The Hollywood movie Rambo III was released in 1988. The main lead US marine John Rambo was played by Sylvester Stallone. Rambo’s character fights bravely, bombs and kills rice farmers in Vietnam, and saves his old friend Sam Trautman who was caught by Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
In the movie, Rambo fights alongside Mujahedeen forces (Holy warriors) with arms supplied by the US. Sam Trautman tells a Soviet general about the bravery of Afghans and how they have never been defeated by anyone symbolising the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan in the same year.
The movie ends with credits “This film is dedicated to the gallant people of Afghanistan.” The irony is America is in the same position as that of the USSR now after fighting its longest war for 20 years in Afghanistan.
On 16th August Afghanistan president, Ashraf Ghani resigned and fled the country as the Taliban took over the capital city Kabul. The Taliban which was in power when George bush invaded it in 2001 after 9/11 is back in power just before the 20th anniversary of the attacks on WTO and Pentagon.
In the last three months, the Taliban has swiftly captured most of Afghanistan converging on Kabul. Until the President’s resignation, the Taliban was controlling 18 of 34 province capitals.
Frantic scenes are being flashed across television channels with visuals of mayhem at Kabul airport, people thronging to airplanes, and falling from the sky. The 20-year war on terror that the US and NATO coalition waged against the Taliban has ended abruptly.
The signs of strong Taliban resurgence were already seen when the US army abandoned and scampered from its largest airbase at the outskirts of Kabul, Bagram in the middle of the night (on July 2nd) without informing the base commander.
Moreover, the resurgence of the Taliban has global ramifications with greater risk for regional instability.
Since 1978 Afghanistan has been the playground for various forces at play plunging the nation in various proxy wars.
Saur Revolution to USSR Retreat
The present-day conflict can be traced back to 1978 where the Saur revolution took place during the cold war between the USA and USSR. From 1973 Afghanistan transitioned from a monarchy to being a Republic.
In 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) backed by the USSR captured power after the assassination of Prime Minister Sardar Mohammed Daoud Khan. This revolution was brought about by sections of the urban middle class which did not have mass support across the nation.
It was a top-down revolution and Afghanistan as a country was still a primitive and predominantly tribal society ruled by religious conservatives. The views of religious conservatives were projected as views of Afghanistan’s public.
The radical social and economic reforms introduced by the ruling PDPA focusing on land reforms, abolition of feudal relations, ensuring the equality of rights of women, and increasing nationalization of the economy was projected against the primitive culture of Afghanistan.
The US pumped in more than 3 billion dollars in arming and training the mujahedeen’s (holy warriors) calling them freedom fighters against the Soviets who entered Afghanistan to defend the Socialist government.
Saudis played the role in providing religious indoctrinations to wage religious war against the Soviet Union terming them infidels and non-believers occupying Afghanistan.
Women and Children fled to the neighboring countries and the majority of them to Pakistan. The children who got educated in Pakistan’s madrasas under the patronage of Pakistan’s ISI, Saudi Arabia’s clerics were known as Taliban. The word ‘Taliban’ means “Students”.
When the Soviets retreated in 1988 the inner power struggle between various tribal warlords of Mujahedeen almost tore apart Afghanistan in the first half of the ’90s. After the retreat, Soviet Union subsequently collapsed into various countries which ended the Cold War.
Rise of Taliban, Al Qaeda and US Invasion in Afghanistan
Various tribal groups and shadow armies vowing allegiance to narrow description of Islam and who fought Soviet operated from Afghanistan. The power vacuum, the civil war between different warlords, and the vast arms and ammunitions left by America made fertile ground for the Taliban’s capture of power in 1996.
Strict Sharia laws were passed, and women were confined to four walls barring them from education and work. People who defied them were shot publicly and orderlessness ruled Afghanistan in the name of Islam.
Osama Bin Laden who was hailed as an anti-Soviet hero started turning his back on the US and started operating from Afghanistan against US interests in the region. Afghanistan became a sanctuary for Al Qaeda and Islamic groups in the ’90s where they turned against America who trained and funded them.
This culminated in an attack on World Trade Centre and the pentagon by Al Qaeda on September 11, 2001, by highjacking American airliners. The attack was masterminded by Osama Bin Laden.
America under George Bush with support from Britain attacked Afghanistan immediately and claimed to remove the Taliban from power with 2 months with an indiscriminate bombing campaign across Afghanistan calling them Taliban and Al Qaeda bases.
With this intervention America completely uprooted the already weakened social fabric of Afghanistan with half the population fleeing mainly into Pakistan causing a massive migrant crisis in the region.
In the name of democracy, they created puppet regimes comprising of the most corrupt stooges who listened to American generals’ orders. In the last held elections only 10 lakh population voted from the population of 4 crores and Ashraf Ghani won 5 lakh votes in a rigged election. The US committed human rights abuses and massacred ordinary Afghans in the name of fighting the Taliban.
