“The Domain of Kabul is a fastness hard for a foreign enemy to penetrate” wrote Zahir-uddin Mohammad Babur (1483-1530) the founder of Mughal dynasty in India that ruled parts of central Asia and India for several centuries in his extraordinary autobiography ‘Babarnama’. His autobiography contains details of Afghanistan’s political events and the culture of treachery of family and friends any of whom could be relied upon to grab for power if Babur went away for a few days. ‘Babarnama’ in details also tells about the culture, pleasant climate, description of cities and impregnable forts and agricultural riches of various areas. He goes on to write ‘Kabul has a very pleasant climate. If the world has another so pleasant, it is not known’. (Translation by Philip Greenspun). Babur fell in love with Kabul and after the conquest of India and establishment of the Mughal dynasty went back to Kabul the city he loved and spent last days of his life in Afghanistan. Unfortunately his grave was desecrated and destroyed by the first batch of marauding Taliban in 1992. Later the Agha Khan Trust for Culture restored the grave with funds from US and Germany.
Kabul or Afghanistan today is not what Babur described in his autobiography. It is a country that lies today in ruins, every person (man) on the street roams around with automatic rifles and submachine guns ready to shoot anybody and everybody he or they choose. They are the new Taliban (new generation as claimed by them) who have taken over Afghanistan from world’s most powerful country USA and its NATO allies which comprises of forty countries and equipped with latest weapons while the Talibs, as they are commonly called, fighting in rag tag loose shalwar and kurta and mostly barefoot armed with only AK47 rifles and grenade launchers. With the collapse of Kabul on August 15, the twenty year war in Afghanistan launched by US in 1999 at least for a while has come to an end leaving everyone guessing when will the next round begin, this time may be amongst the Talibs for grab of power. Since 1800 Afghanistan has had 28 rulers of which thirteen died violent death, 13 were forced out of power and exiled. Of these only one, Hamid Karzai, the immediate past US-backed President before Ashraf Ghani still lives in Afghanistan. The last one to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban over ran Kabul on 15 August was the sitting president Ashraf Ghani (2014-2021). While fleeing Afghanistan Ghani did not forget to take with him millions of dollars stolen from the public exchequer through his corrupt practices. Ghani has now resurfaced in UAE. Afghanistan has always been known as graveyard of empires and this time it was no exception.
Young Taliban refugees found themselves enrolled in Pakistani Deobandi (Quomi) Madrassas and in places where there were none they built one and besides being indoctrinated into Salafist doctrines (fanatical brand of Islamic fundamentalism). They were beginning to receive massive amounts of support through aid from Pakistan with generous help from the United States and United Kingdom. They were also financed by China and Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf. As documented by the US National Security Archive. “The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) played a significant role in asserting US influence in Afghanistan by funding military operations designed to frustrate the Soviet invasion of that country. CIA covert action worked through Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI) to reach Afghan rebel groups.” The CIA’s role in Afghanistan was corroborated by Hillary Clinton in 2004 in two days of continuous congressional hearings on the Obama administration’s foreign policy and brought a rare confession from her who acknowledged that the United States had a share of creating the problem that plagues Pakistan today. She very openly confessed that US created Taliban, armed them and abandoned Pakistan.
Once the Taliban insurgents were ready they began their overt and covert operation in Afghanistan. In a matter of few months 80 per cent of Afghanistan was taken over by them leaving the Soviets no other option to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1979. Soon Afghanistan was in the hands of Taliban who strictly enforced Salafism in Afghanistan not realizing that Afghanistan is a tribally and ethnically divided country comprising of at least twenty tribes or ethnic groups of which Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkmen and Balooch dominate. The Pashtuns comprises of 40 to 50 percent of the Afghan people and most of the Taliban are from this tribe. Usually tribes do not or cannot form a nation collectively. They are more insular in nature and would not tolerate the dominance of another tribe over them. Pakistan has an additional problem as a sizeable number of Pashtuns live in north western Pakistan who forms second largest ethnic group there. Pashtuns usually do not have much trust in usual civil law and prefer to settle all sorts of problem with guns or through some sort of violence. So though the US and NATO forces are gone from Afghanistan as of now, it seems a distant cry of any form or peace returning to Afghanistan. If past is the reference of the future, it does not seem that there is a distant possibility of Afghanistan emerging as a modern liberal state with even keeping the Islamic values in place if they have the intention. Turkey could be a model for them. It is more of culture than religion. For centuries Afghanistan has been a dominant country in the region but peace always remained elusive. Since the Taliban took over the control of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops there has always been incidents of suicide bombing, random firing, public execution and loss of life due to inner feuding.
