Skip to main content

Hopes are dim for Afghanistan

By Ken Ballen
November 25, 2013 -- Updated 2018 GMT (0418 HKT)
Afghan vendors sell shoes by a roadside on Wednesday as Kabul prepares for the Loya Jirga.
Afghan vendors sell shoes by a roadside on Wednesday as Kabul prepares for the Loya Jirga.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Loya Jirga council meets in Afghanistan to decide if U.S. troops may stay past 2014
  • Ken Ballen: In Taliban message to Loya Jirga, a bombing killed 13 near meeting site
  • Ballen: Afghan security depends on talks with a leader of Taliban, which denounces U.S. presence
  • Ballen: U.S. spent $90 billion in Afghanistan, the Taliban is resurgent, our goals still unmet

Editor's note: Ken Ballen, a former federal prosecutor, is president and founder of Terror Free Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization that investigates the causes of extremism. He is the author of "Terrorists in Love: True Life Stories of Islamic Radicals."

(CNN) -- A traditional grand conclave of elders, a Loya Jirga, convenes Thursday in Kabul, Afghanistan, to decide whether U.S. forces can remain in the country past 2014. But events this past weekend illustrated the continuing perils and myopia of American policy.

On Saturday, just a few hundred yards from the site of Thursday's critical meeting, expected to be attended by 2,500 people, a car bomb exploded, killing at least 13 people. The Taliban took responsibility. At the same time, at Georgetown University in Washington, former first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton took the stage together to exhort Americans not to abandon the women of Afghanistan. Former Secretary of State Clinton stated that it is essential the U.S. continue to play a role in the country to provide the security necessary for continued progress for Afghan women and girls.

Ken Ballen
Ken Ballen

American reconstruction of Afghanistan is the most expensive reconstruction of a single country in U.S. history, costing more than $90 billion to date. The United States has given more to Afghanistan than any other single country during the Marshall Plan after World War II. Last year, Afghanistan received almost twice as much as the next four largest foreign assistance country beneficiaries combined. With about 2,300 U.S. service members killed in this effort, the loss to American families has also been incalculable.

Yet, with all this sacrifice, the United States is not meaningfully closer to the goals Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration have asked us to embrace. While our political leaders laud that progress and the need for a continued U.S. military presence, the Taliban respond with more bombs and more innocent lives are lost.

Loya jirga approves U.S.-Afghan security deal; asks Karzai to sign

The Afghan Loya Jirga is meeting on these premises in Kabul. Thousands of chieftains and politicians will attend.
The Afghan Loya Jirga is meeting on these premises in Kabul. Thousands of chieftains and politicians will attend.

Hopes now for any kind of peace in Afghanistan largely depend on Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. After the Loya Jirga, a delegation of the Afghan High Peace Council will reportedly visit Pakistan to meet Baradar in a renewed push to end the decades' long conflict.

Baradar, once the top deputy to Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, was freed from jail in Pakistan in September at the request of the Afghan government to help facilitate the peace process. Mullah Omar has denounced the Loya Jirga and the Taliban opposes any U.S. troops remaining.

Having interviewed Mullah Baradar's assistant and other Taliban fighters and leaders, it is clear that their worldview is as far from the Americans' and the largely Western-educated elite we rely on to run Afghanistan as ever.

In the world of Mullah Omar, Mullah Baradar and many of the Taliban leaders, their path is driven by the power of religious visions and dreams. Each "true night dream" is nothing less than a prophecy of God. And each leader's authority comes from God.

U.S. & Afghanistan reach security deal
Controversy surrounds US-Afghan talks
Deployed soldier surprises mom

The seminal event in sealing Mullah Omar's authority as unquestioned leader happened in April 1996. Then, in the dusty southern Afghan Pashtun stronghold of Kandahar, Mullah Omar donned, from a religious shrine, the holy relic of the cloak of the Prophet Muhammad.

After the initial American victory in Afghanistan at the end of 2001, Mullah Omar and Mullah Baradar retreated to Quetta, in Pakistan.

As recounted to me by someone in Omar's inner circle, the Mullah was devastated by the Taliban's defeat. Paralyzed with inaction, Mullah Omar could not decide what to do, waiting patiently for another "true night dream" from God.

As a result, Mullah Baradar helped to direct a meeting in the spring of 2002 at a madrassa in Quetta with Mullah Omar's favorite seer. It was only after the Taliban seer recounted a dream in which he saw Mullah Omar's "beard turn a blinding white -- for it was now made of the threads of the holy prophet's very cloak" that Omar decided to lead the fight again against the Americans inside Afghanistan.

This is the same Mullah Baradar upon which peace talks now substantially depend.

While our Afghan allies hold the Loya Jirga to decide the fate of a continued U.S. military presence in the country, their Taliban enemies deliver their response with more bombs. And while the U.S. continues to invest unprecedented resources into a largely corrupt and feckless Afghan government, the Taliban leaders wait for dreams.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ken Ballen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT