By Raffique Shah
August 23, 2021
If there was anything shocking about what happened in Afghanistan last weekend, it was the millions of people who were surprised by the speed at which the Afghan regime collapsed, the military imploded and the Taliban swiftly moved in to declare itself the new government.
BBC journalists referencing Saigon way back on May 1, 1975, when the last Americans who were evacuated from a war that never should have been, reversed on board the aircraft, kicking away desperate Vietnamese who had worked for the US, and who wanted to escape before General Giap’s army took control of the country. “Experts” spoke of the colossal waste of US resources in pursuing yet another ‘mission impossible’ in a country and among a people who will never be tamed, not by Western standards anyway.
Twenty years ago George W. Bush using Americans’ anger over the World Trade Centre spectacular suicide-bombing by Al Qaeda terrorists, launched a war without end. The tragedy of it all, is that many Americans actually believed they had ‘liberated’ the country from primitive Islamists.
A writer, Akhilesh Pillalamarri, in a short historical article in 2017, wrote, ‘While it is possible to conquer territory in Afghanistan temporarily, and defeat the Afghans militarily in open battle, it is virtually impossible to hold the region down for long…the people of Afghanistan have nowhere to go to and can fight their whole lives, a luxury that outsiders do not have…minus permanent occupation, which would be bloody and cost-prohibitive, the only way to deal with Afghanistan is to deal with its plethora of local powers…and if this means accepting the Taliban in exchange for a modicum of stability, then so be it.
‘The alternative is an unwinnable, never-ending war…’
That, in essence, is what I, and others, had written back in 2001, free advice, which is way cheaper than the US eighty billion dollars being bandied about as what America paid private ‘contractors’ for intelligence gathering over the past 20 years. Some intelligence! I remember one of my lecturers on warfare back in Sandhurst in 1965 saying that based on its geography and topography, Afghanistan is as close to being ‘unconquerable’ a country as one could get. Its terrain is almost hostile-jagged mountains, myriad caves and caverns, cliffs…in other words, impossible and impassable country.
Its history also is instructive to those who wish to wage war against it, or govern it. From Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan and his Moghul marauders to, much later, in 1839, Britain’s first attempt to seize the strategically located country, a failed venture they later branded the Disaster in Afghanistan, it has withstood everything the great powers of the world could throw at it. Neighbouring Russia (then called The Soviet Union) trained its latest armour, aircraft and other hardware into an invasion that was launched in 1979 to support an atheist-communist regime that insisted on taking power in a country that was overwhelmingly Islamic. How much more stupid can one be?
That, too, ended in a disaster for the Soviets-but not before US President Jimmy Carter and the CIA had forged alliances with, and funded and armed a number of Mujahideen groups, which were based in Pakistan . Therein lay the seeds of radical Islam, out of which emerged Osama bin Laden’s Al Quaeda and—you guessed it—the Taliban. When a power vacuum was created in 1996 by the fleeing communists, the Taliban smartly filled it. Their first taste of power saw them trying to force the free-spirited muslim population into a harness of fundamentalism that was never going to work. Their virtual persecution of the female population and the strict Sharia laws which regulated even the length of men’s beards quickly turned huge sections of the population against them. Hosting Bin Laden when Al Quaeda mounted its devastating attack on America in 2001, paved the runway for a not-so-smart George W. Bush and associates to launch a war on Afghanistan that had little chance of success.
We have come a full circle. The Taliban is back in the seat of government, America has fled, shamed and wounded, and the world looks on. Taliban Mark II says it has learnt from its past and won’t impose harsh measures on its people that have no place in Islam. I say, let them prove their bona fides now. Show the world the human and humane faces of their version of Islam. Afghans who prefer not to live in such a society should seek and be given refuge in the countries that waged war on the Taliban. The women, with special emphasis on young girls, must be given every opportunity to be educated and to hold jobs they are qualified for.
Surprise us, Mullahs: create an Afghanistan that is as peaceful and as harmonious as it has ever known in its history.