January 31, 2019

The Deal With the Taliban Is a Surrender

AP/Scanpix
Afghan security forces man at the site a day after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. A Taliban suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden vehicle in the capital Kabul on Monday evening, according to officials.
Afghan security forces man at the site a day after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. A Taliban suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden vehicle in the capital Kabul on Monday evening, according to officials.

Over the years, the United States has supported the Afghan authorities in their talks with the insurgents.

Now, it turns out – if this week’s breaking news is to be trusted – that the United States has been negotiating directly with the Taliban over the heads of the Afghan government.

The gist of the news is that a framework agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban has been reached, calling for a cease-fire that could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops. In the deal, the Taliban would commit itself to not harboring terrorist organizations that could threaten U.S. security.

The framework deal was apparently reached without the involvement of the Afghan government. The Taliban has said all along that it refuses to negotiate with the government, considering the government the illegitimate puppet of the U.S. occupation. Thus, the U.S. has in fact accepted the Taliban point of view.

Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, has written in The Washington Post: “I was ambassador to Afghanistan. This deal is a surrender.”

I was also ambassador, ambassador of Finland to Afghanistan, in 2010-2013, and although I do not yet have full details on the U.S.-Taliban deal at my disposal, what ambassador Crocker says is very close to what my first reaction is: the deal is a surrender.

The deal has links to even such small countries as Finland and Estonia, which were part of NATO’s ISAF mission. In fighting the insurgents, we lost two soldiers, while our neighbors to the south, the Estonians, lost as many as nine plus many more badly hurt, as they were located in the Helmand province where the military battles were fierce.

At the national level, while I was representing Finland, we supported Afghanistan with about 50 million dollars a year. Half of that money went to our contribution in ISAF, the other half to supporting civilian purposes. At the height of our military contribution we had about 200 soldiers engaged in Afghanistan. As to our civilian contributions, we tended to channel our support through the various United Nations organizations or through some international non-government organizations, NGO’s.

Recipients of Finnish aid were often women and children. For example, we maintained the safe shelters in Kabul for women and girls who were abused by their husbands or other males in the family.  Our money also paid for a women’s health clinic in Kabul, just for those women and children who found it too hard to visit such clinics where also men were at present.

A special case of our support was a music school, the Afghan National Institute of Music, ANIM, where musically talented children, boys and girls, could receive high school education, and at the same time learn to play music, traditional Afghan and Western. What was special about the ANIM students was that half of them were found from orphanages or begging in the capital’s streets. We were very proud that the country of Sibelius, Salonen and Saariaho could offer its support for this particular group of children.

All of this could be in jeopardy, if the Taliban gets back to the government. We should recall that the Taliban, in its former incarnation in governing Afghanistan, forbade all music, kept its special religious schools, madrassas, open for just a few  boys alone, and broke all the musical instruments it could find and used them for bonfires to keep themselves warm in Kabul’s bitter winters.

If all that we have learnt about the framework agreement is true, the agreement is severely flawed. If the United States accepts the full withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, it will not produce a balanced political outcome but it will just open up fierce competition and a race for political power and influence in Kabul. The competitors in this race will be first and foremost the Taliban, but also Pakistan and Iran, cheered on from the sidelines by China, India and Russia.

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