America’s 20-year nation-building project that supposedly aimed to deliver democracy and human rights through cruise missiles and B-52 bombers, crashed in the Hindu Kush mountains. The Taliban wasted no time taking over the country.
It was a David-vs-Goliath contest in which little David convincingly vanquished the mighty Goliath. Hopefully, this should deter wannabe imperialists from venturing into Afghanistan any time soon.
The US-NATO shooting war in Afghanistan may be over but the propaganda and economic wars continue. And US officials have started to scapegoat Pakistan for their failure in Afghanistan as was evident from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s testimony to the Senate on September 13.
The Taliban’s swift but peaceful takeover of Kabul perhaps surprised even the resistance movement. They had not intended to enter the capital pending discussions with other groups about the formation of an inclusive government but Ashraf Ghani’s August 15 flight hastened the process.
The Taliban entered the city to prevent looting and chaos. Since then, events have moved quickly. Security has improved considerably, a fact acknowledged even by the BBC. The Taliban on September 7 announced an ‘interim government’ of 33 members but they did not include members of other ethnic groups. They did, however, leave the door open for future inclusion.
On September 21, they appointed more than a dozen deputy ministers that included Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras but again no women. This increased the West’s already deep discomfort. Western politicians had bristled at the ‘exclusion’ of women when the interim cabinet was announced on September 7. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, however, said women could be included at some undefined future date.
The West’s concern for women’s rights is selective. One would be hard-pressed to find Western criticism of the oppression of women in India, for instance. Burning of brides over dowry disputes are a common feature. What about lack of women’s representation in the West’s puppet regimes in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a host of others? The inordinate concern for women’s rights in Afghanistan seems to be used as a tool to exert pressure on the Taliban.
Together with women’s rights, the demand for inclusive government has dominated discourse on Afghanistan since August 15. Both are worthy objectives but they must be pursued with prudence and keeping Afghan cultural sensitivities in mind. The Afghans, especially the Pashtuns’ psychological makeup must also be taken into account. They do not submit to pressure or coercion. By now the Americans and the West should have learnt this elementary lesson.
Afghanistan’s neighbours—Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran—can play an important role in persuading the Taliban to accommodate women in the government. While each country has its own interests, there is no disagreement on preventing Afghanistan from descending into chaos again.
Tajikistan is the only neighbour that has expressed hostility toward the Taliban. President Emomali Rahmon fears Taliban’s consolidation of power would boost the Islamic Party of Tajikistan, the only credible opposition to his autocratic rule. He also resents the loss of influence by the Tajik minority—who had occupied major portfolios in the US-installed regime. Rahmon is keen, like his fellow autocrats in Central Asia, to keep Tajikistan a family fiefdom and wants his son Rustom to succeed him. But given Russia’s positive attitude, Dushanbe’s negative approach toward the Taliban will have limited impact.
Over 20 years of foreign occupation, a tiny minority of Afghans has become westernized and vocal. Their demands, however, should not take precedence over the well-being of the vast majority, 70% of whom live in the rural areas. For this majority, the occupation was an unmitigated disaster. Far from benefitting from American funds that allegedly built schools, clinics etc, the rural population’s experience was one of immense suffering.
The humiliating night raids into their homes conducted with Afghan collaborators, and American bombings caused tens of thousands of innocent civilian deaths. This is one statistic the Americans were simply not interested in keeping. Is it surprising that the rural population supported the Taliban, seeing them as protectors, not oppressors?
This information was deliberately suppressed to peddle the fiction that America was making progress in the ‘war on terror’. Only recently has such information emerged in the public domain such as in Craig Whitlock’s several reports in the Washington Post, Anand Gopal’s September 6 report in New Yorker magazine, and Graeme Smith’s documentary, The Ghosts of Afghanistan, aired on Toronto channel TVO on September 8.
America claims to have spent $2.26 trillion on the war and reconstruction in Afghanistan. It even appointed a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)—a misleading title because there was little if any reconstruction. Whitlock (cited above) and Brown University’s Costs of War Project have documented where the $2.26 trillion went: the bulk into the pockets of contractors, arms manufacturers and the generals who served on their boards. The war was a racket. Millions also went to a tiny minority of Afghan elites. Millions of dollars in cash and gold have been recovered from the homes of former government officials.
Despite such outlays, Afghanistan is on the verge of famine. Both UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and head of the World Food Program have appealed for help.
Under the Doha Agreement, the US pledged to initiate an administrative review of current US sanctions and the rewards list against the Taliban and complete by August 27, 2020 (Part 1, Item D). It was also to start diplomatic engagement with other members of the UN Security Council to remove Taliban members from the sanctions list and complete this by May 29, 2020 (Part 1, Item E).
Under item F, the US pledged to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Afghanistan or interfere in its domestic affairs. And under Part 3, item 3, the US was to seek economic cooperation for reconstruction with the new post-settlement Afghan government.
While the Taliban have adhered to their commitments, the US has not. It has violated each one of these provisions and is now even threatening ‘over the horizon strikes’. On August 29, a US drone strike killed a family of 10 including seven children in Kabul. The Pentagon has now admitted to killing civilians but claimed it was a “mistake”.
But here is the rub: the US has used the Taliban’s inclusion on the UN terror list as pretext to freeze $9.5 billion of Afghanistan’s assets, thereby undermining its economy.
Given these conditions, what are the prospects for peace and stability in Afghanistan? The Taliban have pledged to not allow their territory to be used for terrorist activities against others. This is a hopeful sign and they should be encouraged.
Some of Afghanistan’s neighbours—Pakistan, Iran and China—have sent much-needed help. China has expressed willingness to help. Afghanistan’s enormous untapped mineral wealth will enable it to overcome the current financial difficulties if peace and stability prevail. The region will witness enormous economic growth to benefit the long-suffering people of Afghanistan, the region as well as the world at large.
This opportunity must not be lost.