The Afghan Quagmire

The key issue is to put an end to the insecurity and sufferings and create hope for the Afghan people. How and when?

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Bomb blasts causing heavy tolls among civilians on a regular basis no longer hit headlines or are debated in mainstream international media; neither is the future of the country or the fate of the hapless people of Afghanistan, giving an overall impression of world weariness with the endless negotiations for peace which US officials are struggling to achieve with the Taliban leadership. To make matters worse, the latter seems to have opted for violence as a means of communication to send strong signals to the US administration, but all the while talks are being held. At the receiving end of blown-up cars and trucks in public places are innocent men, women and children of Afghanistan.

In modern history Afghanistan is a unique case of a country which has experimented with changing regimes and fallen into a hellhole which it is unlikely to extricate itself from any time soon. Pictures of happy men and women clad in western outfits during the rule of the Shah of Afghanistan in the early 1970s look like they belong to a remote past in another country. The feudal regime of the Shah had a liberal outlook in its economic and social policies. In the course of years, much like its counterpart in Iran, criticism of corruption and social inequalities were levelled at the leadership of the Shah. Not so different from other countries.

The Appeal of Communism

During the Cold War era when India was closer to the former USSR, and Pakistan was America’s protégé, a class of educated Afghans started dreaming of Communism and toppled the Shah. A big chunk of Afghans went along with the dream and supported the change. The new rulers turned to the Soviet Union for inspiration and guidance.

There was a general fervour for socialist ideals and improvement of working and living conditions for the common man. The rulers were overzealous in implementing the tenets of Communism and made serious mistakes which opened the way to insurgency. Afghan rulers

started persecuting and arresting clerics and imams, arbitrarily executing them. It sent a shockwave in a society which was defined as traditional in many ways despite the appearance of modernity. Even in Moscow the Soviet government was appalled by the brutal repression of religious representatives by the Afghan communist government.

Resentment against the authorities sparked a rebellion which led President Najbullah

to seek Soviet military help when the situation began to spiral out of control. Soviet tanks rumbling into the hostile desert region to pacify the uprising cannot be described as an invasion of Afghanistan. With hindsight, it becomes clear that this was not what exactly happened. The narrative of ‘invasion’ peddled by the US and Western countries gained ground in the press and was repeated so often that it ended up being accepted as a historical fact, which served to justify the disastrous strategy adopted by the US and implemented by Pakistan with the help of Saudi Arabia.

The Godfathers of Taliban

After embracing Communism, the Afghan people were caught in the crossfire of disastrous ideological choices and made to pursue another dream. It is a calamitous story of dreams gone awry. The US administration under President Jimmy Carter elaborated a plan for using religious extremism to topple the Soviet-backed government. Pakistan provided the training ground for empowering Mujahideen, freedom fighters, with the generous patronage of Saudi Arabia.

Recently, the Pakistani Prime Minister stated that Pakistan should not have joined the US in the fight against terror after 9/11 (2001). It first sounds as a sensible observation given that it was illogical to fight against the very people it helped to indoctrinate and empower. However, as a long-standing ally of the US, did Pakistan have any choice? Pakistan’s misfortunes started further back with the coup fomented by General Zia-ul-Haq and the establishment of military rule. The latter gladly opened his country to the US proposal of recruiting militants from various countries worldwide and instil the Wahhabism ideology into their minds and unleash them against the Communists. General Zia-ul-Haq insisted that he should be entrusted with both the recruitment and training of the future soldiers of God and the purchase of weapons. He paved the way for Pakistan to become a powder keg of terrorism and laid the foundation stone for a successful multinational company of dangerous indoctrinated militants.

The Special advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Zbignew Brzezinski bore a personal grudge against Russia and Communism on account of his own personal family history. He made the trip to Pakistan to harangue recruits with heated speeches on the fight between Believers and Atheists – a most dangerous propaganda. By that time, the Iranian Revolution had already taken place, in 1979. General Zia jubilated over the exciting mission that was entrusted to him. It was a toxic combination of military and religious fundamentalism which Pakistan has been reeling under for years. The current PM Imran Khan has surfed on both the fundamentalist wave and the army for his selection as PM.

