Cry, Afghanistan

GOVIND BHATTACHARJEE 

When the governing idea of a State is proclaimed to be the Sharia, it is to be understood that the notion of modernity does not apply here. Afghan men and women themselves would have to fight for the liberties they had enjoyed under the American occupation. No foreign force can help them in this struggle which the Americans could not prepare them for. For the time being, Afghanistan is lost to the civilised world

It is a little unfair to blame the USA for the chaos unfolding in Afghanistan after the Taliban swept into Kabul in a blitzkrieg that has astonished the entire world. After all, it was 20 years in the making ~ ever since the USA, after driving the Taliban out, had lost focus of its own strategic objectives there. Besides, it is too much to expect the USA would continue its presence in Afghanistan indefinitely, spending billions of dollars while sacrificing American lives.
It was equally naïve to blame the dissolution of the Afghan army on their lack of fighting spirit ~ which army in the world has ever fought for a leader who abandons them to their fate and flees to another country, as President Ashraf Ghani did? Besides, the army’s hyped strength of 352,000 was a myth, the actual fighting force comprised about 96,000, not much more than the Taliban’s strength. Ghost soldiers, rampant desertions, poor equipment and training, non-payment of salaries for months etc. have taken their toll on the army’s fighting capability and morale over the years.
The meltdown of the army was therefore not unexpected, though the lightning speed of its collapse was. Corruption among politicians and the lack of unity among the tribal warlords have made the population deeply distrustful of the Government ~ no wonder it melted away so quickly. The resistance building up in the besieged Panjshir Valley by Ahmad Massoud and the deposed Vice-President Amrullah Saleh too is unlikely to hold for long.
Only an incorrigible optimist will expect Taliban 2.0 to be different from its earlier rule, despite all the right noises being made by its leaders desperate to get access to Afghanistan’s blocked reserves of $9.4 billion and suspended IMF funding of $400 million, conditional upon the approval of the West. For a country almost three quarters of whose economy was financed by foreign aid, to prevent the impending financial meltdown into which it is rapidly descending, perhaps the opium trade which accounts for a tenth of the country’s GDP can be the only saviour.
The façade of Taliban’s newly found civility and assurance of sharing power fools no one. Its promise of inclusive government is a deception only to win international endorsement ~ after all, which conqueror, and that too a ruthless one rooted in hard-core Islamic ideology, has ever ceded political and administrative space to the vanquished? Parleys with Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah are nothing more than token symbolism rather than any real willingness to share power; in fact, why should they share the power they now control absolutely? If indeed there is any difference this time from their earlier theocratic tyranny and export of jihad, it will only be cosmetic. The appeal of religion is far more potent than logic, especially to their fanatical brigands who are already enforcing the medieval Sharia laws in the conquered territory with as much ruthlessness as they did earlier, with reports of rampant killings, torture and denial of women’s liberty pouring in continuously.
Those who are hoping that this time the Taliban may not disregard international concerns for terrorism, human rights and women’s freedom are living in a fool’s paradise. Taliban today is not as isolated as it was during its earlier spell between 1996 and 2001 ~ a repulsive regime recognised by none other than Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This time, apart from these trusted friends and other Islamic states like Turkey and even Shia Iran that was earlier hostile to it, powers like Russia and especially China, which have not closed their embassies in Kabul, are ready to step into the void left by the USA and western powers, assuredly on terms set by the Taliban. China has its own geopolitical interests in accessing Afghanistan’s resources including its rich copper deposits and through Afghanistan to access Central Asia’s energy reserves in exchange for supporting the Taliban with finance and technology. The veneer of moderation and the newly learnt diplomatic finesse that Taliban leaders are now displaying is a disguise and a disguise cannot dilute a radical ideology ~ there is also the fear of their foot-soldiers becoming restive otherwise. If the international community, which for them means the West, does not approve of the Taliban’s barbaric ways, they have no reason to give a damn. The Taliban did not grow out of the soil of Afghanistan but of Pakistan, whose Prime Minister has warm-heartedly welcomed their victory as breaking the “shackles of slavery” ostensibly of the USA and its allies. As the former American Ambassador to Afghanistan Michael McKinley has pointed out, it is “extraordinarily difficult to defeat an insurgency that has a cross-border sanctuary”. No country knows it better than India.
