It was reported recently that the USA and the Taliban have reached a peace agreement on Afghanistan that will allow US forces to leave that country 17 years after they invaded it on October, 2001, less than a month after 9/11.
Al Qaeda had used that dysfunctional state as a safe haven and, while there, was able to plan and execute the attacks that took the lives of over 3000 people in the USA. After the West invaded, the Taliban regime which had allowed Afghanistan to turn into a terrorist state. was toppled within several days and the Western coalition that included the US under George W. Bush, the NATO countries and Australia, succeeded in conquering the entire country in less than a month, completely destroying the Taliban regime and taking over all terror bases and their installations.
A large number of the terrorists that filled the country were killed, some were captured and some escaped to other countries. The impression left by the swift operation was that the Taliban would never gain back its strength and that Afghanistan would never again be a terror state. And then last week it was reported that America reached an agreement - with whom? The Taliban, that same Islamic organization which turned Afghanistan into a terror state. What changed to make this problematic organization into a partner to an agreement with the USA? How could America, the strongest power on Earth, after waging a bitter war for 17 years against this not exactly immense organization, end up accepting it as a partner to an agreement?
As background, let me point out that the source of Afghanistan's problems is the fact that the state is composed of ten distinct ethnicities which have never coalesced into a unified, cohesive nation The groups are: The Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Aymāk, Gujjar, Kirgiz, Baluche, Turkmen, Nuristani and Pamiri.
Each one of these ethnic groups has its own language, dress, culture, ideas, leaders, interests and armed militias, with only minimal cooperation existing between one and the other. Every dispute – and there have been many – generally escalated into a war of militias, transforming the state into a non-functioning entity.
In order to answer the question about the US and the Taliban, I will begin with a personal story. In January 2009 Barack Obama was elected to the office of US president. In October of that same year, he called in everyone connected with Afghanistan – people in the State Department, Department of Defense and the various Intelligence services - for a long series of discussions about what American strategy should be employed in Afghanistan, since over seven years of fighting had already taken place with no solution on the horizon.
The key figure in these discussions was Richard Holbrooke of the US State Department who, at the time, was the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Right about then, I was invited to Washington, to the annual International Conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa – ASMEA – an academic organization of researchers whose field of endeavor is issues connected to the Middle East and North Africa. At the conference, I presented a paper co-authored by my friend and colleague Dr. Isaac Mansdorf, entitled: "Tribalism in the Arab and Islamic world and its influence on nation-building." The main point of the article was that it is a waste of time and energy to establish a heterogeneous state made up of many groups who do not coalesce into one ethnic unit, and that it is imperative to break up non-functioning heterogeneous groups into smaller homogeneous units (each based on one ethnic, united group) which have a much better chance of success.
While at the conference, I contacted one of Richard Holbrooke's advisors in order to give him the paper and introduce the idea of dividing up Afghanistan into the discussions President Obama was having at that time. The advisor asked me to send him the paper by email – and I did. Half an hour later – enough time to read the paper – he called back angrily and said: "Are you saying that there is no Afghan nation??? What a racist you are!!!" I answered: "No, there is no Afghan nation, and I am not a racist, because what is to be found there are ten different and distinctive nations who never joined together to form one people, and if you don't divide up that non-functioning country and give each one of them its own separate piece of land, you will find yourself stuck in Afghanistan for at least another decade."
The advisor slammed down the phone furiously, and the rest is history. America sunk into the Afghani quagmire, close to ten years have passed since that conversation, and America returns Afghanistan at exactly the same point it was at the beginning: A heterogeneous state, lacking legitimacy in the eyes of most of its citizens, ruled by a radical Islamic organization which believes with all its might that the US and the West have to disappear from the face of the earth.
As of today, the war has cost the lives of 2419 US soldiers and 1142 soldiers of other states that took part in the international efforts to stabilize the country under a functioning government. Tens of thousands of soldiers were wounded physically and psychologically, and in financial terms the war cost the American taxpayer almost a trillion dollars. Worst of all, the very same organization that turned Afghanistan into a terror state is going to receive a stamp of US approval in the hopes that it will actually do what it promised to do.
I have not seen the agreement and therefore do not know if it includes sanctions for breaching it, but I am willing to bet that the Taliban will do everything in its power to get out of the agreement as soon as possible and break free of its commitments to act in accordance with its demands. That is a result of the way the Taliban sees the USA – a heretic state run by Christians, which, according to Islam, are to be "dhimmis" subservient to Islam, with limited rights and certainly no right to fight Muslims and force agreements upon them.
My feeling is that those Taliban leaders who signed the agreement with the US relate to it as a repeat of the Hudaybiyyah that the prophet Muhammad signed with the heretics of Mecca. That was supposed to last for close to ten years, but was broken after two years when the other side fell asleep on watch.
The US will retreat from Afghanistan after 18 years of warfare with almost no long term results. The country has not become a democracy, it does not respect the rights of women, did not break up the militias and I have no doubt that after a short period of time we will hear about how the agreement has been breached.
The original sin in Afghanistan is that of the British, who, a century ago – in 1919 - created this artificial state with all its many ethnic components, without its citizens possessing even a common language with which to administer the state. The modern sin is that of the USA, which instead of correcting the British mistake by breaking up the country and creating homogeneous states on its ruins, continues to give a stamp of international approval to a state lacking the ability to function and a regime that is unable to partner with the West in any positive way.
Perhaps the agreement between the USA and the Taliban will last for a while, mainly to secure that the US soldiers leave Afghanistan. Perhaps the Taliban will be faithful to the agreement for a while in order to lull the US government to sleep and give it the feeling that all is well. Despite that, I have no doubt that at some stage in the near future, the Taliban will find an excuse to breach the agreement while blaming the US for doing so.
For this reason, I would advise the American government to include in the agreement as many sanctions for breaking it as is possible and have them extend over a long term. This is not because I expect the Taliban to keep the agreement, but because I want the US to have an excuse to act decisively if the agreement is breached and for the Taliban to understand that it is worth its while to avoid paying a higher price than it is prepared to pay for breaking it.
This is the only way to reach agreements with organizations like the Taliban. It really is about time the West understood the thought processes of the leaders and heads of Islamist organizations. They approach things from an Islamist point of view, which declares openly that agreements of any kind with heretics are temporary in nature.
Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Senior Consultant and Op-ed and Judaism editor.