The Americans lost the will to fight in Afghanistan. In former US President Donald Trump’s transactional world, there was no point in losing lives and wasting money on a country that fitted his ‘sh..hole’ description. Strategically, too, there was no clear gain if it only meant denying space to Russia and China. However, the present President, Joe Biden, belongs to a party that claims to be humanist and a promoter of democracy worldwide. But, he has continued many of Trump’s policies, including that of abandoning Afghanistan. One of the reasons for this is the crucial Leftist-Islamist faction within his party that has undermined, through its double standards, US foreign policy in many ways. As Afghanistan falls into the hands of medieval fundamentalists, there is similar deathly silence among India’s otherwise very vociferous feminists.
The ‘highly trained and equipped’ Afghan Army surrendered because it had no cause to fight for, no commitment to ‘an idea of Afghanistan’. Deeply divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, the spirit of ‘nationalism’ was entirely lacking. They shed their uniforms and found places to hide before the Taliban advance. (In India, too, there are forces that deride ‘nationalism’ in the name of diversity and group interests.) Dehradun’s IMA, which has trained many officers of this force, should strike them off its rolls as they could not even retain the dignity of the professional soldier. It also shows how weak is the opposition of even majority ‘moderate and progressive Muslims’ to radical Islamists, something in which the neo-liberals place much faith. The excuse is that bloodshed has been avoided – there will be peace but that of the graveyard.
A stunned world is hoping that the Taliban, or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as they describe themselves, will changes their ways and not repeat the atrocities of their earlier stint in power. Early statements after their entry into Kabul have been conciliatory, promising security to embassy staff and NGOs, but there is a limit to how much they can compromise on the ideology that inspired them to survive so many years in the political wilderness. Women, and minorities like the Hazaras, are going to face the brunt of their beliefs.
The situation is likely to trigger a refugee crisis that will impact on the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Iran. It remains to be seen if the focus will be on providing governance of anywhere the level that US backed Ashraf Ghani did, or the bloodlust will impel them to flow over the borders, particularly into areas inhabited by Pakhtuns. Having played the double game of helping the Taliban while aiding the US, Pakistan will be hard put to manage the consequences of its actions. The Great Game has not ended; it has just entered another, more dangerous phase.