The Taliban was and born nurtured in the fertile soil of Pakistan where terrorism grows luxuriantly. It was Pakistan which liberally provided them with finance, arms, training and sanctuary during the Soviet occupation; even after 9/11, Pakistan continued this support by fooling the USA while extracting billions of dollars from it. If any country has the greatest sway over the Taliban today, it is Pakistan. As the former ISI Chief General Hamid Gul had prophetically remarked in 2014, “When history is written, it will be stated that the ISI defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with the help of America. Then there will be another sentence: The ISI, with the help of America, defeated America.” This is precisely what has happened, and America has been left licking its wounds to the unconcealed delight of Pakistan, China and Iran. Taliban would be extremely unlikely to keep its terrorist brotherhood in check, after all the same brotherhood has fought along with it, shoulder to shoulder, in driving the Russians and now the Americans out of Afghanistan. Resurgence of Al-Qaeda, whose links with the Taliban have endured over the last two decades, will be a distinct possibility once again, with consequences India should especially prepare for, given Pakistan’s opportunity to use the jihadis in Afghanistan for creating trouble in Kashmir.
One only hopes that the USA, now out of Afghanistan and hence no longer needing Pakistan’s support, will make it clear that Pakistan would pay a price if it supports the Taliban regime in spreading international terrorism. India has poured $2 billion in development projects during the last two decades to help the Afghan people and win their friendship. It has earned their friendship, not of much avail now, and is a clear loser.
Terrorism is, however, a hydra-headed monster, and one or more of its heads may turn against the one that nurtured it in its cradle. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or Pakistani Taliban, an offshoot of the Taliban, has launched several violent attacks in Pakistan in the past including a dastardly attack on a Peshawar school in 2014 that killed more than 150 people, mostly children. Some of the hard-core TTP militants including its leading commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammad have been released from Afghan jails by the Taliban after their victory.
Taliban has mastered the art of duplicity and deception learnt from their creator and will use it to extract maximum advantage from all neighbours including Pakistan. The Durand Line boundary which has never been recognized by Afghanistan will continue to be a bone of contention between the two countries, and the Taliban, emboldened after their victory over a superpower and commanding widespread loyalty from their Pashtun brethren in areas straddling the border areas in Pakistan may try to revive their demand for territory south of the Line. For Pakistan, it may not be a tale of unmitigated joy. Even China would be weary of stepping into the Afghan cauldron too soon, and regardless of Taliban’s assurance that they would not foment trouble in Xinjiang by supporting the disgruntled Uighurs, their battle-hardened militias whose brains are permanently hardwired to the jihadi Islamic ideology may find the opportunity to liberate another territory where Islam is suppressed irresistible, and they may like to foray into Kashmir with the same objective, to Pakistan’s immense delight.
As Henry Kissinger writes, Afghanistan has never been a modern state with “a sense of common obligation and centralisation of authority” superseding its “geographical and ethnoreligious essence”. It was the absence of this central authority that made it a terrorist haven in the first place. Its ethnocentric feudal structure has throughout history led to the consolidation of military and political power among tribes and clans who unite only when faced with a foreign enemy. The tensions between Pashtuns and the minority Uzbeks, Hazaras and Tajiks are irreconcilable, and even the Taliban will find that conquering Afghanistan was easier than ruling it. In any case, no one should expect that it would be ruled like a modern “Nation State” with representative government and legislature. When the governing idea of a State is proclaimed to be the Sharia, it is to be understood that we are back to Huntington’s clash of civilisations and that the notion of modernity does not apply here. Finally, the Afghan men and women themselves would have to fight for the liberties they had enjoyed under the American occupation, like modern education and a free press. No foreign force can help them in this struggle which the Americans could not prepare them for. For the time being, Afghanistan is lost to the civilised world.

Courtesy : The Statesman.  The article was first published in The Statesman.

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