Sunday, 26 September, 2021

Afghanistan: Unending Deaths and Sufferings of Innocent People

Dr. Akhter Hussain

Afghanistan: Unending Deaths and Sufferings of Innocent People
Dr. Akhter Hussain

After more than three weeks of entering into Kabul, the Taliban have formed an interim, as termed, government. Here it is interesting to note that the government was formed after the visit of the Chief of the Pakistan Military’s intelligence (ISI) organisation. Many, having interest in Afghanistan, suspect that Pakistan military still holds the ultimate control over the Taliban whom they created years back with the assistance of the western powers. With respect to the US withdrawal, it is said that the US was contemplating for the last couple of years to withdraw completely from Afghanistan. It appeared that the country only wanted to have a face saving withdrawal through a negotiated process. For this reason, talks were held in Doha, Qatar with the Afghans, particularly the Taliban whom they ousted from power about 20 years earlier. The USA and its NATO allies remained in Afghanistan for about two decades to fight the Taliban. The fiasco of unending war and hostilities started with the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in the early 80’s of the last century.

However, the Afghan has had a very long history of war with formidable world powers many times in the recent history— first with the British, then with the Soviet Union and finally with the USA and its allies. However, it may be mentioned here that from ancient times, many battles were fought in Afghanistan. The Anglo-Afghan war is considered as the beginning of the modern day history of war and conflicts in Afghanistan. It included three wars (1839–42; 1878–80; 1919) in which the Great Britain tried to extend its control over Afghanistan and to oppose Russian influence there. Here it may be mentioned that because of Afghanistan’s geographical location it was considered as an effective buffer state between the British India and Russia. Increased Russian influence in Afghanistan was considered to be a threat for the British to continue as a colonial power in India. In 1893, the boundaries of modern Afghanistan were drawn by the British. It was called the Durand Line (2,640-kilometre (1,640-mile) running through the tribal lands between Afghanistan and British India, marking their respective spheres of influence. Now, it serves as the marked border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Durand Line splits the Pashtunistan into two separate countries. In 1919, a peace treaty recognising the independence of Afghanistan was signed at Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) between the Afghans and the British. Before signing the final document with the British, the Afghans concluded a treaty of friendship with the new revolutionary regime in the Soviet Union. With time, a “special relationship” evolved between the two governments that lasted until December 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979, under the pretext of upholding the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of 1978.

The Soviets were met with fierce resistance by the resistance fighters, called the Mujahideen, who proclaimed a “jihad” (holy war). The tide of the war turned against the Soviets in 1987 with the massive military aid given by the USA to the Mujahideen. The Soviets demoralised and with no victory in sight, finally withdrew in February, 1989. The long-term impact of the Soviet invasion and subsequent war was profound. Among others, the war created a breeding ground for terrorism and the rise of Al Qaida and Osama Bin Laden that profoundly changed the course of the world history in the subsequent years. It also saw the rise of a new force in Afghanistan called the ‘Taliban’ that captured the state power. It was formed in 1994 and was made up of former resistance fighters ‘Mujahideen’. The Taliban captured Kabul in 1996 and introduced strict Sunni Islamic Sharia rules.

However, everything changed after September 11, 2001, when four commercial planes in the US were hijacked and crashed into different targets. It is alleged that the attack was the brainchild of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who operated the attack from the territory of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Within the next one month, the US and allied forces invaded Afghanistan to stop Al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base of operations for terrorist activities across the world. From then on, another international war was waged in Afghanistan by another super power along with its allies with three objectives: the first, deposing the Taliban from state power; the second, from 2002 until 2008, defeating the Taliban militarily and rebuilding core state institutions in Afghanistan, and the third, protecting the common people from Taliban attacks and supporting efforts to reintegrate insurgents into the larger society. However, this approach largely failed to achieve its aims. The Afghan military and other forces built with US financial resources and trainings failed to protect themselves from the Taliban. With time, the Taliban became formidable force in Afghanistan despite America’s military presence and operations there for about 20 years. As mentioned earlier, the US entered into a dialogue with the Taliban to reach an agreement on peaceful withdrawal in Doha, Qatar. A full withdrawal of the US and allied troops initiated in 2020 and continued till the end of August, 2021. Even before the full withdrawal, the Taliban entered into Kabul as the victorious force and the Afghan military, to the surprise of all, offered no resistance at all. Now, it seems that Afghanistan has returned to the similar situation when the US forces had arrived 20 years earlier.

Afghanistan is a land locked country having borders with Pakistan in the east and south, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the north, and Tajikistan and China in the northeast. According to sources, the total number of Pashtuns is estimated to be around 63 million. Of which, 43.4 million (2021) live in Pakistan and the rest 1.53 million (2020) live in Afghanistan. It should be remembered here that the Taliban are overwhelmingly Pashtun in ethnicity like the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, erstwhile the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan and its military were instrumental in creating first the Mujahideen and later the Taliban with the western financial help and assistance. In the coming days, Pakistan with all likelihood will greatly influence and control the Taliban. It is suspected that the other western powers will also use the Taliban to destabilise the region. Iran is also a bordering country of Afghanistan. Iranians are mostly Shia Muslims, whereas, the Taliban belong to the Sunni Sect of Islam. There may also be instigation for Afghanistan from the countries suspicious and not in good terms to enter into hostilities to destabilise Iran. Former Soviet Republics like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have also common borders with Afghanistan and conflicts may also brew up in those places with the Afghanistan to put pressure on the current day Russia. These are some dark possibilities that are looming large in the horizon with the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. As for its very existence (resource supports and recognition) the Taliban like the earlier days will remain susceptible to the pressure of foreign powers. Internal differences within Afghanistan may also flare up into ethnic conflicts and insurgencies.

War anywhere in the world means deaths and destructions. It was also the case with the Afghan Wars. According to one conservative estimate that close to 47,600 civilians killed and more than double that number injured in Afghanistan during the 20 years of war since the US invasion. Earlier, in the war with the Soviet Union (1979-1989), about 1.5 million people lost their lives and 2 million more people were permanently disabled. Now, the US forces are gone and the Taliban are again at the helm of affairs in Afghanistan. Many expect that now relative peace and clam may descend in Afghanistan. But given the past records of the Taliban of their intolerance to the rights and participation of other ethnic groups in the governance process of the country and strict imposition of the Sharia Laws particularly in the case of the women, at some point of time and not too distant in the future, the country will again witness resistance and infighting, causing deaths and destructions. The sad part of the history of war in Afghanistan projects that every time it has been the innocent civilian population, especially the children and women, who were the ultimate victims. Unfortunately, the current change also indicate that more darker days are ahead and the rest of the world will only provide lip services to save lives and uphold the rights of the common people of Afghanistan.


(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)


The writer is a Professor, Department of

Public Administration, University of Dhaka