“From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge”, a confident Donald Trump had announced a year ago while laying out his South Asia strategy. A year on, ISIS is not obliterated and neither has the Al-Qaeda been crushed. The Taliban operate in large parts of the country and terrorism continues to ravage civilian populations. The lesson for Trump administration: victory is easy to define but hard to come by. The United States is on the verge of losing its battle in Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgency is increasingly frustrating American plans to retain a permanent presence in the country- the purpose of such presence is not only to exploit Afghanistan’s mineral wealth but also to use the country as a base against rivals such as China, whose Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is regarded by the US as a major threat to its global hegemony. One BBC study found the Taliban are active in about 70 percent of the country. “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out,” Trump had warned very cleverly. But the Taliban are not just waiting them out; they are also gaining in strength and influence. Commenting on how the Taliban are transforming themselves from a force of brute cruelty and intolerance toward a political movement more acceptable to the world, one writer has observed, “Today, however, the Taliban are seeking to present themselves as a legitimate political movement able to administer services and govern the country. As U.S. and Afghan forces pull back to protect major cities—as part of Washington’s new strategy—the Taliban are filling the vacuum. They are no longer just a shadowy insurgency; they are a government in waiting.”Some have also argued that the local population appears to be better off in Taliban-controlled areas than government-administered territory. “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists”, Trump told the audience at Fort Myer in 2017. Yet, ground realities suggest anything but America fighting terrorists. Ferocious attacks in the form of an unending series of suicide bombings, shootings and violence continue to wreak havoc on poor Afghans. It is hard to imagine the United States eliminating terrorism with 10,000 troops -if it really is interested in defeating terrorism- something the US failed to do with 140,000 ISAF troops. Perhaps peace in Afghanistan is not exactly what policy makers in Washington want. After all, America itself has murdered scores of innocent civilians, euphemistically calling them ‘collateral damage’. Peace in Afghanistan would mean an end to the War on Terror- at least in Afghanistan. In other words, peace entails an exit from Afghanistan- a country with immense geopolitical significance for the United States. Yet, if Afghanistan’s tribal history is any lesson, the US needs to know that it cannot run the country on its own terms. The disunity between tribesmen, coupled with the military prowess of invading armies, makes it easy to conquer Afghanistan initially. However, with the passage of time the tribes rise in rebellion to reclaim their freedom The disunity between tribesmen, coupled with the military prowess of invading armies, makes it easy to conquer Afghanistan initially. However, with the passage of time the tribes rise in rebellion to reclaim their freedom. Therefore, consolidation of power in Afghanistan is a difficult job for foreign armies. The country’s mountainous terrain too, acts against the designs of foreign invaders who are unfamiliar with the treacherous geography of the country. This can be gauged from the fact that some tribes hidden in the mountains have managed to remain unconquered, even in the face of numerous invasions. Moreover, the tribal nature of the society and the country’s mountainous terrain make governance, as we know it, all the more difficult to implement, even for indigenous rulers. These societal and geographical features have earned Afghanistan the contradictory titles of ‘Graveyard of Empires’ and ‘Gateway of Empires’. Unfortunately, Donald Trump and company are neither keen to learn from Afghan history, nor do they seem to possess an understanding of how tribal societies work. Washington wants to run Afghanistan according to its own plan and wants Taliban to accept its terms of the bargain. However, this dream has failed to materialize, despite having spent millions of dollars, dropped numerous bombs and killed many innocent civilians. A country like Afghanistan is easy to enter, but hard to keep. For those who really desire peace in Afghanistan, the best way forward is to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans. For any peace process to be enduring and long-lasting, it has to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. The international community should assist in achieving a solution that is acceptable to all stakeholders in Afghanistan. And powers like the United States need to refrain from trying to run Afghanistan as one of their colonies which, in any case, is an undertaking beyond their capacity. The writer is an independent researcher in public policy and international relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, September 21st 2018.