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Afghanistan, the international orphan, thrown to the wolves once again

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Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This time-tested adage succinctly sums up the fate that awaits US and its allies, following their hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. Their meek surrender has left millions of Afghan citizens, including women and children, at the mercy of the marauding medieval jihadi Taliban warriors. It’s a cruel irony that “Taliban” means students in Arabic.

USA entered Afghanistan two decades back, following the almost apocalyptic 9/11 attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda terrorists on the symbols of USA’s commercial and defense might right in the heart of the country. It had jolted the superpower out of its smug belief that its geographical location across the oceans, somehow provided it immunity from the fires of terrorism, while it flagrantly misused jihadi terror as a tool to destabilize regimes around the world. Their miscalculation singed them badly then and will singe them once again in the future.

US and its allies began its famous “war on terror” in late 2001, following the ghastly 9/11 attack. The stated goal of their entry in Afghanistan was to disrupt use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base and to target military capability of Taliban. USA’s mission Afghanistan has dogged four presidents with mounting military casualties and a ruthless enemy staring at them. Endurance has never been a hallmark of US foreign policy. Guided mainly by selfish short-term gains and self-preservation, however hard they may couch it in abstruse diplomatic language, it was only a matter of time before US once again abandoned the hapless citizens of a country to fend for themselves while they beat a hasty retreat. Their withdrawal was even more poorly thought out than their entry in Afghanistan.

In April this year, President Biden had declared that US had achieved its mission of denying safe haven to terrorists in Afghanistan, as the US troops prepared for a complete pullout by mid-September. However, just weeks before their complete withdrawal, Taliban have seized the momentum and captured the northern city of Kunduz this Sunday. It is the third provincial capital to have fallen to the Taliban in recent weeks. A US intelligence report appearing in newspapers today has estimated that at this rate, Kabul might fall to the Taliban in less than 90 days.

International community must act and act fast. Time is running out. However, the odds are that they will do nothing as Afghanistan falls to the marauding ways of the Taliban. Smugness about their own security will again get the better of their judgment, with little realization that once it consolidates in Afghanistan, the Talibans and the Al Qaedas of this world will train its guns against the democratic world in its immediate neighborhood (including India) and across the seas.

Preferring self-preservation and realpolitik over loftier ideals of liberty and human rights might be morally wrong, but it’s not exactly a vice. In fact, most diplomats frequently and proudly quote “there are no permanent friends or enemies in international relations, only nation’s interests are permanent”.  But a line must be drawn when implications of your actions might endanger the life and liberty of millions of citizens including defenseless women and children in Afghanistan and beyond. Self interest of nations is a big thing but not everything. There comes a time when powerful nations must stand up and side with what Indian philosophy calls “Dharma” or that what is right.

As an Indian observer watching from the sidelines, the charade of Doha talks and a peace treaty between the Taliban and Afghan government hurriedly brokered by an eager to leave US and other greedy mid wives like Pakistan and China, amused and horrified me in equal measure. No wonder the talks of a joint government evaporated faster than camphor as Taliban upped the ante against the Afghan forces, not even waiting for complete withdrawal of US troops. With no boots on the ground, the aerial bombings of Taliban targets recently by the US air force seems to be too little and too late.

Taliban, with no moral compunctions, often uses women and children as human shields. Indiscriminate aerial bombings may cause lot of collateral damage of human lives without achieving the desired outcomes. Taliban is a rag tag militia with around 50,000 fighters as compared to around quarter of a million Afghan troops, with better equipment and training. Then why is Taliban winning the battle. Well, the whole world and their grannies know the answer. Taliban is just a front. It is fully backed on the ground by the jihadi-military complex of Pakistan  with both equipment and men while China, eyeing Afghanistan’s huge mineral reserves, is providing the financial support.

Pak proxies and as per some accounts, even army men are fighting alongside the Taliban. When we see US defense establishment bearing pressure on Pakistan to rein in the Taliban and Pakistan feigning helplessness, we often wonder if being stupid is the sole criteria for qualifying as a “super” power. After all US was led by the Pakistan army on a wild goose chase of Osama Bin Laden across the mountains of Tora Bora while the dreaded head of Al Qaeda was cooling his heels in Abottabad, right under the nose of the Pak establishment. Benefit of doubt can be given if you are taken for a ride once. But if you repeat the same pattern again and again hoping for a different outcome, you are deluding no one except yourself.

The implications for India are grim. Once Pakistan achieves control in Afghanistan through Taliban, it’s jihadi proxies like Taliban, LET, JEM will train their guns against India in Kashmir. India has a track record of showing unparalleled resolve in fighting such terrorists and will continue to do so in future. However, will the western world be able to withstand another 9/11. By withdrawing from Afghanistan hurriedly, the western world might have shown a red rag to the raging bull. It is a matter of time before the terrorist factories in Afghanistan target the west with another ghastly terror attack. The path to lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region lies in reining in Pakistan’s army and the jihadi-military complex that it runs. If it takes crippling sanctions to do so, so be it.

A resurgent Taliban will only come to the negotiation table if Taliban or its patrons are made to pay for their wanton ways. A UN peacekeeping force should be deployed soon to protect ordinary citizens from the raging battles. But the onslaught of Taliban will have to be ultimately stopped by Afghan army and people. Because their liberty and freedom are at stake. If they lose, the consequences for them and their future generations will be disastrous.

Recent atrocities faced by Yazidis in Iraq by ISIS, inspired by similar jihadi philosophy, cannot be ignored. Rapid arming and training of Afghan army should continue so that they can put up better resistance against the medieval marauders. They need full support and best wishes of the free world as they carry on their battle against the medieval impulses of Taliban.

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