What with the apparent “progress” of our peace talks with the Taliban and the prospect of US involvement in Afghanistan potentially coming to an end, journalists clearly feel a duty to put it all in perspective. What was the meaning of America’s longest war and what comes next? There’s a really strange, long analysis at the New York Times this week, written by Mujib Mashal. He’s the Gray Lady’s senior correspondent in Afghanistan. Mashal has previously written for The Atlantic, Harper’s andTime, among other outlets.
So what does Mr. Mashal think of the current state of affairs in Afghanistan? He seems to be fairly impressed with the achievements of… the Taliban. While not praising them directly or totally ignoring their horrific acts of terror over the years, the journalist treats the situation as if the Taliban were any other nation or global entity engaging in diplomatic negotiations and carving out their own piece of history. Here’s a sample. (Emphasis mine)
“We see this fight as worship,” said Mawlawi Mohammed Qais, the head of the Taliban’s military commission in Laghman Province, as dozens of his fighters waited nearby on a hillside. “So if a brother is killed, the second brother won’t disappoint God’s wish — he’ll step into the brother’s shoes.”
It was March, and the Taliban had just signed a peace deal with the United States that now puts the movement on the brink of realizing its most fervent desire — the complete exit of American troops from Afghanistan.
They have outlasted a superpower through nearly 19 years of grinding war. And dozens of interviews with Taliban officials and fighters in three countries, as well as with Afghan and Western officials, illuminated the melding of old and new approaches and generations that helped them do it.
Indeed. The Taliban have “outlasted a superpower.” It’s difficult not to imagine at least a hint of admiration in this analysis. Those scrappy little fighters from the Taliban have taken on the greatest military power the world has ever seen and they’re now on the verge of forcing us to turn tail and leave the field of battle to them.
The sad thing about Mashal’s analysis is that he’s clearly correct. The Taliban have kept fighting since day one, leaving blood and carnage in their wake and never even suggesting they might surrender. And as he goes on to remind us later in the article, they’ve been using tactics that have served the Afghan overlords well since before most of those alive today were born.
The ruling Islamic powers in Afghanistan outlasted the Soviets throughout another long, grinding war until they eventually withdrew in 1989. (Ironically, with the help of the United States.) Those groups of guerrilla fighters then proceeded to overthrow what was left of the formal government under the Soviets and then fought each other for control. The Taliban eventually emerged as the winners.
Mashal makes no bones about the fact that history is about to repeat itself. He shares a quote from one of the highest ranking people in the Taliban regarding their plans for after we are gone. And this is just chilling:
“But we also can’t just sit here when the prisons are filled with our people, when the system of government is the same Western system, and the Taliban should just go sit at home. No logic accepts that — that everything stays the same after all this sacrifice. The current government stands on foreign money, foreign weapons, on foreign funding.”
In other words, the “current government” has got to go. And we all know it’s coming. But to read this report from the New York Times, one might think they were just talking about the minor league baseball scores. It’s very curious indeed.