Taliban in Afghanistan. What’s next?
There is no way of safeguarding respect in a defeat unless the victor is gracious and shows humility. That will determine the future course of events in Afghanistan. After Taliban took over surrounding Provinces in a span of 11 days, they encircled Kabul. On 15th August 2021, they overran Kabul without resistance. Predictions by pundits of hand to hand combat in the streets of Kabul never materialized. A debacle of humungous proportions turned all strategies and plans upside down.
As a student of politics and history, I find significant events have an analogy from the past. The crumbling of Ghani regime reminds me of “Trojan Horse” in the takeover of Troy by Greeks. An event captured by historians, most prominent being Homer’s “Odyssey”. 10 years of siege of Troy by Greek forces had failed to yield results. At the behest of strategist Odysseus, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse outside city walls. The Trojans thought it was a peace offering to their dieties. Actually, it was carved inside to conceal elite warriors.
After completing the horse, Greeks pretended they were giving up and sailed away in their ships. Relieved and jubilant, the citizens of Troy pulled the horse into their securely protected bastion as a trophy. As they slept, after celebrations in drunken stupor, the hidden Greek warriors snuck out and opened the City gates. The Greek forces had returned under the cover of darkness. Effortlessly, they took over Troy ending a 10-year war. Similarities can be found in the takeover by Taliban of Kabul. Who were the “Trojan Horses” on the 15th day of August? They were the common Afghans who were fed up of foreign occupations and corruption spanning 40 years.
We need to view the recent events in proper perspective. During two decades of foreign occupation by Western forces led by US, they did everything in their power to subdue Taliban and introduce Western democracy. They spent over a trillion dollars to transform Afghan society. It included billions spent to train and equip the 300,000 strong Afghan army with latest weapons and an air force. They were meant to confront the pickup truck driving 75,000 Taliban wielding hand guns and shoulder fired rockets. On paper it was very doable for strategists in Pentagon and intelligence agencies of NATO countries. It was the gravest miscalculation of this century.
It reminds me of a quote made famous by US President John F. Kennedy after the debacle of Bay of Pigs; “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” Afghan defeat is a hot potato. Its blame is being passed around with everyone pointing fingers. The main brunt is being faced by President Biden; he is the Commander in Chief of the most powerful army. It is a huge embarrassment. You can make out from his speeches that he is bitter and angry. One understands his frustration as he has been handed a disaster in the making under three US Presidents. The entire edifice of this war was constructed on lies and false assumptions.
Biden by ending an unwinnable war did the right thing. Only a few world leaders openly called the conflict futile. Prime Minister Imran Khan is one of them. President Biden sounded like him when he stated “Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires”. I have elaborated on this in my previous articles.
The past will be dissected minutely. However it is extremely important that policy makers take a deep dive to sensibly assess the new emerging realities. Present takeover by Taliban within weeks is not just based on their military prowess. It represents the popular will of Afghans, desperate to be rid of foreign occupation and the corrupt and fallacious democracy. This thinking gained acceptance amongst Afghan Army and power centers around the country facilitating Taliban victory with such speed. Afghan soldiers are not cowards, they were pragmatic.
Another very important aspect that policy makers need to understand is that Taliban in 2021 are not the same as the nineties. Then, they were fresh out of madrassahs with little worldly exposure, zealous to a fault with a blinkered world view. Two decades of resistance against the combined fire power of Western military has been a sobering experience that has matured them immensely. No one can doubt their will, what they need to demonstrate is willingness to accept the realpolitik of the region, gain acceptance and have a contemporary world view.
Thus far Taliban have shown restraint. Western media is awash with happenings at the Kabul airport. A person falling off a plane is truly tragic. It is not because they were escaping being butchered or hounded. The mad rush is out of fear of possible future retribution. It is important that does not happen. Taliban should follow in the footsteps of our beloved Prophet Mohammad, PBUH, after his victory in Makkah. The need of the hour is to give their citizens a sense of ease and comfort assuring them that their sacrifices to achieve freedom will not go in vain. Afghanistan needs to emerge from the ashes to rebuild as a self-respecting nation. They need to unite for a prosperous future in partnership with powers in the region that wish them well. They need to work on being recognized.