At the peak of the Afghan war, there were more than 1 lakh American troops on the ground from 2009 to 2011. This does not include the private militias/contractors that were operating in Afghanistan. In 2015 under the command of Nobel peace prize winner Barak Obama US army bombed a hospital in Kunduz killing 42 people.
There is documented evidence of the US force’s involvement in rapes of Afghan women, human trafficking, the takeover of opium production and drug trade, hunting children for sports and recreation with no accountability.
These atrocities along with the sorry state of proxy governments furthered the growing resentment towards American occupation and made the Taliban more acceptable to the Afghan people. Former Presidents George Bush, Obama, and Trump to present President Joe Biden have been asserting that the Taliban has been defeated.
After 20 years of futile war at countless lives lost and the expense of 2.26 trillion dollars, America has decided to pack up and leave the Afghans to their miserable fate. What’s worrying is Taliban who fought with vehicle-mounted guns now have the latest ammunitions such as Modern guns, laser guns, Humvee Vehicles, Aircraft, Helicopters that were provided to Afghan security forces.
The human cost of the US intervention in Afghanistan tells a tragic story. The rough estimate of casualties of American service members killed is 2,448, U.S. contractors is 3,846, Afghan national military and police is 66,000, Coalition forces is 1,144, Afghan civilians is 47,245, Taliban and other opposition fighters is at 51,191.
In the name of fighting terror, America has wreaked havoc in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan to name a few. Words like “nation-building”, “fighting terrorism”, “defending democracy”, “protecting women’s rights” were used as rhetoric to plunder the mineral-rich country.
Afghanistan proves beyond doubt that there is not an iota of principle in America’s foreign policy and its military interventions. The lives of ordinary U.S. citizens and foreign nationals are of no worth as long as their corporate interests are met. The world needs to be cautious of being an American ally as it is amply demonstrated with its many betrayals.
Afghanistan and its Neighbours
Both Obama and Trump promised to bring back the troops. Present President Biden recently stated that he will pull back troops by September 11 symbolizing the 20th year of the biggest terrorist attack on American soil.
The resurgence of the Taliban poses many questions on the American foreign interventions and its foreign policies across the globe. The pace at which the unorganized Taliban recaptured power in a coordinated way also raises questions about whether some sort of deal was finalised between the US and the Taliban beforehand.
In the runup to the collapse of the ruling government Taliban did not fight the government and the coalition troops just withdrew in a phased manner rather than the Taliban have to wage a fight to capture main cities.
Since the Taliban was mainly educated and trained by Pakistan ISI multiple inferences can be made. Pakistan traditionally has been an ally of the USA and has helped the US create funds and sustain the Taliban in exchange for the massive economic aid it receives from the US.
Be it for using them for Anti-Soviet Campaigns or against the post 9/11 war against terror. Pakistan was used as a launchpad for operations in Afghanistan. And since Pakistani ISI played a pivotal role in all these operations the present geopolitical scenario favors both Pakistan and the Taliban with more bargaining power.
China has invested heavily with the tune of 46 billion dollars in China -Pakistan-Economic Corridor(CPEC) for its ambitious Belt and Road initiative (BRI). China wants to include Afghanistan in its CPEC project. Russia and China were the first to start negotiations diplomatically with the Taliban.
China has extended its Shanghai Cooperation Organisation membership to Kabul and has urged the Taliban to shun arms. Taliban has also sought good relations with China and all neighbors since Afghanistan shares a border with China. As of now, the Taliban will have larger bargaining power.
India on the other hand did not engage with the Taliban in any way until recently. USA and Taliban signed a peace agreement in Doha which India participated reluctantly after much delay.
The provisions of the deal include the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan, a Taliban pledge to prevent Al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control. The deal was supported by China, Russia, and Pakistan and unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council.
India has invested in Afghanistan reconstruction and many mineral-rich mining industries aligned with American interests. Till now India hasn’t expressed any independent views on the Taliban rise and its effect in the region especially w.r.t to looming threat to the greater Kashmir region.
Instead of having an independent, consistent policy with the changing geopolitics in the middle east and central Asia, India is working in the shadows with American interests. India should consciously join hands and work with all neighboring nations of Afghanistan including Pakistan to create lasting peace and prosperity in the region. India, instead of working with the old framework of alliances with superpowers should work with changing multipolar framework.
Afghanistan is a consortium of different regional tribal chiefdoms aligned to Islam and the stability of the group itself is not guaranteed because of the changing interest in the region.
China has never interfered militarily in another country. But, in Afghanistan, the American and Chinese interests might collide in the future as the result of America’s “contain China” policy and India should not be a scapegoat for American interest in the region. India should reconcile with the Islamic world as soon as possible building bridges. China, Russia, Iran have already formed a new block against America’s military imperialism and destabilization in the region.
Pakistan is a pivot state where its bargaining power is more dealing with both America and China. It only remains to be seen where the present government is headed following America’s shadow. India during the first cold war was the leader of the non-aligned movement and in the coming cold war should tread carefully in the region engulfed with religious fanaticism.