An­other Ac­tion Re­play?

Southasia - - Comment - Syed Jawaid Iqbal

The Soviet Union’s ex­pan­sion­ist am­bi­tions were brought to zilch in Afghanistan in 1989 when it had to with­draw its troops from the coun­try it had in­vaded, leav­ing it to var­i­ous fac­tions of war­ring war­lords. It was in re­ac­tion to the re­sul­tant blood­shed that the Tal­iban move­ment emerged. They were wel­comed by a pop­u­la­tion weary of the cor­rup­tion, bru­tal­ity and fight­ing be­tween the war­lords. How­ever, once in power, the Tal­iban fol­lowed their own agenda to op­press the pop­u­la­tion and pur­sue a rigid and mis­placed in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic laws, un­der which they pub­licly ex­e­cuted crim­i­nals and out­lawed the ed­u­ca­tion of women. It was clear at this junc­ture that Washington, which had in­di­rectly sup­ported the rise of the Tal­iban, re­al­ized that they needed to be dis­pensed with. How­ever, by this time the move­ment had dug its feet in, con­trol­ling al­most 90 per­cent of Afghanistan. They also pro­vided a safe haven to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Fol­low­ing 9/11, hav­ing ar­rived at the uni­lat­eral con­clu­sion that it was al-Qaeda that had hit New York and Washington on Septem­ber 11, 2001, the U.S. took ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity to in­vade Afghanistan and plant it­self in a re­gion that of­fered it the much-de­sired ge­o­graph­i­cal lever­age against Rus­sia, the Cen­tral Asian States, Iran and China.

In the process, the world’s sole su­per­power also de­cided to bro­ker peace be­tween the war­ring tribes and of­fer a mod­icum of good gov­er­nance to this sorely trou­bled and back­ward part of the world. Such has been the level of their ‘success’ on this count, that, af­ter more than a decade, they have noth­ing to show in terms of re­sults. The for­eign troops on Afghan soil have wreaked noth­ing but de­struc­tion and are now ready to hand things over to their Afghan coun­ter­parts and leave the peo­ple to their own de­vices. Though post-2014, the US and ISAF forces want the Afghan se­cu­rity forces to come for­ward, the peo­ple of Afghanistan are fear­ful that this could be a re­play of the early and mid 90s and they cer­tainly do not want a re­peat of the bloody eth­nic fight­ing that erupted then. The fear is that when in­ter­na­tional forces leave, mi­nor­ity Afghan groups may take up arms to pre­vent an­other Tal­iban takeover. It is even an­tic­i­pated that mem­bers of the Afghan se­cu­rity forces would desert the government and fight with their eth­nic lead­ers.

There is also mount­ing un­cer­tainty about the up­com­ing elec­tions. At about the same time as for­eign troops with­draw, the Afghan peo­ple will go to the polls to elect a suc­ces­sor to Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai. The Afghan government is al­ready weak and cor­rupt and if the next elec­tion is rigged, it is bound to give way to an­other round of civil strife which may re­verse Afghanistan’s fu­ture by sev­eral decades. It would also be im­pru­dent to be­lieve that the U.S. will ac­tu­ally va­cate Afghan ter­ri­tory. It took them some time to find a foothold in this strate­gic part of the globe. They have spent bil­lions of dol­lars in build­ing their pres­ence in Afghanistan and send­ing a mes­sage to the rest of the world that they are no more a mil­i­tary re­stricted to the At­lantic or Pa­cific Ocean and that they can strike at ma­jor global pow­ers and oth­ers, from really close quar­ters. As such, Amer­ica will con­tinue to main­tain more than a to­ken mil­i­tary pres­ence in Afghanistan and will not va­cate the re­gion any­time soon.

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