• Wednesday 1st April 2020

Afghanistan: A Fragile ‘Peace’ Deal

  • Published on: March 11, 2020

  • Trump Prepares to Abandon Ally with ‘Peace without Honour’

    By Shashi Malla

    Region West Asia

    After more than 18 years of ‘endless’ war in Afghanistan, the United States and the militant Taliban had reached a so-called agreement in what were claimed as both sides’ most intensive efforts yet to end the conflict. Central to the deal is a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops and ‘guarantees’ from the untrustworthy Taliban that the country will not become a safe haven for terrorists (CFR/Council on Foreign Relations).
    Within days of the ink drying on the deal [signed in Doha], blood was again flowing across Afghanistan, with the Taliban striking scores of Afghan military targets and jihadist gunmen killing dozens in a Kabul attack ( AFP/March 8).
    It seems that the Trump administration has fully forgotten the dastardly September 1, 2001 Al Qaeda attacks that triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan in the first place. Washington seems determined to downplay acts of Taliban violence and lend credence to its longtime adversary’s motives.
    The Pentagon quickly played down the widespread fighting, with General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, classifying the widespread violence as “small, low level attacks, out on checkpoints.”
    It is astounding that in spite of the mounting evidence of Taliban non-compliance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted last week that the senior Taliban leadership was “working diligently to reduce violence”, while also appearing to take a veiled swipe at the Ashraf Ghani government for representing only “narrow interests”.
    Trump even boasted about a “very good” phone call with top Taliban leader Mullah Baradar, while his daughter Lvanka took to social media to post a few lines by the Sufi poet Rumi about the serenity of reconciliation.
    The US president also signaled that U.S. commitment to Afghanistan’s national security came with an expiry date: “Countries have to take care of themselves,” Trump said last week, “You can only hold someone’s hand for so long.”
    All this highlights Washington’s utter failure to extract any promise from the Taliban to reduce violence during the interim.
    United States: Election Watch
    Democratic Primaries: Joe Biden Strides Ahead
    After just a week, the Democratic race for the nomination has changed almost beyond recognition. Former Vice President Joe Biden was down and out and his campaign was just going nowhere. The South Carolina primary (nominating contest) had the feeling of a make or break moment.
    Going into this race, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was the clear front-runner for the nomination, having tied in Iowa, won in New Hampshire [his neighbouring state] and won crushingly in Nevada. The fourth nominating contest in South Carolina appeared more challenging for him, but he was polling competitively with Biden, and there was always the ‘Super Tuesday coming up to push him forward again (NYT).
    The endorsement of African-American Representative Jim Clyburn, 79 of South Carolina was decisive as it later turned out. It earned Biden the kind of media attention he couldn’t afford to buy. Especially black Democrats were united by a single, urgent goal: defeating Trump with any candidate, and at any cost. But they were deeply skeptical that a democratic socialist like Sanders could unseat him (NYT). Perhaps Clyburn will go down in history as the kingmaker.
    Thus, South Carolina created the wonder of wonders. Biden beat Sanders by nearly 30 percentage points, and his moderate competitors dropped off. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota both not only ended their campaigns but endorsed Biden into the bargain – a mind-blowing development that caught Sanders and his team completely off-guard.
    Buttigieg had failed to win over African-American voters, and the prolific spending wasn’t enough to sustain the former hedge-fund executive Tom Steyer.
    Just before the Super Tuesday states, Biden was lagging behind in the polls, but the South Carolina results reshaped the race exactly as Biden could have ever hoped for.
    “Aided by several competitors’ withdrawals and endorsements, Biden dominated states he was expected to win narrowly, won states he was expected to lose and topped it off with victories in places he hadn’t even visited” (NYT). He won 10 of the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday, while Sanders took Colorado, Utah, Vermont and probably California (the results are trickling in).
    Sanders leads in California, which awards far more delegates than any other state, but this does not change the stark reality coming out of Super Tuesday that while the race certainly is not over, Biden is now the front-runner – and to Sanders woes, the favoured champion, not only of Democratic establishment, but all those Democrats who earnestly wish to see Trump defeated. He is now the sole representative of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party.
    The results were devastating for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the other ‘progressive’, who finished a dismal third in her own home state and was awarded far less delegates than Biden or Sanders.
    Super Tuesday was also a stinging rebuke to mul ti-billionaire and former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who had invested millions of dollars on the idea that he could take over Biden’s voters when he inevitably stumbled. This turned out to be fully incorrect, and also the concept that millions of dollars could ‘buy’ the elections.
    The Democratic field has now shrunk drastically and very swiftly from a once diverse field that included six women and seven people of color. In the past two weeks, five candidates have ended their campaigns in this order: Steyer, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg, Warren.
    The pull-outs reflected, over the course of just a few days, a decisive consolidation around one standard-bearer in the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, Joe Biden. The other, on the left, is the self-proclaimed democratic socialist Sanders. The sole woman, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is surprisingly still in the race, but she is averaging less than 1 percent in the polls and has won only two delegates, both from American Samoa.
    Further Developments
    The states Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington State all vote this Tuesday.
    Michigan is particularly important according to political pundits as it is one of the three states [the other two being Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that vote in April in the primaries] that Democrats almost certainly need to win back in order to beat Trump in November.As a mark of their importance, Sanders is focusing heavily on them.
    Other takeaways:
    – Biden’s campaign will no longer suffer shortage of campaign funds as Bloomberg has offered his considerable fortune.
    – What started in South Carolina could have a Domino effect.
    – Warren has still not decided whether she will make an endorsement. In any case, she will retain her power center within the party. If Biden becomes the Democratic candidate, she would be the ideal running-mate.
    – One other challenge remains for Sanders: The youth turnout surge he predicted doesn’t seem to be happening.
    – Senator Kamala Harris of California has now endorsed Biden. It would have been better if she had done so before Super Tuesday!
    – Joe Biden has announced that his running-mate will be a woman! This will be a real fillip to his campaign and could even influence Tuesday’s nominating contests.
    – A new CNN poll of Democratic voters gave Biden a double digit advantage over Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.
    The poll finds 52 percent of regular voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents say they want to see Biden win the nomination, while only 36 percent say they would rather see Sanders win.
    Trump & the Coronavirus Epidemic
    Trump claims: “We’ve done a fantastic job.” However, a botched response or a related economic recession could damage his re-election hopes. He is in his element with his never ending cascade of lies. He is intensely focused on downplaying the problem and publicly congratulating himself (CNN).
    The writer can be reached at: [email protected]


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