Kabul is not Saigon

As the Taliban are back to power, the so-called international community, implying America and its western allies looks puzzled, issuing contradictory statements only to make a volatile situation more volatile.Meanwhile, British prime minister has expressed his desire to recognise the Taliban dispensation much to the satisfaction of his European partners who have business stakes in Afghanistan. For the Americans ‘the grapes are sour’. The moot question that remains unanswered amidst the Afghan imbroglio is : Who are the Taliban? They began their political journey as ‘ Student Mujahideens’ and finally emerged as the most deadly insurgent outfit with mediaeval religious orthodoxy as their ideological guidance in South Asia. The Taliban are believed to have first appeared in Saudi Arabia financed hard-line Madrasas in northern Pakistan in the early 1990s. They were funded and equipped mostly by America and Pakistan to fight the Soviets. The Taliban leadership is headquarted in Pakistan right from the beginning while maintaining an official presence in Doha to pursue their diplomatic activities, allegedly with the tacit approval of America. After the exit of Soviet Russia in 1989 the pro-Moscow government in Kabul collapsed within a short period. And in 1992 a Mujahideen government was in place. Afghan Mujahideens or Islamic guerrilla fighters fought against the Soviet army  along with other terrorist organisations with the full military backing of America. Today the Taliban are using small and sophisticated weapons once pumped by the Pentagon into this region. America nursed the Taliban and an array of jihadists to counter the Soviets and in the end their dubious policy backfired. In truth the American game plan of driving out the Soviets by utilising the services of Mullahs was successful! But the scenario changed after the 9/11 attack on America. Afghanistan under the first Taliban government became a haven for all the non-state international actors, including al-Qaeda. Arming Taliban by America boomeranged in due season. The Taliban continued a bloody war against America and Nato forces for 20 years. It was a repeat scenario of their crusade against the Soviet occupation. If anything the Taliban guerrillas became so fearful in a difficult terrain like Afghanistan was due to their tactic of utilising extensively suicide squad--- a new phenomenon in resistance movement, first sensationally used by the Tamil Liberation Tigers in Sri Lanka.

For one thing Kabul is not Saigon. The fall of Saigon in 1975 was celebrated by the progressives across the world but it is not really the case with Taliban victory----nobody is marking Taliban triumph other than die-hard Taliban supporters in Pakistan. And Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan being an all weather friend of Taliban had called the Taliban on July 29, “normal citizens”, in an interview with PBS, saying they were not military outfits. Taliban being a hard bargaining chip in Islamabad’s diplomacy, Pakistan is the real beneficiary from Taliban-US tussle. Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s elected president, was lucky enough to avoid the fate of Nazibullah, by seeking asylum in Oman.

These days China is an important factor in every international or regional event with geo-political significance. No doubt China and Afghanistan share a narrow border high in the remote Wakhan valley but that is not the real point at issue. In the context of Taliban’s seizure of power in Kabul what matters most to the mandarins of China is how to make Afghanistan under Taliban an active partner in their notorious BRI programme while stopping the possible spill-over of Islamic militancy in their restive Xinjiang province. The bosses in Beijing have already signed deals for oil, gas and copper mining in Afghanistan, although those have long been dormant and uneconomic as per geological reports. It remains to be seen how Washington gamblers react to China’s entry into the Taliban ruled Afghanistan as Taliban leaders have expressed their willingness to maintain good relationship with China and Russia, ensuring the emerging the two major powers that they won’t allow any terrorist group to utilise their soil against them.

After announcing that US troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11, the Joe Biden administration has actually moved very fast to implement the Doha Deal while leaving only 650 soldiers to manage the US embassy in Kabul. Having lost the Afghan war very badly to the Taliban Biden like his predecessor Trump is now defending the indefensible---the second humiliating retreat after the Vietnam debacle---by showing defensive postures. US President reiterated his oft-repeated commitment only the other day to get American troops out of the country 20 years after they landed in Afghanistan following the 9/11 tragedy. Biden has asked his countrymen to believe that the US has achieved the objectives of decimating the al-Qaeda and getting guarantee from the Taliban that Afghan soil won’t be used to attack America. The Bidens have become wise after losing thousands---lost to death and injury---thousands of American personnel and spending more than a trillion dollars of American tax-payers’ money over 20 years. For all practical purposes the decline of American hegemonism seems irreversible---it is no longer the uni-polar American era!

India, one of the major regional stake-holders in the Afghan chess-board, is the net loser as it has already invested USD 3 billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country. But the plight of Afghan refugees created by the Taliban offensive and brutalities defies description. New refugees are said to be joining their old counterparts in dozens of shanty camps in Pakistan. They are living in sub-human conditions and what will happen to them in the coming months is anybody’s guess.


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Vol. 54, No. 10, Sep 5 - 11, 2021