The cynical role played by the US is hardly ever discussed. The Russians had no intention of overstaying in Afghanistan. In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev flew to Washington to meet President Reagan and inform him of the plan for a Soviet pull-out from Afghanistan. Reagan listened and acquiesced, but concocted another plan behind Russia’s back.

Reagan was ill-advised to provoke the Soviets into an armed conflict and keep them grounded in Afghanistan, in a most grotesque bid to replicate on the Communists in Afghanistan the American humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam. In Moscow President Gorbatchev was puzzled by the American belligerent strategy. It was a most stupid and cunning plan for the American administration to believe that they could get even with the Russians by inflicting the same pains their GIs were subjected to in Vietnam. Immature and irresponsible Western powers have no idea that what is done cannot be undone, that thoughts, words and actions follow their own course, they cannot be made up for. The best one can do is to think, speak and act differently.

The collateral but major gain in the devilish plan for an armed conflict with the Soviets was the massive sale of British weapons to Afghanistan via Pakistan; it was no doubt a behind-the-scene cynical arrangement between the Americans and all-weather ally the British, both made of the same Teutonic character. The US enjoyed unparalleled economic and military power but terribly lacked wisdom – and still does – in the conduct of international affairs.

Thus, against a background of extremist religious narratives, terrorism was sown in Pakistan, irrigated by Saudi Arabia and blessed by elder brother, Christians. India and Afghanistan have been at the receiving end of terrorism for years.

Hardly any of the stakeholders anticipated that the hard-boiled Mujahedeen militants would become Taliban and turn against their benefactors. Nor did they realize that extremists bear no loyalty to anyone and rise against any obstacles on their road. No wonder Taliban claimed power and applied fundamentalist tenets to society and put in place a repressive policy on girls and women, a burdensome legacy that the US-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to erase. The creators of Taliban did not foresee that the ideology which drove fighters to take up arms would create Al Qaeda and a series of ramifications in hot spots of the world. Not the slightest idea that the progenies let on the loose would come back and knock at the door of their fathers. Everyone ignored the possibility of competition in violence which tribal cultures can bequeath to malevolent organizations. IS is the ultimate outcome of this phenomenon. What goes around comes around.

And the mountains echoed

Gone are the days of Kabul being part of the 3 Ks – Kota beach in Bali, Kabul, and Kathmandu in Nepal which drew disenchanted American youths, the hippies to go east in the 60s and 70s. They were on a quest for a different world after the trauma of terrible world wars waged by Christian countries at the peak of technical progress and material welfare.

Paradoxically, the feudal regime of the Shah allowed women to work, dress and move around freely. Are those days buried like the Buddhas of Bamiyan? Maybe not. Khaled Hosseini, Afghan novelist depicted three generations spanning the different regimes in his novels, ‘Kite Runner’, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, a line from a Persian poem, and thirdly, ‘And the mountains echoed’. They are heart-breaking tales of the sufferings of Afghans since their dreams of a better country turned into nightmares.

For the Americans, Taliban forces hiding in the mountainous regions are hard to target. Scattered villagers put up local resistance and pile up stocks of weapons to fight against the hard-boiled militants. In the wake of the upcoming election President Trump cannot afford to send back his soldiers home in coffins. The government in Kabul, the US and Taliban are entangled in a three-corner fight. The Doha Talks underwent a Caesarean birth and are still half-born. The creation of extremist forces sucked the main players into a maelstrom of violence that is still echoing on the roads, valleys and mountains. Pakistan gets a regular taste of the medicine experimented in its laboratory.

The key issue is to put an end to the insecurity and sufferings and create hope for the Afghan people. How and when? Will the Afghans have to put up with Taliban coalition at the head of the state? Whatever be the scenario, India should not let itself be dragged to replace US troops and clean the mess others left behind.

* Published in print edition on 27 September 2019

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