By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Three simultaneous attacks carried out by nine Saudi and four Egyptian young men on American soil took the world by surprise on September 11th, 2001. The most spectacular one was by the two planes tearing into the World Trade Centre and engulfing it in smoke and fire. In no time the twin towers were razed to the ground. The incredible news rocked the world. How could the secret services of the world superpower not foresee these terrorist acts was the question that puzzled the world. The attacks reportedly took a heavy toll of 2500 to 3000 people who were working in the towers, including many foreigners, including Indian IT engineers.
America was devastated and humiliated. Six months earlier the newly-elected president George W. Bush Junior had announced that the US was distancing itself from the Palestinian-Israel conflict – a decision which was said to be the last straw that pushed Al-Qaeda to take retaliatory measures on the highest scale. President Bush vowed to find the founder of Al-Qaeda in whichever cave he was hiding in Afghanistan.
Twenty years ago, an article carried in this column mainly depicted 9/11 as the boomerang effect of an ill-conceived dangerous strategy of using religious extremism to oust the Soviets out of Afghanistan. The attacks opened an era of insecurity worldwide as the ideology drew recruits motivated by the will to take up arms against perceived enemies. As early as in the 1990s, India and Afghanistan were at the receiving end of terrorism nurtured in Pakistan, irrigated with Saudi Arabia’s funds, and blessed by US secret services throughout the 1980s.
The Taliban’s swift takeover of Kabul raised two baffling questions. First, US troops were equipped with sophisticated high-tech weaponry, armoured tanks, helicopters, fighter jets and drones, and yet they could not disarm and stop Taliban guerilla-style warfare. Did the US not want to be accused of mass killings in the first quarter of the 21st century? One may ask the question whether in recent years America has been more mindful of criticisms and wary over its reputation in world opinion. Neutralising the Talibans would have meant not only the killings of thousands of Taliban fighters, but also the spread of terrorist cells seeking revenge in many countries, including Europe and America.
Second, was there a local Afghan resistance to undermine the Talibans? Logically, resistance should emerge from the ranks of the people themselves as happened during the two World Wars in Europe and anti-colonial liberation movements in Africa and Asia. In Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance led by slain general Massoud’s son is still putting up strong resistance against the new rulers in Kabul. What about other Afghan civilians? Did they rely too much on the US to do the job for them? In all likelihood, for two decades they must have channelled their efforts towards taking advantage of opportunities created by the Afghan administration with the help of foreign aid and investments by countries which subscribe to US plan of modernizing the country.
The modernization of Afghanistan
It is believed that Talibans became more aggressive and confident after the Doha Agreement signed by the United States and the Taliban in February 2020. The US forces misjudged the capacity of Afghan forces to take over military defence to protect their country. Pakistani ISI supported the Taliban with loads of Pakistani recruits besides fighters from Algeria, the Middle East, Kosovo, Central Asia and Xinquiang province, among other places where the religion-inspired ideology and anti-western rhetoric flourish. Ruthless suicide bombings were meant to terrorize civilians and undermine the morale of government forces. It was not a victory by the so-called power of faith over foreign invaders; it was the victory of terrorism which drove out an elected government and took power by force.
Following the Talibans’ refusal to extend the delay of evacuation and the panic and chaotic rush witnessed at the capital’s airport to flee the country, the buzzwords used by world mainstream media more or less echoed one another’s criticisms of the US presence in Afghanistan: repeat of Vietnam, betrayal by western powers, abandonment of Afghans, shame, etc.
The bigger picture is that for twenty years US troops were committed to ensuring security to allow the development of Afghanistan at all levels – political, economic, educational and cultural. Foreign countries and NGOs opened schools, trained teachers and provided technical assistance in modern teaching methods. Other European countries opened schools for girls, women were empowered to improve skills and acquire entrepreneur spirit. It was not about western ‘values’ dumped on a different culture. It was about modernity made accessible to millions of Afghans. 20 years’ of US presence stepped up the liberation of women from the shackles of a male-dominated, ultra-conservative oppressive system. Students were initiated to modern technology and robotics, areas of knowledge which are stimulating to young minds worldwide.
A modern administration was set up to run the country. Since 2001 governments made efforts to take on board representatives of different groups hailing from the post-civil war era, and convince them to work for common welfare. They received massive foreign aid to maintain the institutions and boost infrastructure to prop up the modernization of Afghanistan. Politicians in advanced countries occasionally resort to corruption whereas those in half-baked democracies are regularly tempted to adopt corrupt practices which undermine good governance. Burgeoning democracies cannot be expected to get rid of corruption overnight.
Twenty years is a short time in the life of a country. Broadly speaking, the US presence helped to realize the dreams of early Soviet-backed Afghan rulers from Amanullah in 1923 to Daoud Khan in the late 70s and Dr Najibullah in the 1980s, till the withdrawal of Soviet troops: a secular government albeit more inclusive in the past 20 years, gender equality, modern infrastructure and education. A whole generation of Afghan women and men grew up under a Taliban-free rule for 20 years and enjoyed the benefits of modernity in every domain. It explains the desperate flight from the Taliban takeover by force. The latter’s pledge to modern methods of administration and opposition to foreign intervention does not fall on deaf ears. Citizens in Kabul have been demonstrating against Pakistan; women too have been doing so, despite facing violence from the Talban militia.
The legacy left by the US is unlikely to fade away in the coming years. Resistance by Afghans against barbaric rule and for the promotion of human dignity, freedom and rights will certainly need foreign moral and material support. Saying ‘No’ to intellectual and spiritual submission is the greatest legacy left behind to Afghans and their future lies in their own struggle and resistance against oppression.
* Published in print edition on 10 September 2021
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