Finally it was America vs America
THE Vietnam war was actually fought between two super powers — the US and the USSR—with the South Vietnamese playing the proxy for the US and the North Vietnamese for the USSR. China, though not as powerful as it is today was also supporting neighbouring North Vietnam.
The first Afghan war was also fought between two super powers — the US and the USSR — with the Afghan Army led by Soviet forces fighting for the USSR and Afghan Mujahideen playing the proxy for the US and; Pakistan serving as the conduit for money and arms for the Mujahideen.
But the Afghan Taliban who have just retaken their country from the occupying US/ NATO forces after a marathon struggle of 20 long years do not seem to be the proxy of any major power.
They seem to have accomplished the miracle on their own. Ideologically both Russia and China are too far removed from the Taliban.
Even the oil rich Muslim Middle East currently seems too wary of the ‘terrorist entity’ to finance its war against the occupying forces led by the US, unlike the times when they had fully supported and financed the Afghan Mujahideen during the first Afghan war against the USSR and subsequently recognized the Taliban government (1996-2001) in Kabul.
But then the question is, how could a rag -tag army led by an ill-equipped Taliban not only fight the sole global super power for 20 long years but actually succeed finally in bringing it to the negotiating table to sign a seemingly equitable peace deal? A multi-million dollar question.
For scapegoat you have Pakistan because as both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fled across the Durand Line into Pakistan’s no-man’s land to save themselves from the Northern Alliance-led US troops advancing into their country, Pakistani troops captured the Al-Qaida terrorists and handed them over to the US while the Taliban were allowed to find safe sanctuaries mostly in North and South Waziristan in the then erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA).
Having suffered from the American fickleness in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union had virtually collapsed, Pakistan thought of saving for the rainy day, therefore it looked the other way as the Afghan Taliban set up Shuras in Quetta and Peshawar using which it planned and carried out insurgency in Afghanistan with the assistance of some Pakistani groups both official and non-official.
During the first Afghan war and immediately after that Pakistan itself was overwhelmingly dependent on the US both for funds and arms, though during the 1990s Pakistan was the most sanctioned country in the world after Libya.
To tell you the truth, the country was virtually bankrupt after having spent whatever it had on the two low-intensity 10-year long wars, one on the side of Taliban against Northern Alliance and the other on the side of Kashmiri freedom fighters against the Indian occupying troops in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).
So, Pakistan was hardly in a position to help the Taliban in any meaningful way to carry out its struggle effectively against the forces occupying Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the two US sponsored ‘elected’ presidents of Afghanistan, Karzai and Ghani had been successfully lured by India into an antagonistic position vis-à-vis Pakistan.
Feeling that it is being encircled by enemy forces, Pakistan put even more of its weight on the side of Taliban.
Still, it was too little against a too big a challenge. Meanwhile, FATF had started making it even more difficult for Pakistan to mobilise funds on the side to help the Afghan Taliban. You have the watches, we have time, the Taliban are supposed to have told the Americans, very early in the day.
And it is time it seems which has ultimately helped the Taliban to leverage America to defeat an impatient America hurrying to get out of the ‘forever’ war with no victory in sight.
Here is how America seems to have defeated America at the hands of Taliban, Washington’s seeming proxy during the last leg of the war: As the Taliban began fleeing the country, the invading Americans lost strategic focus.
They convinced themselves that ultimately the re-establishment of terrorist bases could only be prevented by transforming Afghanistan into a modern state with democratic institutions and a government that ruled constitutionally. Such an enterprise could have no timetable reconcilable with American political processes.
Afghanistan has never been a modern state. Statehood presupposes a sense of common obligation and centralisation of authority. Afghan soil, rich in many elements, is said to lack these.
Building a modern democratic state in Afghanistan where the government’s writ runs uniformly throughout the country implies a timeframe of many years, indeed decades; this cuts against the geographical and ethno-religious essence of the country.
It was precisely Afghanistan’s fractiousness, inaccessibility and absence of central authority that is supposed to have made it an attractive base for terrorist networks in the first place.
Tailpiece: India has much to lose from Taliban’s takeover.
Fate of over $3 billion worth of Indian aid projects spanning infrastructure, rural development and health hangs in the balance.
India, with billions of dollars at stake in trade and aid projects, is struggling to work out how to deal with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers.
Trade came to a halt after the Taliban blocked the main artery through Pakistan and paralysis of the country’s banking system has left Indian companies wondering if they will be paid.
Delhi has been pumping large sums of money into the country, mainly since 2011 when their Strategic Partnership Agreement (SAP) was signed. India’s aid since then is estimated at more than $3 billion, mostly in infrastructure, and includes more than 400 projects across all provinces.
Those have included the building of the Parliament building and the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, also known as Salma Dam.
Resolving these issues is complicated because it is still uncertain whether India would like to have any kind of relationship with the Taliban government.
Chances are high that New Delhi will not have any diplomatic links with Kabul until a democratic or “inclusive” government is formed.
Bollywood movies have played a significant role in building relationships between the countries and are by far the most-watched films in Afghanistan.
Many people have had learned to speak Hindi by watching movies, and Bollywood stars have legions of fans.
However, the singing, dancing and romantic themes of the movies are anathema to the severe and fundamentalist Taliban.
Any Bollywood ban is likely to add to the resentment of an Afghan population largely hostile to their new rulers.
— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.