At the end of the 9th round of Taliban-US dialogues in Qatar on September 2, 2019, a mutually agreed declaration proclaiming settlement on 4 points – Taliban guarantee that it will not allow foreign militants to use Afghanistan as a Launchpad to conduct attacks outside the country, the complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire – was expected. Even US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad announced that a peace agreement had been finalised “in principle”. But before reaching any deal, a suicide car bombing on September 5, killing 1 American soldier and 11 others, instigated President Trump to call off the deal. Trump’s tweet read, “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations”. According to the Taliban, the spike in attacks give them a stronger position in peace negotiations. However, Trump expressed his apprehensions and called it building false leverage.

On the sidelines of UNGA meeting, in a press conference with President Trump, Prime Minister Imran Khan frankly uttered out the surprise and shock the tweet had brought and reiterated the need to resume peace dialogues. Indeed with the efforts of Pakistan and some backdoor mediators, the latest initiative for regional peace started as a Taliban delegation met Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad a few days back. Though the meeting represents no resumption of formal negotiations between the US and the Taliban, the snowball is on a roll again and may gather some substance in times to come. PM Khan has been giving a history refresher course on Afghanistan to the world through UNGA tangential meeting forums. So, let’s have a brief tour of the last 18 years in the history of Afghanistan, where the most powerful and technologically advanced forces were fighting against the weakest ones.

Once the Taliban had rejected the US ultimatum, stating there was no evidence in their possession linking bin Laden to the September 11 attacks, the US government and its allies started a global war against terrorism “Operation Enduring Freedom “ in October 2001. To fetch freedom to the people of Afghanistan, the US and its allies began bombing the country indiscriminately. In December 2001, the foreign forces landed in Afghanistan. To provide them air support, a constant steady aerial bombardment of BLU-82B/C-130 weapon system, nicknamed as “Daisy Cutter” kept occurring at Torabora for consecutive eight days. The massive attack of NATO forces compelled the Afghan Taliban to scamper and disappear as a revised war strategy. The Afghan Taliban’s disappearance seemed to be successful aerial warfare by gigantic NATO forces. But the triumph was a short-lived joy. Soon, an American intelligence report disclosed the presence of more than 200 Afghan Taliban in Shahi Kot valley. The notoriously rugged terrain of the valley, located at a mean altitude of 9,000 feet, has historically been a redoubt for Afghan guerrillas. As they were hiding here from the foreign invaders that the operation Anaconda consisting around 30, 000 soldiers, was launched in March 2002. Sixteen days operation was highlighted and predicted as a clean sweep winning by NATO forces.

Once again, the post-operation reports were not supportive of the claims that the allied forces made in the first place. The post-operation reports declared the death of 28 Taliban and 70 soldiers of coalition forces and the fleeing of the Afghan Taliban from the siege. The critics bluntly suggested that operation Anaconda “was more driven by media obsession, than a military necessity”. Eighteen long years of fighting changed the battle equation upside down. In March 2019, the rough music of bomb blasts was shuddering Kabul. But this time Afghan Taliban were on offensive mode, whereas NATO forces were drawn to defend their soldiers. Anyways, besides what critics have been saying, NATO forces announced victory against Taliban right after six months of launching operation Anaconda. The western media maintained building a narrative that there were 8, 000 Taliban and majority of them have been sent to doom and rest would be caught soon. Till 2003, there were forces of forty-four countries working under the command of International Security Assistant Force, who were hunting down the few Taliban fighters. The same western media that once reported that most of the 8,000 Taliban were dead, now says that the rank and file of the Taliban have swelled to at least 60,000 members. And that the force controls 70% territory of Afghanistan. Similar numbers have been appearing in Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) quarterly reports.

In 2013 when the Taliban established their office in Doha, Qatar’s government didn’t allow them to precede a campaign to engage the world. Nevertheless, the US was wearing out. The superpower wanted to resolve the issue through talks. Taliban’s Doha office turned out to be a place to contact, but who could connect and bring both parties to a negotiation table? And here comes Pakistan. Islamabad emerges once again as a central player for peace talks. But it was an uphill task. Taliban wanted to fight for they were making slow but steady wins against the foreign troops and the Kabul government. Moreover, their minimum resources were resulting optimal; Taliban’s war strategy was cornering the force of forty-four countries. The Taliban were aware of the fact that the means and morale of their enemy were squeezing down on exponential rate.

Probably, the Taliban know it better than all that a war can bring economic giants to their knees. So if China and Russia are experiencing a resurgence, the role of the Taliban cannot be ignored. For when the US was spending its finances, energy and time on finding those few Taliban, China was emerging as the economic giant. Economic growth allows the Chinese state to materialise the dream of the21st-century silk routes. The One Belt One Road will make China the centre of global trade. And given that the Taliban have emerged as an undefeatable force, China will not ignore them in any project that passes through Afghanistan. Likewise, when the US was busy to burn the tax money of Americans on exterminating Taliban, Russia was executing Primakov Doctrine and bounced back from the August 1998 financial crash with surprising speed. GDP grew on average 7% per year between 2000-2008, and in 2013 Russia was labelled a high-income economy by the World Bank. Today, Russia has multiplied the geographic scale of its foreign policy through vigorous outreach in parts of the world where Russian presence has not been a factor for nearly three decades. As Primakov Doctrine states “that a unipolar world dominated by the United States is unacceptable to Russia”; therefore, Russia backs the Taliban.

Ultimately with Pakistan’s persistent efforts, peace talks began in July 2018. However, after nine rounds of meetings, the peace initiative is called off temporarily. Hopefully, the meeting of the Taliban and US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad will soon bring the parties on negotiating table. Trump has not much that he can use as a bargaining chip against the Taliban. But on the other hand, the Taliban have both options, that is of holding talks and fighting, as they clearly declared, “we are ready to talk, and we are ever ready to fight.”

The writer is a PhD, Assistant Professor at a University, and a Broadcast Journalist. He can be reached at mali.hamza