On June 5, world leaders met in France to mark the 70th anniversary of the biggest allied offensive of World War II – or D-Day as it is commonly known – and their victory over what was then viewed as the world’s most powerful military, Nazi Germany. It is ironic as the anniversary of that momentous victory coincides with what appears to be the United States’ retreat from the so-called “war on terror” it waged in Afghanistan.
Can we even call it a war? It would be more apt to refer to it as an al-Qaeda-Taliban incursion in which US-led foreign troops fought a ragtag band of ill-equipped thugs whose sole aim was murder and mayhem.
World War II lasted around six years, but this campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taliban has spanned over a decade in Afghanistan. The critical difference between these two wars is that one was won valiantly and in the end the epitaph might read “They came, they fought and they conquered”; while the other is likely to go down in history as the “Great Failure”.
As soon as the war was over in Europe, rebuilding began and the Marshall Plan was put into effect. Yet even before the war in Afghanistan has truly ended, the country and its people are being left at the mercy of the very forces that 47 nationscame to “save” them from.
While Washington has repeatedly assured the Afghan people that they would not allow the country to return to pre-Taliban days … its recent actions and announcements have left Afghans wondering whether the US was ever serious about their objective. Is the US reneging on its promises and abandoning the Afghan people at this critical hour?
To add insult to injury, on May 31, five high-ranking Taliban members incarcerated at Guantanamo on a variety of charges, including mass killings, were set free in exchange for one US soldier, allegedly a deserter. The question on the minds of the Afghan people now is: Whatever happened to the US policy of “we will not negotiate with terrorists“.
If the US found the release of these 65 detainees so unpalatable, how could it have freed five of the Taliban’s most dangerous leaders last week, who will now live in luxurious Qatar?
One of the so-called “Guantanamo Five” is Mullah Fazl, who has been described as “vicious and violent”. In 1999, he was one of the senior Taliban commanders who were accused of overseeing the destruction of an area near Kabul called Shamali. Fazl allegedly supervised the burning of villages and other atrocities, including rape. On my visit to the area, I witnessed the scale of the destruction, and a local commander told me how over 300,000 villagers were chased out during Fazl’s campaign.
We applaud the US policy of not leaving any soldier behind. But does this policy apply to one who allegedly deserts his post and walks off into the night into known enemy territory? What about the six brave soldiers who – according to CNN – lost their lives looking for the alleged deserter? Do their lives not count in the grand scheme of things? And what about the multitude of Afghans who have been murdered by these five men and their followers?
The US statement that these five men will not be allowed to leave Qatar for one year is hard to stomach. They may not venture out of Qatar, because they will be under strict surveillance, but they will be free to move around the country as they wish.
Without a doubt, they will be in contact with their followers, through many of their sources. These individuals, having spent over a decade of their lives in the harsh environment of Guantanamo, have probably nursed a deep hatred for those who made them suffer. Over the years, they may have imagined, even planned, a myriad of ways to repay those who incarcerated them.
US President Barack Obama’s move to release those men could not have come at a worse time for Afghanistan. First the announcement of the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan by 2016 and then the release of the five Taliban leaders. Both of these actions taking place a mere two weeks before the beginning of the decisive second round of the presidential elections.
While Washington has repeatedly assured the Afghan people that they would not allow the country to return to pre-Taliban days – i.e. prevent it from becoming yet again a training ground for terrorists – its recent actions and announcements have left Afghans wondering whether the US was ever serious about their objective. Is the US reneging on its promises and abandoning the Afghan people at this critical hour?
The Taliban’s recent threats to kill the candidates who will soon enter the second round of presidential elections is still ringing in people’s ears. On June 6, front-runner Dr Abdullah Abdullah escaped an assassination attempt when his motorcade was attacked in Kabul.
Now the release of these leaders is fomenting fear among Afghans. Voter turnout is likely to be affected. I believe that the followers of the five freed men will plan more attacks on Afghan and coalition targets.
Many Afghans now believe that the US was bluffing about their policy on negotiating with terrorists. It would appear the terrorists called their bluff – and they won.
As the world remembers D-Day, it ought to also remember the failure of the late British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement with Adolf Hitler. Neither Hitler, nor the Taliban, are interested in real peace.
Prince Ali Seraj is president of the National Coalition for Dialogue with the Tribes of Afghanistan.