Afghans don’t want to be another Iran
President Donald Trump decision in December to withdraw about half the remaining US troops in Afghanistan shocked many people in the country.
Though he has still to provide further details, or set a timetable, there is concern that the pullout, combined with the peace talks between the Taliban and Trump’s special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, may embolden the Taliban and encourage its leaders to attempt to reestablish a fundamentalist Islamic government. The group has asked for the Afghan army to be dismantled, a transitional government to be formed and a new constitution to be written under their supervision.
Do the Taliban really believe millions of Afghans would welcome a return to a dark age of torture and abuse? Women’s-rights activists were among the first to respond with alarm, but Khalilzad has failed to reveal any details of the negotiations with the Taliban, or whether any agreements have been reached.
Parallel to the talks between the US and the Taliban, Moscow has opened a channel for talks between the Taliban and senior Afghan political leaders. This is a clear Russian attempt not only to compete with the US in the peace process, but also to engage influential Afghan leaders with other players such as Iran, India and China.
In his State of the Union speech last week, Trump mentioned the peace talks with the Taliban and said that while there is still no plan in place for pulling out the troops, it would be a reduction in numbers rather than the complete withdrawal the Taliban wants. Therefore his strategy for Afghanistan, like his many of his strategies as he reaches the half-way point of his term in the Oval Office, remains uncertain and unpredictable.
This young democracy is facing great challenges but hundred of thousands of Afghans also lost their lives during the 18-year conflict, and the freedoms they now enjoy are important to them. They do not want to become another Iran.
I see no great sympathy toward the Taliban within Trump’s administration. I expect the president to fulfill his campaign promises to the American people to bring US troops home, but that does not mean he will abandon American interests in the region to the Iranians or Russians after the deaths of more than 2,000 Americans in Afghanistan. The Afghan people appreciate all the international support and the sacrifices made to liberate them from the archaic rule of the Taliban, and do not believe that American efforts to support democracy will change.
This young democracy is facing great challenges but hundred of thousands of Afghans also lost their lives during the 18-year conflict, and the freedoms they now enjoy are important to them. They do not want to become another Iran, with the Taliban ruling over them again with a strict, fundamentalist interpretation of Shariah.
I believe Afghan politicians attended the Moscow talks not in an attempt to interfere with state affairs or bypass the government, but out of concern and curiosity about what is going on behind the scenes of the talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban.
Afghanistan must not fall back into the hands of the mullahs, and Iran is a good example why.