Afghanistan Boggles The Mind!

Published August 1st, 2021 - 07:02 GMT
Taliban fighters are back in Afghanistan
Taliban fighters in Afghanistan (AFP File Photo)

What is happening in Afghanistan today is mind-boggling, a stark reminder peace might never be achieved in that country and what will happen is a replay of continual violence and mayhem.

The Americans are indeed brave to be pulling out the last of its troops come 31 August leaving the country to the deadly and sometimes whimsical needs of the Taliban coupled with a rag-tag of a furious army lead by Islamic State, Al Qaeda and their cohorts from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and a host of other central Asian republics.

What to do about Afghanistan has always been problematic, putting itself as an ungovernable country long when the British ruled India. It has been salaciously called that, a part of the world that has long became a graveyard for empires because of its tough terrain, people and sheer determination.

It started by the old Soviet Union when it invaded and occupied the country in 1979 and later by the Americans in 2001 after September 11 when it begun bombarding Kabul, Herat, Kundaz, Maza-i-Sharif and Kandahar in search of Osama Bin Laden and his compatriots for the alleged bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

This begun a love-hate military relationship between the United States and Afghanistan that lasted for the next two decades, a military occupation underpinned by the Taliban rulers of the country who had taken power in 1996 after kicking the Soviet-backed government there.

Whilst many Afghanis initially said the Taliban brought a modicum of stability to the country, it had brought the country to the dark ages with their archaic and sever form of fundamentalist Islam that relegated women and men too, to the far-end of civilization.

When the Americans came, it set out to reform the country through changing its political system by introducing some form of democratic, parliamentary rule underlined by elections, ministers and a president. The idea was to bring the country into the 21st Century even if it had to be done at the end of a barrel of a gun. Needless to say, its war machine and bombs from the skies sent the Taliban rulers high into the mountains with some scurrying towards Pakistan.

Fast-forward 2021! Political fatigue and the wanting belief to end “forever wars” is forcing the United States to get out of Afghanistan. The new US president Joe Biden is only carrying out an agreement ex-president Donald Trump made with the Taliban in February 2020 in Qatar to get out of Afghanistan for good. The idea is now for the Taliban and the local government to work together, sort out their problems and share in the cabinet of Ashraf Ghani.

But this is easier said than done. When America and its NATO allies of 38 countries begun to pull out their troops last May, something unexpected happened. The previous Taliban rulers and their supporters, a fighting army of about 85,000 started quickly to take over parts of the country, mainly its northern areas and make their way downwards towards Afghan Kabul. From the south, Taliban fighters are digging their shoes in Kandahar which had been the seat of their spiritual leader Mullah Omar in the late 1990s.

Today, they are back with force, putting the newly-formed Afghan army under great strain with some predicting that the Afghan government would fall and be replaced with the Taliban who would again bring the country back to archaic rule. But this is not Afghanistan of the 1980s where Cold War politics divided the world nor is it Afghanistan of the 1990s when Taliban rule through tooth and nail.

Today, the country has changed; that goes for its leaders, politicians, ministers and even the Taliban who have negotiated with the Americans in Doha and now are debating with the Afghan government about the best way to move forward. This despite their “intermittent”, checkered, “stop-go” style of negotiations that has dragged on for a good while.

While this maybe disturbing for some – and for some represents part of the violent culture in that part of the world which may have been realized by the Americans, and that’s why they turned a blind eye - it is a fact that negotiations were being carried out while bombs and missiles, maiming and killings were being made in different parts of Afghanistan.

This was chillingly strange, yet many in Doha seemed to have accepted this. Was the long-term objective, i.e., of reaching an agreement justified the mayhem? Well, maybe yes and no, for Afghanistan had long been in different stages of conflict war. Statistics maybe sparse but the UN suggests more women and children were killed in the first six of 2021 than any time since it began recording in 2009.  

Further, it suggests 38,000 civilians were killed between 2009 and 2020. This is not to mention the over 70,000 casualties over the same period. As well, more than 395,800 Afghanis were displaced in the last three years.  This is plus the fact from 2014 till 2019 45,000 Afghani security forces were killed in the war. It’s a drain on the country and a waste of human lives.

There was also a high death toll among American soldiers stationed in Afghanistan as 2400 were killed in the country and 20,700 wounded. This is by far the highest among foreign troops that were 98,000 in 2011 and slowly kept going down as the years moved to 2020 and 2021.

The US military operations in Afghanistan since 2001 were estimated at $776 billion by the Pentagon but Brown University researchers had put the cost of the US ‘wars on terror’ including in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria at $6.4 trillion. This maybe the real reason why Washington wants to leave Afghanistan regardless of the security costs.

However, America in its last days in Afghanistan, if that is the correct term to use, have been downplaying its troop pullout that currently stands at 2500. It is argued that contingents there will still be needed to protect their security interest. As well, there will always be American advisors with the Afghan army and it’s been suggested American troops will always be nearby if needed, ie, to fight terror like what’s happening today with the Taliban talks swathes of land from the north.

The Americans may actually see this as a show of force on the part of the Taliban whose negotiators are meeting in Qatar. Their muscle-flexing maybe just a way to get the maximum out of a deal with the Afghan government in Kabul like the suggestion they won’t accept an executive share deal under the current president of Ashraf Ghani and they want him to leave.

But this maybe a tactic as analysts say the Taliban got what they wanted which is global recognition and they would hardly want to squander that. In 1996 when they came to power, they were recognized by just three countries: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. Today they are recognized by Russia, China, India and many others and have built relations with these countries despite being out of power. They are a force to reckon with.

Thus this is the point were at now; it can’t be called “zero” but near enough as everyone is “politicking” or engaged in the game of politics, including global powers. The Americans, it seems are determined to get the Taliban and the Afghan government to sit together and talk it out despite the mess on the ground that is made almost exclusively by the Taliban rank-and-file fighters. Now, it is up to their political leadership to stop this but can they or would they want to at this point in time? One thing is for certain the Afghan issue is likely to be in the forefront of the world stage.

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