‘A Land of Wolves’

The Afghan question returns with the possibility of a more bloody civil war than before. Imperial powers have turned Afghanistan into a land of wolves and vultures, forcing peace-loving people to forget to live in peace. For thousands of young Afghans war is now a way of life. Continuing conflict over the last four decades has virtually devastated this beautiful hilly country with a population of 39,801,850 beyond repair. With American troops and their western allies departing Bagram, Afghanistan’s largest air base, allowing President Ashraf Ghani’s military to utilise the sprawling outpost from which US waged war for nearly two decades, a new phase of destabilisation has begun. For America  Afghanistan is not yet another Vietnam but the Vietnamese syndrome has been haunting the American psyche since the days of Obama. Having lost the Afghan war badly Washington has long been trying to make a deal with the Taliban, sometimes secretly, without taking their Afghan collaborators into confidence. The planned withdrawal of American troops, without losing more money and men, signifies among other things that the Pentagon’s high-tech positional war is no answer to guerrilla warfare in a rugged and mountainous terrain. A highly centralised army was fighting a highly decentralised insurgency, motivated by religious orthodoxy, combating an irregular war. Douglas Pike showed in his resourceful book ‘Vietcong’ how American soldiers used to lose battles in guerrilla zones where communists had only 20 percent support of the rural population in South Vietnam. This time a determined resistance is said to be coming from Afghanistan’s rural areas to take power baffling the American strategists.

As the Taliban are inching closer to Kabul after having taken a quarter of the country’s landmass in the past two months what is almost certain is that a bloody civil war may erupt anytime soon.  At the time of writing the Taliban claimed that they were controlling 85 percent of Afghanistan territory, albeit the Government in Kabul dismissed the Taliban assertion as a propaganda stunt.

The Bagram  airfield has a long history—it was built by the Soviets in the 1950s when the ruling ‘Afghan communists’ with their multiple factions had strong ties with the Soviet party. And during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan Bagram remained a vital military hub. After the inglorious Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the Taliban and northern warlords fought for the base but finally US inherited the vital military installation in 2001.

Even before Trump started final negotiations with the Taliban for total pull-out, US troops were already on the move to vacate the space, showing the world that American hegemonic postures were no longer working. The calculated retreat initiated by Trump is now being completed by his successor Biden. For one thing the US reportedly concluded its first official withdrawal in 2014, after the surge of troops in the years before, which reduced American and other western forces in Afghanistan to well over 100,000—and Bagram, a symbol of American military might, began to shrink, losing its importance to the Pentagon. The closure of Bagram, effectively means that major US military operations in Afghanistan are all but over. Strangely, US and western soldiers left in a hurry without making any fanfare as they usually do in such cases.

American troops entered the country after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. And during their prolonged stay in Afghanistan, they have lost thousands of their combatants. The Soviets paid the price in blood and money for their ill-conceived invasion of Afghanistan. Many think, and not quite unreasonably, MOSCOW’S adventure—or misadventure—in Afghanistan, hastened the process of disintegration of Soviet Union. Despite bitter opposition the Soviets succeeded in maintaining their hold for 10 years while the Americans were lucky in the sense that they managed to survive Afghan resistance for 20 years.

It is now a hard reality that the Kabul regime is crumbling. Perhaps the Ghanis never fully believed that Americans would leave in such a fashion making them orphans. Before the Soviet aggression Afghans fought a fratricidal civil war for 10 years. The 4-decade old instability has literally devastated the fragile Afghan economy forcing a large number of people to live on edge.

Today, the environment in Afghanistan is extremely volatile and highly tense as well. People are likely to die in hundreds, if not thousands, in cross-fire as war lords and drug lords, are waiting in the wings to demand their pound of flesh. The middle class people are trying to flee the flaming field of Afghanistan, only to create a new wave of panic, much to the satisfaction of the Taliban.

Afghans are fiercely independent minded people. Once the British, more precisely British India, tried to subjugate them but failed miserably. Then the Soviets had to bite the dust. And now the Americans are accepting the defeat without acknowledging it. Then regional stake-holders—Pakistan, India, Iran —are likely to compound the Afghan problem, making the post-American scenario even more super-charged. Following the footsteps of their White House bosses, Modis recently made some overtures to the Taliban, only to hope somewhat against hope that the new regime in Kabul won’t jeopardise their commercial interests built over the years  in league with America across the country.


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Vol. 54, No. 6, Aug 8 - 14, 2021