Nineteen years of 9/11 By Saleem Safi

33

From the beginning of 2001, Osama bin Laden and his close aides had been talking about the ‘Planes Operation’ and the coming of the ‘big day’. Abu Hafs al-Masri – Osama’s deputy and close friend – told Al Jazeera journalist Ahmad Zaidan in January 2001 during the wedding of Osama’s son in Kandahar that “the United States is going to be forced to invade Afghanistan and we are preparing for that. We want them to come”. However, Mullah Mohammad Omar – Afghanistan’s ruler and Amir-ul-Momineen – had no idea what Osama was going to do right under his nose.

Adam Yahya Gadahn aka ‘Azzam the American’ – Al-Qaeda’s audio and video lead – stated in a video that Osama bin Laden had kept the plan secret but shortly before 9/11 had informed his close aides in Kandahar that he was thinking of taking such action against the US which would force the latter to invade Afghanistan. Osama knew that his dangerous plan would change the world.

At last, the ‘big day’ arrived on September 11, 2001 when Al-Qaeda hijackers brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon with hijacked planes. This fateful day changed the world and led to the US invading Afghanistan – as predicted by Bin Laden and wished by Al-Masri. The US invasion of Afghanistan brought drastic consequences for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In 2001, the US seemed to have been moving towards becoming a strategic ally of India but the 9/11 incident and the strategic location of Pakistan forced Washington to engage Islamabad and give it the status of a major non-Nato ally. However, instead of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf became the main beneficiary of the forced alliance and got a strong lifeline for his rule. Consequently, Pakistan lost more than 70,000 precious lives and faced billions of dollars in economic losses. Though Musharraf sided with the US by angering the local jihadi and extremists’ organizations, he still failed to win the trust of the US and of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Americans invaded Iraq without consolidating and stabilizing Afghanistan. The Iraq invasion caused a sense of insecurity in Iran. In addition, the US also started giving space and role to India in Afghanistan despite Pakistan’s strong reservations. As a result, Gen Musharraf changed his Afghan Taliban policy. The US started blaming Pakistan for playing a double game. In addition, the dramatic killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistan’s soil also damaged the country’s credibility.

However, the main brunt of war was borne by Afghanistan which was already devastated by decades-long chaos and instability brought by the Russian invasion and internal civil wars. The 19-year-long ‘war on terror’ played havoc with the lives and economy of Afghanistan.

After 19 years of bloodshed, the US and Taliban came on the negotiation table and signed a peace deal. Though both sides claim victory, in reality there is no winner. Victory comes when you win what you had intended to win. But here both sides have retreated from what they had wanted.

The US had earlier been reluctant to negotiate and had vowed to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” the Taliban. However, now after 19 years of killing hundreds of thousands of people and spending billions of dollars, the Americans have come to the negotiation table with the Afghan Taliban. Similarly, the Taliban were at one time not ready to sever ties with Al-Qaeda. But now they have given a written assurance to the US that they will not keep any relations with Al-Qaeda.

Though the US and Taliban have signed a deal, peace in Afghanistan is still a distant dream. The war between the US and the Taliban is over, but the war between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban continues.

The ongoing negotiation in Qatar between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban is a good omen and a little ray of hope for durable peace in Afghanistan. But still, there are huge differences between both sides. The Taliban insist on the restoration of their Islamic Emirate in which they will accommodate the current political figures of the Afghan government. On the contrary, the Afghan government wants the Taliban to accept Afghanistan’s constitution and become part of the current political system.

Moreover, the Afghan government is not happy with the deal between the US and the Taliban, but they cannot oppose it openly due to American pressure. Some elements in the Afghan government do not want reconciliation with the Taliban due to the fear that the Taliban will replace them in the new setup. These elements are also convinced that the US’s exit plan could change if Trump loses the presidential election. In fact, these are those troublemakers who used delaying tactics in the commencement of the intra-Afghan negotiations. But now once the negotiations have started in Qatar, there is a possibility that these elements will try to sabotage the process by bringing such conditions that will not be acceptable to the Afghan Taliban.

On the other hand, the Taliban also seem to not be in a hurry about the success of the negotiation. They think that the Ashraf Ghani government is getting weaker with each passing day and that they can at some point soon capture Kabul and establish their rule with impunity. However, both sides harbour wishful thinking and misunderstanding which will bring no good to the future of Afghanistan. For the sake of Afghanistan’s stability, both sides should find a middle way of reconciliation.

However, at this important stage, when the Afghan government and Taliban negotiate for a political solution, Pakistan also needs to give serious consideration to the threat of the TTP. Different factions of the TTP have reunited and they have pledged allegiance to its head – Mufti Noorwali. Their attacks in different parts of the country, especially in Waziristan, are also on the rise.

Though Pakistan is playing a decisive role in the intra-Afghan reconciliation process, unfortunately, it seems indifferent towards finding any political solution to the TTP problem at home. It is high time Pakistan found a political solution to the TTP and other extremist groups in the country. If a political solution is not possible, then Pakistan should ask the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban to cooperate on the issue of the TTP. Though Pakistan believes that the TTP is receiving support from the Afghan government, it is also a fact that the Afghan Taliban do not consider the TTP as their enemy. Ideologically, the TTP seems almost like a franchise of the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan should continue its role in the Afghan reconciliation process but at the same time it should find a solution to the TTP problem with the help of the Afghan government and Afghan Taliban.