In Afghanistan Donald Trump has surrendered to the Taliban, argues James Bickerton. 

One of the most damning indictments of Donald Trump's Presidency is that it has failed not just on the terms of others, but of his own. In 2016 Trump offered himself to the American people as a strongman and a deal maker, someone who would restore US prestige then negotiate from a position of strength. He has failed utterly in both regards. Rather he has betrayed US allies and prostrated himself before America's enemies, from Vladimir Putin to Kim Jong-un, whilst receiving little but humiliation in return.

Yet even by Trumpian standards the US-Taliban 'peace deal', signed in Doha on 29 February, is an abomination. Truly its scarcely an agreement at all, more articles of submission. The US has vowed to withdraw its 12,000 troops, along with other foreign forces, within eighteen months. Thousands of Taliban prisoners are to be released. In return the Taliban have agreed to start negotiations with the Afghan Government, with no guarantee of results, and given a vague assurance that territory under their control won't be used by international jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

The Afghan Government, one of the parties most affected by the agreement, is not even a signatory to it. Whilst the Taliban will negotiate directly with the Americans they have consistently refused to engage with representatives from Kabul until foreign troops depart. Afghan authorities are in any case bitterly divided, following last September's contested presidential election. Both Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah claim to be the victor and have had themselves inaugurated as President in rival ceremonies. Serious violence between their supporters is not inconceivable. Ghani, who currently rules, initially refused to release Taliban prisoners as Trump agreed, claiming the American's had not informed him in advance.

Certainly the Taliban see this as a victory, a repeat of the withdrawal of Russian troops in 1988-9 that led, after another three years of civil war, to the overthrow of Afghanistan's then socialist government. Taliban leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada spoke of the group's "historic achievement". Being a 21stcentury terrorist group, with aspirations towards Government, the Taliban publish an English language version of their official website. On this they claimed the agreement "validated" their fight against "the foreign military presence for the past eighteen years and continued armed jihad".

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Of course its scarcely a surprise the Taliban are claiming victory, but what's noticeable is US authorities are barely bothering to contradict them. Speaking to White House reporters on 6 March Trump admitted the deal could see the Taliban return to power stating it's "not supposed to happen that way, but it possibly will". In what scarcely sounded like a vote of confidence in the Afghan Government Trump added "countries have to take care of themselves ? you can only hold somebody's hand for so long".

Few people, on either side, really expect the Taliban to abide by the peace agreement. Speaking to Anthony Loyd of The Times Khalid Agha, a local Taliban commander, confidently stated "we have just defeated a superpower ? once the Americans have gone it will be easy to sort out the Afghan Government". A senior US official, speaking anonymously to NBC News, admitted in their view the Taliban have "no intention of abiding by their agreement".

At this point its worth remembering why America, and other western powers, went to war in Afghanistan in the first place. After the Taliban seized much of the country, including Kabul, in 1996 they allowed Al-Qaeda to establish training camps. From these the 9/11 terror attacks on New York and Washington D.C. were planned. The relationship between the two groups runs deep. Just two days before the 9/11 atrocities two Al-Qaeda suicide bombers, posing as journalists, murdered Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of an armed anti-Taliban coalition called the Northern Alliance. One of the great 'what ifs' of Afghan history is what might have been had Massoud, a ferocious military and political strategist, survived to continue leading the Northern Alliance once they began receiving American support.

As part of the deal the Taliban have agreed not to host international terrorist groups, that conduct attacks outside Afghanistan, but there is precious little to enforce this. Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator generally supportive of negotiations with the Taliban, stated "the Taliban's security guarantees are so vague as to be effectively void. It's not clear how we will track whether they are indeed renouncing terrorist groups". The congressman added "Trump got fleeced". Essentially Trump has made the security of western powers contingent of the Taliban keeping their word, and breaking with the Al-Qaeda. To say this is a questionable decision would be an understatement. Speaking to Loyd one local Taliban commander stated "Al-Qaeda have been our brothers in jihad. We will not help them plot further attacks like 9/11, but we will not expel them either".

One of the constants of Trump's life is that, when his interests dictate it, he will happily turn his back on friends and partners. When he was merely in a position to inflict this on his business associates, or wives, the suffering was limited. Now he's in a position to betray whole countries. Secular Afghans are learning what Syrian Kurds discovered last year, that under Trump the United States is an utterly unreliable ally.

Trump is determined to end American involvement in the Afghan war, the longest in US history, and has concluded that the most certain way of doing so is to lose it. By pulling out western troops, leaving the Afghan Government to fend for itself, he's given the Taliban pretty much everything they want in return for pledges neither side expects to be kept. Trump has paid his Danegold, and may get a limited peace in return. But it is likely to be little more than that. In 2001 the western world learnt the consequences of ignoring Afghanistan and abandoning her people to their fate. We can only hope we don't receive the same lesson twice.

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