“I would rather be a grass cutter in the British camp than the ruler of Afghanistan.” Uttering these immortal words, Yaqub Khan, the former King of Afghanistan in the 19th century, stumbled into the British camp in Peshawar. Ashraf Ghani, the latest ruler of Afghanistan, taking lessons from history, stuffed cash into suitcases and bolted from Kabul under the cover of darkness.The fall of Kabul was a seminal moment in history. My mind went back 20 years to the National Press Club in Washington, DC where a high-level press conference on 9/11 and Afghanistan had been organized. I had shortly before assumed the post of Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington and had been invited to speak on the panel. It was October 2001 and we attracted an overflowing, excited and angry audience. It had the feel of a lynch mob. I made three points: number one, do not go charging into Afghanistan – known as the graveyard of empires – without a clear idea of the time frame and objectives; have a very clear idea of the exit plan; and, whatever you do, do not underestimate the Afghans, a people known to make their opponents – especially those who come with hubris – pay for every mistake. I gave the example of the First Anglo-Afghan war that ended in a catastrophe for the British in 1842. Dr. William Brydon, half-dead and half-crazed, appeared on a starving horse outside the Jalalabad fort as the sole survivor of the British army. But no one was really heeding my words that day. I worried that if the invasion of Afghanistan would be launched in anger-a word President Bush used again and again-it would inevitably end in disaster. Benjamin Franklin was prophetic: “Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.” Americans must not equate all Muslims to the Taliban. Pakistan, for example, has lost thousands of its citizens in the fight against different varieties of the Taliban. In order to promote better understanding between Muslim groups and Americans, I began a series of lectures, wrote books, and made documentaries. Among the books I wrote was The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (Brookings Press, 2013). I first presented a detailed model of what tribal society looks like. I pointed out the core features of tribal societies: the code of honor with its emphasis on hospitality and revenge; loyalties based on lineage; and the constant confrontation with the central government for power and ancestral land. I called this version of Islam “tribal Islam.” While tribal Islam emphasizes revenge as it is influenced by tribal custom, Islam in contrast advocates compassion and kindness over everything. I then extended the model to 40 tribal societies stretching from Morocco to the Caucasus Mountains. I presented an alternative method and strategy for success in tribal areas. The importance of dealing with tribal societies on their own terms, with dignity, was emphasized. I underlined the central feature of the council of elders. These steps would ensure stability in tribal societies. When the book came out it was hailed by serious scholars like Dr. Rowan Williams as “ground breaking…compulsory reading for Western governments.” Noam Chomsky described it as “a very important book” and “a highly praised anthropological study.” Others like Ambassador Anthony C. E. Quainton criticized the book because it did not agree with the way the war was being conducted. Quainton complained that I characterized the American war effort in Afghanistan “as the mediocre leading the confused in pursuit of the dubious.” 20 years ago, few listened to what I had to say and I was dismissed with the hubris of the ignorant and the arrogant. I hope now, 20 years later someone will listen. To start with, Americans need to squarely confront the deep sense of hurt and anger especially among those veterans who are acutely aware of the loss of honor and the senseless ending to a war that costs trillions of dollars and countless lives. Second, the full impact and scale of this defeat and the damage to American prestige on the international stage has not fully sunk in. The US is being openly ridiculed in the region. Americans must not equate all Muslims to the Taliban. Pakistan, for example, has lost thousands of its citizens in the fight against different varieties of the Taliban. Most mainstream Muslims reject the tribal interpretation of Islam. America must control its Islamophobic impulses. American commentary in place of serious self-reflection or humility is caught up in the blame game. Few connect cause-and-effect: urinating on Afghan corpses and flushing the pages of the Quran down the toilet, reported actions of US troops, were not calculated to win Afghan hearts and minds, whatever their persuasion, Taliban or not. Unfortunately, such actions negated the noble efforts of many Americans, many of whom I have had the privilege of knowing, who genuinely attempted to build bridges of understanding in near impossible conditions. Adding to the current confusion are the Americans who wish to undo President Biden’s withdrawal and are currently implying another round of invasion. Recently on the BBC, General David Petraeus argued to “literally reverse the decision.” Americans are hurting. But Washington does not have the luxury of wallowing in emotion. It must quickly formulate a foreign policy based in the three elements that were conspicuous by their absence so far: wisdom, compassion and common sense. It must regain its position on the world stage through word and deed and put the fall of Kabul behind it. America must do what it does best: it needs to lead a coalition to help rebuild Afghanistan. But this time, it should arrive in the land with plans for schools, colleges and development schemes, not missiles and drones. Refugees must be assisted urgently. America should lean more heavily on its Muslim population for assistance. What the drones and Humvees could not do, American Muslim imams and scholars would be able to do: to make friends for America.With rivals China and Russia already wooing the Taliban, the U.S. must get its diplomatic moves in order. It is not easy. A superpower just cannot understand how it could lose to men in chappals and shalwar kameez. Yet in their tactics and strategy, the Taliban could teach Rommel about the meaning of blitzkrieg. As for the Taliban, they need to organize a stable government as soon as possible. The last time their attitude to women and the minorities was violent and barbaric. Their cruel and unthinking behavior has given Islam a bad name and damaged their fellow Muslims. Pakistan is being blamed by many as a scapegoat, but it must stop behaving as if it has special dispensation in the affairs of Afghanistan and cease planning for what it has called “strategic depth.” Its rival India’s Afghan policy is in shambles, and it is accused by Pakistan of using its investments in Afghanistan as a cover to meddle in Baluchistan. Both India and Pakistan must stop fishing in the troubled waters of Afghanistan. They must set aside scoring points against each other and truly help the people of Afghanistan to recover from the chaos and violence of the last four decades. The Afghans have once again proven that they are the giant killers of history. But the world must see the costs of such a victory. The writer is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, School of International Service, American University, the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK, and has authored several books.