Muhammad Naeem (L), a spokesman for the Office of the Taliban speaks during the opening of the Taliban Afghanistan Political Office in Doha on Tuesday. REUTERS
S intelligence agencies know an awful lot about the world, but the policy prescriptions being made by them indicate that their understanding of events is significantly unrelated to the levels of information scooped up by the National Security Agency and other monitoring agencies. The defeat of the US and the rest of the coalition in Afghanistan, at the hands of a motley band of ruffians, owes little to the military prowess of the Taliban. Rather, it has been the inevitable result of a series of policy missteps, which have collectively worked to revive the Taliban rather than put it permanently to sleep. The penetration by ultra-Wahhabi elements within the intelligence services of Pakistan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries has meant that these agencies have often misled the US about that most fundamental of questions: who is a friend, and who the foe? The consequence in Afghanistan has been that many of those Pashtuns identified by the ISI and other "friendly" intelligence services as "moderates" deserving of cash and other assistance have turned out to be Taliban activists.
These have used the money and materiel gifted to them by the US since 2005-07 to regroup and emerge as a potent force against the coalition by 2009. Thanks to the — there is no more accurate word for it — idiocy of US policy in Afghanistan, especially since 2005, the US taxpayer is funding precisely that organisation which he is being drained of money to do battle with. Given the fact that there has been very little turnover in the "Afghan specialists" with US academe, despite almost all of them having been apologists for the Taliban for almost the whole of the 1990s, it is hardly a surprise that US policy has seldom strayed far from the same track that it furrowed during the period when Bill Clinton was President of the US, which was to facilitate the Taliban in its activities.
The decision by Qatar to fund an office of the Taliban in Doha, complete with flag and nameplate, is a step too far.
In 1979, the Al Sauds made the mistake of believing that they could buy the loyalty of extreme clerics, so that these would not turn against them the way the mullahs in Iran turned against Reza Pahlavi during the 1970s. A flood of cash has been given to Wahhabis since then, and this has been the factor behind the worldwide rise of the sect. Entire communities that were once syncretic and tolerant of multiple forms of cultural and social expression got transformed. Although the policy of backing for ultra-Wahhabis seemed to come in handy during the 1980s battle against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan, yet the overall cost of relying on religious extremists rather than secular nationalists in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union has had numerous unforeseen consequences, including the spread of a mindset which led to 9/11, 26/11 and numerous other acts of terror. Over the past decade, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has dialled back from such support to hardline theologies, in the process making Saudi Arabia a far more tolerant and inclusive country than it has been for decades. However, any slack in backing for ultra-Wahhabi groups has — inexplicably — been taken up by Qatar's royal family, who have made Doha the destination of choice for a host of violence-prone groups engaged in acts of war across several countries. During 2011, those from across the world willing to take up arms to do battle with Muammar Gaddafi's emaciated military were feasted and facilitated by Qatar, with those battling Bashar Assad in Syria getting the same treatment.
However, although the Obama administration seems as prone to assisting the Taliban as the Clinton and Bush teams have been, the decision by Qatar to fund an office of the Taliban in Doha, complete with flag and nameplate, is a step too far. The mere presence of Taliban representatives in Doha and their breaking bread with US officials under the benign eye of the Qatar royal family will dampen the morale of those who in Afghanistan are daily battling the Taliban or enduring their oppressive rule. A US President who claims to be a supporter of human rights and gender equality, and who has a Nobel Peace Prize to show for it, was not expected to midwife a process of inserting the Taliban into the governance structure of the country. By its very chemistry, such co-existence is impossible for the Taliban, who will instead sabotage any effort at nation building by the overwhelming majority of Afghans, who are peace-loving. Afghanistan will once again descend into chaos. Thanks to Obama's Stockholm Syndrome, the entire region seems set for a very rocky future.