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View PointWho is to be blamed for Afghans’ plight?

Who is to be blamed for Afghans’ plight?

Published: 16th Aug 2021 11:33 pm

December 24, 1979, could be regarded as one of the most unfortunate dates for Afghans when the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev sent his army to eliminate the President of Afghanistan Hafizullah Amin. The Soviets feared that Amin was switching sides, getting closer to America. The invading Soviet army executed Amin in what is known as Operation Storm–333. The killing of Hafizullah Amin irked the common Afghans who took arms to fight the Soviet invaders.

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Taking advantage of the situation, the United States of America (USA) entered into Afghanistan to support anti-Soviet groups popularly known as Mujahideen. The Americans wanted to convert Afghanistan as a Vietnam for the Soviets, which was not possible without the active support of Pakistan. Pakistan, a neighbour of Afghanistan, provided all kinds of support to America in its effort to train and arm Mujahideen. The Soviets finally tasted defeat, left the country in February 1989, but the turmoil continued.

Bloody Civil War

Post-Soviet withdrawal, Americans too lost their interest in Afghanistan and left it to its fate, ignoring how they have mobilised the Islamic radicals from all over the world, citing Soviets as infidels. We all are aware of what happened afterwards. Afghanistan slipped into a bloody civil war, and the Taliban imposed inhuman rules in the areas controlled by them.

Like Mujahideen, the Taliban also received military, logistic and monetary support from Pakistan. Due to their orthodox and narrow interpretation of Islam, the Taliban also got the backing of al-Qaida, the international terror organisation led by slain Osama bin Laden. In all these years, despite knowing well the presence of bin Laden in Afghanistan, the Pakistan army and its intelligence agency never turned their back on the Taliban.

It was bin Laden who conspired from Afghanistan and attacked America on 11 September 2001. This time America came back with vengeance to eliminate bin Laden and teach the Taliban a lesson. The USA also promised to help the common Afghan. It took its revenge almost after a decade and gunned down bin Laden in May 2011. Bin Laden was hunted down in Abbottabad, a city in Pakistan, by the US Navy SEAL team. Abbottabad is some 100 km from Islamabad, and it is hard to believe that bin Laden was there without the knowledge of Pakistani intelligence agencies.

Similarly, the Taliban leadership and its fighters got refuge in Pakistan. Some of the Taliban leaders were also targeted and killed by American drones inside Pakistan, like Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Thus, America was well aware of the fact that Pakistan was sheltering the Taliban. On different occasions, even the Afghan government raised the issue of Pakistan helping the Taliban.

Let us not forget that the Taliban never recognised the official Afghan government in the last 20 years. The Taliban remained involved in terrorist activities in Afghanistan and kept attacking civilians. It hardly hesitated to target hospitals, development projects and even educational institutes.

Crime at Will

The Taliban remained unapologetic for the crimes that it committed against the people of Afghanistan during its reign. It had the least concern for human rights and democratic values. It indulged in horrific crimes like stoning women to death on mere allegations of adultery, caning people for having a short beard, etc. Girls above the age of 8 were not allowed to study, female teachers and government employees were suspended. This dark chapter of Taliban rule is well known to the international community. Several Hollywood movies too depicted the plight of common Afghans under the semi-barbaric rule of the Taliban.

While everybody knows about the misdeeds of the Taliban, there is hardly any news that suggests a transformation in their political-ideological position. Recently, when the Taliban started gaining a foothold in Afghanistan after its offensive, it issued a diktat to local religious leaders to prepare the list of girls who are above 15 so that they will be married to Taliban fighters.

US’ Exit Strategy

No wonder the US was over-exhausted in Afghanistan, and after staying for almost two decades, it just wanted to exit. The US changed its exit strategy. Earlier, it was not a time-based approach but a condition-based approach. The new President made it a time-based exit, ignoring ground realities.

President Joe Biden declared that America had already won the war in Afghanistan as it killed its enemy number one, Osama bin Laden, in 2011. However, Biden has not explained that if elimination of bin Laden was the sole purpose of the American intervention, why it had not exited Afghanistan in 2011. American distress is well understood, but it is leaving Afghanistan without providing any solution. The Taliban is now in Kabul. Whatever the American narrative, in reality, it is the Taliban that finally won this long war and is supported by Pakistan.

Complicated Situation

Before exiting, America had almost outsourced all its political responsibilities to Zalmay Khalilzad, who was appointed as the special US envoy to Afghanistan. Zalmay Khalilzad had an old soft position for the Taliban. Khalilzad had written a piece in the Washington Post on 7th October 1996 titled ‘Afghanistan: Time to Reengage’. Here, he argued, “Based on recent conversations with Afghans, including the various factions, and Pakistanis, I am confident that they would welcome an American reengagement. The Taliban does not practise the anti-US style of fundamentalism practised by Iran”.

The position of Khalilzad appears to be more or less the same even today. In fact, he is now advocating every other country to talk to the Taliban, like he did when he was in India. With Zalmay Khalilzad at the centre of the US-Taliban peace process, the outcomes for many were on expected lines.

To conclude, several factors, like opium, ethnic division, complicate the Afghan situation, but we cannot absolve the US and Pakistan of the predicament of the common Afghan. A part of the blame also goes to the erstwhile Soviet Union. Now, when Kabul is under the control of the Taliban, we have to wait and watch. Let’s hope it is a Neo-Taliban; if not, we may have to prepare ourselves to see many dreadful pictures of common Afghans in the coming times.


(The author is Senior Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, South Asian University)




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