Afghan Ghani makes farewell call on Biden

An Afghan rummages in a  junkyard near the Bagram Air Base, which Pentagon is evacuating, for leftovers of US occupation, June 2021

When the anointed king receives his vassal formally at his durbar for the first time, it is a moment of truth conveying that the latter’s obeisance is noted, while the vassal hopes to claim legitimacy.

A US president is due to receive Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in the White House on Friday after a gap of some 6 years. The symbolism is profound: Ghani is in Washington, as the Taliban is tightening its noose on Kabul. On Thursday, Ghani was closeted with the CIA Director William Burns for a two and half hour meeting. 

Yet in April, when President Joe Biden announced the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, he didn’t think it necessary speak to Ghani beforehand. The troop withdrawal is now more than half completed. 

The expectations are low as Biden receives Ghani. But then, all is not well in Biden’s camp. The Pentagon and the CIA were never really on board his withdrawal decision. They sought an open-ended presence in Afghanistan.

They have now seized the worsening security situation in Afghanistan to present an apocalyptic scenario and make out a case for some sort of continued US military and intelligence presence in Afghanistan, although Biden claims to have ended the “forever war”. 

Ghani is also to meet at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and possibly other administration officials. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is exploring how American contractors (mercenaries) could perk up Ghani’s demoralised army. 

To be sure, by getting an audience at the Oval Office, Ghani hopes to boost his standing in the Afghan bazaar. But that may not salvage his precarious position in Kabul. The obstreperous Afghan warlords are gathering behind the gates of Kabul.  

Ghani has no power base and his whimsical behaviour has alienated most power brokers in Afghanistan. Only two days ago, the prominent Mujahideen leader Ismail Khan (“Amir of Herat”) accused Ghani of being the main obstacle to forming a national consensus. read more

In an interview with The Associated Press a week ago, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai said, “The international community came here 20 years ago with this clear objective of fighting extremism and bringing stability … but extremism is at the highest point today. So they have failed… Where are they leaving us now? In total disgrace and disaster.”  

Karzai added, “We will be better off without their military presence. I think we should defend our own country and look after our own lives. … Their presence (has given us) what we have now. … We don’t want to continue with this misery and indignity that we are facing. It is better for Afghanistan that they leave.” 

Evidently, the least that the US can do now is to just go away. Washington’s earlier expectation was that the Taliban would be amenable to some form of continued US presence in Afghanistan, and that Pakistan might also see advantages in it. But that turned out to be a delusional hope. 

Thus, the Biden administration has drifted away from Islamabad lately, once it dawned that Islamabad is averse to identifying with the war in Afghanistan.

Since no regional capital is willing to collaborate, Washington has zeroed in on Ankara as its newest indispensable partner. A US team landed in Ankara on Thursday to flesh out how a Turkish military contingent at Kabul Airport could provide underpinning for the security operations in Afghanistan.

Washington is pandering to President Erdogan’s Neo-Ottomanism. Turkey already has bases in Iraq, Syria, Qatar and Libya, and plans to open a new base in Azerbaijan. But Pakistan will have mixed feelings about a Turkish military presence next door. And the Taliban has criticised Ankara for messing around in Afghanistan. 

The Taliban’s morale is skyrocketing, as it senses victory. A circular to Taliban military commanders from Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy head of the movement’s shura, said on Thursday, “The situation was military and jihadi, but now you are entering a civilian situation… The political process that has been continuing on the side for the past 14 months has been very meaningful… Good governance is the need of the hour… This is a very sensitive phase.” 

Again on Friday, coinciding with Ghani’s visit to the White House, Taliban has issued a second statement with guidelines on treating all ethnic groups in a non-discriminatory manner, how to secure liberated districts and protect government buildings, allow trade, reopen schools and hospitals, etc.

Clearly, there is little the Americans can do now. The seasoned military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington Anthony Cordesman hit the nail on the head when he wrote this week, “The time has come to write off Afghanistan. There are no signs that a strong, unified, and effective Afghan government is emerging.” 

According to Cordesman, who has served as a consultant at the Pentagon, “Brutal as it may be to say so, it is simply too late to reverse the departure of U.S. and allied forces… The U.S. has already withdrawn and closed too much. Too many forces and bases are gone, too many capabilities are lost, and the Taliban has already made too many gains.”

“Measures like keeping small numbers of U.S. military advisors in or near Afghanistan, finding some way to keep military contractors in the country, providing limited advisory and maintenance support from the outside, boosting intelligence cadres in Kabul and near Afghanistan – and all the other ‘forlorn hope’ approaches to provide support after September 1, 2021, are token measures that at best provide a political cloak for withdrawal.” read more