The shock news that Donald Trump is all set to halve the number of American troops currently stationed in Afghanistan has provoked an angry response across the political divide back in the US. Fears prevail that this will deliver the Taliban an absolute advantage; while rendering Washington and its international allies less safe. Yet, truth be told, the move represents an honest admission of flawed American policy in this region.It has been commonly accepted that the Taliban were created by previous US misadventures in Afghanistan: namely, the battle to eject the Russians from that country. The same may be said of the missed opportunity to have the Taliban hand over Bin Laden to a third country in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom. Indeed, given that the group has kept the most sophisticated military in the world bogged down in a conflict of the latter’s own making for a record 17 years — it is hard to fathom what further leverage an American withdrawal could accord the Taliban. In reality, there has never been any clear-cut and coherent plan for Afghan peace in the post-9/11 environment. Had this not been the case, the US would have refrained from going off and toppling the Saddam regime before returning to what it started in Kabul. Such recklessness has been paid for dearly by the people of Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. This is to say nothing of ever-changing goalposts that have seen Washington’s mission articulated as everything from the urgent need to hunt down Bin Laden and decimate Al Qaeda; to liberating Afghan women to the point where they are free to paint their nails; to declaring military action a success on the grounds that an overwhelming majority of the Al Qaeda network fled to this country.Such missteps have brought US policy full circle. Nearly two decades after then Secretary of State Colin Powell and Gen Pervez Musharraf contended that a political solution represented the only sustainable means of achieving a lasting peace across the Durand Line — Taliban and the US have entered into a series of direct talks. In fact, the latest round included Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE; as guarantors of a possible ceasefire deal. Though this time there will likely be one significant difference. That is, Islamabad will potentially be cast in the role of junior partner given that it is now beholden to the other two for vast cash injections to secure the economy. For money, as everyone knows, talks. The loudest. As for concerns about how the US is readying to cut-and-run before inking a peace deal — President Trump is not talking about a complete drawdown. As yet. And then there is the question of the 8,000 or so remaining NATO troops. Meaning the immediate announcement is likely aimed at offering the Taliban a confidence-builing measure of sorts. Even as Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad bemoans the fact that the militants are not interested in talking to the Ghani regime. Though the Taliban have long argued that this represents the second phase of negotiations.What all this means for Afghan women remains to be seen. It is therefore hoped that Kabul uses the intervening period to draw up a set of red lines when it comes to safeguarding women’s participation in the public sphere. For once international forces eventually leave the country the government will have the upper hand; albeit for a short period. Thus failure to play ball on this front will reveal Taliban deceit. And ongoing violence of any sort will unlikely be tolerated by either China or Russia. * Published in Daily Times, December 22nd 2018.