he abandoned the Kurdish fighters who had demolished ISIS in 2019 to their worst enemy, R.T. Erdogan, Donald Trump became a byword for perfidy, a reputation that deepened with his surrender at Doha to the Taliban the very next year. President Biden needs to reverse his Trumpian course and adopt a sensible policy on Afghanistan rather than scurry away from the battlefield. Rather than continue in the belief that the Taliban is anything other than a threat to not just the US but the entire international community, President Biden needs to accept the need to back those same elements that in 2001 succeeded (with US backing) in winning back Afghanistan from Taliban control. There was no US troop presence when the Northern Alliance prevailed over the Taliban then, and there need not be now. However, now that the error made by Bill Clinton in 1996 of acting as the midwife of the Taliban’s power grab over Afghanistan has been repeated in 2021 by Joe Biden, what is needed is for him to replay the first five months of the Bush-Rumsfeld tactics in Afghanistan, and give the revived Northern Alliance led by Amrullah Saleh the oxygen needed.