As of now women have been ordered to stay home and wait for further orders. Most of the schools are ordered shut while thousands flee the country. Playing music has been banned and cinema halls closed. Afghan economy seems to be collapsing and the World Bank and other international agencies have stopped all sorts of funding.
The recent war of Afghanistan has been one of the costliest war in terms of lives lost and money spent. From available records, the US has spent at least three trillion dollars in last twenty years to train and equip three hundred thousand Afghan soldiers and militia with all sorts of modern weapons. These soldiers were supposed to have defended Afghanistan after US and NATO forces leave Afghanistan as per the decision reached between former US President Donald Trump and the Taliban in February of 2020. But once the US and NATO troops began to withdraw or even before, Afghanistan soldiers and militia began to surrender to the Taliban and provinces after provinces began to fall like nine pins to the Taliban. During the last twenty years of US and NATO occupation of Afghanistan 47,245 civilians lost their life while between 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan troops, seventy two journalists and 444 work forces also perished. The loss of US is staggering; 2,4442 US troops were killed and 20,666 wounded while 1,144 NATO personnel were killed by the Taliban. Both the US and the former Soviet Union spent millions of dollars in building and developing infrastructures in Afghanistan. India even built a hydroelectricity and irrigation dam over Hari River in Herat province known as Afghan-India Friendship Dam which was jointly inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on 4 June 2016. India maintained a good relationship with the Ghani regime. This may not go down well with the current Taliban.
Though the present Taliban claim they are unlike their predecessors and they will be more liberal but they are yet to demonstrate their intention. Yet a new government acceptable to all tribal and ethnic groups and the international community has to be formed. Thousands of Afghans including the former Taliban have begun to flee Afghanistan into neighbouring Pakistan. It is a foregone conclusion this will disturb the internal security of Pakistan and as the Taliban are the followers of Deoband Islam (Salafi/Wahabi school of thought) commonly known as Quomi madrasa as of now even India and Bangladesh cannot remain indifferent to its security issues. Deobandi brand of Madrasas are accused of teaching and preaching hatred and intolerance. Already there are unconfirmed reports that a number of madrasa students have left Bangladesh to join the rank and file of Taliban in Afghanistan. In a published report Bangladesh authorities have informed their Indian counterpart about the issue. Also in the political front the believers in Salafi brand of Islam in Bangladesh are reported to have expressed their satisfaction over the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. There is also a published report that there has been an informal meeting between BNP and Jamaat leaders in Dhaka after the fall of Kabul and BNP has expressed its desire to observe the situation and maintain a close contact. Jamaat is known to be followers of Taliban ideology. Some BNP leaders have even announced that beginning from December they will begin anti-government movement in new form.
The next few months will be very important and crucial for at least three countries, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Though the Taliban have promised not to behave like their predecessors but so far nothing is visible to say the previous Taliban are bad Taliban and the current Taliban are good Taliban. However, one thing is for sure, Afghanistan will never be a modern state and I will not be surprised that in a matter of months the country will be engulfed in another bout of bloody civil war. Already on Thursday evening a bomb blast outside Kabul Airport have killed scores of people including US troops and people scrambling to leave Taliban Afghanistan. Let peace get a chance in the region.
The writer is a commentator
and an analyst.