The withdrawal of the American and NATO troops from Afghanistan on 15 August 2021 was more ignominious than the departure of the Soviet troops from their Afghan incursion in 1991. The latter had impacted the regional strategy while the former dealt a frontal blow to the ideology of democracy having an edge over modern totalitarianism.
Over two decades –- up until the last US troop left in August -– the United States would end up spending $2.4 trillion on the war, including $140 billion on reconstruction – some 30 per cent of which a special inspector general concluded was wasted.
That was in terms of material; in terms of men, the war in Afghanistan claimed the lives of more than 3,500 coalition troops –- including 2,455 Americans, according to iCasualties.org. According to the Brown University Costs of War Project, nearly 70,000 Afghan military and police and more than 46,000 Afghan civilians were killed as a result of the conflict.
In her book The Afghan Solution, the EU adviser Lucy Morgan Edwards says, “The October of 2001 invasion could have been avoided because there was a plan in the works to topple the Taliban from within led by Haq, a well-respected and popular Afghan mujahedeen commander….”
But the UK diplomat Paddy Ashdown explained why Haq’s plan had to be deferred: “You must accept there has to be a fireworks display, a significant fireworks display, the Americans are demanding it and not until after the firework display can we continue the debate.” So the US went to war.
In the early phases of the war, the US partnered with the Northern Alliance – a group of minority factions that wanted to unseat the Pashtun-dominated Taliban. In addition, the CIA also paid off maligned actors to help, whom they would eventually reward with ministry seats and political power. It is also true that the inclusion of the maligned actors had put a question mark on the legitimacy of the government that replaced the Taliban regime. Shady characters managed space in the new regime and it turned to be the source of disaster for Afghanistan. “They brought back guys, like warlords, who should ordinarily have been put before the international court of human rights for what they had done ten years before… many of them had committed massacres in Kabul during the civil war,” Edwards told Sputnik.
The Haq plan mentioned above was to appoint King Zahir Shah as the interim head. He had reigned over his country for nearly 40 years (1933-1973) in peace and tranquillity. Strange are the ways of history. Zalmay Khalilzad, the American envoy who steered the Doha negotiations in February 2020, pursued King Zahir Shah into withdrawing. Thus Zalmay made space for Hamid Karzai as the US’ choice for the Afghan presidency.
To make things worse, the Americans not only patronized the puppet President but also tried to impress upon him to run the government after occidental style with centralized power something disliked and disrespected by the Afghan traditions. Edwards has aptly summed it up in one sentence: “It’s been a twenty-year experiment with Western liberalism that has failed,”
“Three-quarters of the official delegates to the Loya Jirga had already signed a petition asking that the King be the interim head of state. Zahir Shah was a beloved symbol of national unity, much like the Emperor of Japan or the Queen of England… Karzai was an Afghan nobody, a weakling who was respected by no one,” said Chris Mason, the US Army War College Professor of National Security. As such neither of the two had real credibility, concluded Mason.
“Neither man had any credibility or legitimacy,” Mason said. Another unwise thing done by the policy planners in Washington was to impose the 2002-3 constitution which was essentially based on a strong central government. Afghanistan has all along seen the tribal system and no tribe have learnt to be under the diktat of another tribe. A centralized government was more or less an enigma to them. The concept of equality is inherent in Afghan culture. The idea of the Taliban capturing Kabul and establishing a rule over the entire country is what the Taliban learnt from the Americans.
As the Western-backed government grew increasingly unpopular, the Taliban began making inroads. The corrupted system and incompetent administration frustrated the Afghan nation. People doubted the fairness of the election process and western domination was played up to impress upon the Afghan youth especially in the rural areas that a nation was subjugated although it was known in history for defending its independence fiercely against all odds.
Edwards tells us that when she was living in Afghanistan back in 2005, the Taliban had already set up their justice system and they were setting up food delivery systems and security systems because the Westerners were not able to provide that everywhere. “The reason why was because the West had brought back these warlords, these strongmen. They brought them back to set up the drug trade again”, she states.
The bitter truth about the Taliban capturing Kabul on 15 August 2021 is that they did so by making the types of deals Haq had made in his foiled plan to upend them in 2001 –- including with all the core commanders, security chiefs, police chiefs and key contacts within the military. The Taliban had penetrated deep and knowledgeable persons did not find anything surprising in it.
“That’s basically what Abdul Haq was doing, he made deals with people within the chain of command of the Taliban and he had like sleeper cells and the people were willing to come over when the time was right,” Edwards said. “And I’m pretty sure that’s what’s happened now with the Taliban and people who were within the regime of Ashraf Ghani,” concludes the introspective writer.
The situation was bringing neither security nor bringing the fruits of peace. The people were ready for something new. In such a chaotic situation, things do not conform to the strict diktat of rationality. That is why commentators all around called it a surprise and an unprecedented development.
The question now is how are the Taliban going to behave and will there be a change of heart? This question is much debated in political circles. The fact is that the Taliban have been trained in Islamic religious seminaries where brainwashing is of utmost importance. It is embedded in their psyche that Islam is the finest and the final religion and the sharia is the supreme law that can deliver humanity from the crisis brought by the modern scientific world. As such, it is naive to think that the Taliban will change their heart.
Secondly, Pakistan is an important factor in the ongoing situation in the region. Pakistan will never allow the Taliban to move an inch backwards from their conservatism and radicalism. Pakistan has found the steel arm for forging the state policy of Islamization of which destruction of the neighbouring “infidel” state is the foremost agenda. Pakistan is planning a major offensive in the Indian part of Kashmir, a necessity dictated by several situations. Pakistan army wants to gradually curb the influence of terrorist outfits it has raised at home but the hawkish civilian government disagrees. Pakistan army has brought the civilian government under pressure and concluded a ceasefire agreement with the TTP. The civilian government wants to redeploy the TTP as a formidable proxy in the Indian part of Kashmir instead of prompting the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani group, to play a role in Kashmir because that could invite massive retaliation from India.
And lastly, Islamabad has to oblige Beijing in intensifying clashes along the Indo-Pak border. China is giving out all sorts of signals that she anticipates clashes with troops along the long Himalayan border. The US satellite has identified a large scale airbase establishment close to the Indian border in Ladakh. Her menacing activities on the Arunachal border cannot be taken as an isolated event.
Pakistan knows that in case of a serious military flare-up between India and Pakistan or India and China takes place at this point, no major world power is going to jump into the fray because of their other more pressing commitments. Thus India will have to fight it out all by her, which is not that easy. True, any adverse pressure brought on India would mean bringing democracy under strain but then the entire Islamic jihad supported by Chinese ideology of socialist capitalism is a war to topple the Westminster type democracy the world over and replace it with sharia as the new law for world order. Muslims believe in the Ghazavatu’l Hind tradition; the IS-K has declared that this is the mission to be achieved. Its contours have already become known.