Hollywood for decades has been one of the most successful and trusted PR Managers of Pentagon, CIA and White House. No one could have given more positive spins to failures, debacles and mischiefs of the US than Hollywood did. For decades, people across the world were enthralled by John Rambo’s ‘heroic’ deeds in Afghanistan. Rambo was projected as a saviour and kind-hearted former Special Forces personnel who was single-handedly fighting the so-called ‘brutal’ Soviets. Little did people realise that John Rambo was hobnobbing with none other than the Mujahideens and fighting along with them, the same ones who were armed, trained and radicalized by CIA and ISI to fight the Soviets, and who eventually would metamorphose into today’s Talibans and Al Qaedas.
Likewise, it is a norm than an exception for Hollywood to project the Presidents of United States as kind-hearted, benevolent and larger-than-life ‘Superheroes’ who would go to any length to ‘protect the world’ (laughable though) and lead from the front. In the 1996 movie titled ‘Independence Day’, the protagonist President Thomas J. Whitmore, a former fighter pilot, not just took to air to lead a squadron of US fighter jets to attack alien spaceships, but also gave the ‘iconic’ speech where he stated:
‘Mankind: that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps its fate that today is 4th of July and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution- but from annihilation.’
He further stated, ‘We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight…’
In reality though, from Afghanistan, the US Forces quietly went into the night and vanished without a fight (not for the first time) even as the Taliban troops stormed into Kabul, the grand lectures of successive US Presidents on ‘Women Empowerment’, ‘Fight Against Oppression’, ‘Equality’ and ‘Democracy’ notwithstanding. Such is the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip, between what Hollywood projects about US leadership and US Armed Forces, and what they often do in reality.
Unlike West, Panjshir Bravehearts Refused to Accept Taliban Rule
Thus, while the West and also some of the major powerhouses of Asia remained silent spectators to the brutality of Taliban 2.0, and the return of their reign of terror, while a section of the western media tried its best to rationalize and justify the US decision to withdraw, it was Amrullah Saleh, former Vice President of Afghanistan, and his bunch of Panjshir Bravehearts led by Ahmad Massoud, who kept fighting fearlessly against the Taliban terrorists.
They fought for liberty, women’s rights, modern education and against oppressive regimes. They fought against all odds, in spite of knowing their inevitable fate owing to severely limited manpower and arsenal at their disposal, and with major powers of the world preferring to remain mute spectators even as Taliban terrorists aided by Pakistan Air Force and Special Forces went on a rampage in the Panjshir Valley, one of the last bastions of freedom where women had equal dignity and where education was given value. In reality, therefore, the US President and the White House did not fight against terrorists in Afghanistan but actually shook hands and handed over the reins of power in Afghanistan to them on a platter. This is in contrast to the spins that Hollywood movies give on the US.
US Could Have Armed Amrullah Saleh to Carry on the Fight, But Did Not
As the US Forces exited Afghanistan, they literally left behind a massive arsenal of weapon systems, communication devices and even a large fleet of military grade aircraft for the Taliban. Even though the US claimed to have deactivated (beyond repair) the planes left behind, the visuals of Talibanis flying Afghan Air Force Black Hawk helicopter depict a different story. The least the US could have done while exiting Afghanistan was to hand over most of these arsenal to the Panjshir-based National Resistance Front (NRF), so that they could have continued the fight. But for curious reasons, the US preferred to leave those weapons behind for a proscribed terror organization named Taliban.
Grand lectures of successive US Presidents, both the real ones and the reel ones in Hollywood movies, on human rights, democracy and equality notwithstanding, the US negotiated with the Taliban and treated NRF as a pariah. For the US perhaps, definition of terrorism keeps changing as per convenience.
Is EU Paying Pakistan Protection Money?
The European states have gone even a step ahead of the US. Perhaps for a fear of a repeat of the Syrian refugee crisis that led to more than a million Syrians migrating to Europe, European Union (EU) pledged financial support to neighboring states of Afghanistan to tackle the refugee crisis. Needless to say, much of that money would invariably go to Pakistan.
It is kind of appalling to see how the West continues to be fooled by Pakistan, time and again, and with impunity. For almost 40 long years, starting from 1980s, Pakistan has been minting money by taking the US and the West for a ride, and one gets amazed by the levels of tolerance (or stupidity) of the West in terms of still willfully giving in to dictums of Pakistan while knowing that the root of most problems associated with global terrorism, including the mess in Afghanistan, can be traced to the corridors of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, as well as the Islamist seminaries spread across the length and breadth of Pakistan.
In January 2018, Donald Trump, then President of US, wrote on Twitter, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools”. He further wrote, “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” The tweet was a reflection of the US predicament of knowing what Pakistan does and yet still not being able to get rid of it.
In fact, perhaps one of the key reasons why the US exited Afghanistan is its realization that the core problem is not based as much in Afghanistan as it is in Pakistan, a place where the US was reluctant to take the war to. And thus, the harsh truth remains that Pakistan kept on bluffing, and yet got what it wanted from the US and the West in terms of seeing them exit Afghanistan while Pakistan installs the Taliban-led government there, which, for all practical purposes, at least for the time being, would be nothing more than a proxy state of Pakistan.
Even as Taliban released a large number of terror detainees from Afghan jails, and some of the most-wanted terrorists coming out of their dugouts in Pakistan to take part in the Afghan government formation, the West continues to be in a state of slumber. Diminished in stature and relevance for all practical purposes, EU member states thought the best they can do is play ‘Santa Claus’ all over again and dole out some money. Yet, behind their pretence of charity is a sly calculation (woefully wrong though) that paying money to Pakistan to manage the refugee crisis would also help in keeping the Taliban and its bunch of radicalized militant jihadis under some leash.
The EU, in reality, is not paying for refugee management. It knows that most of that money would be usurped by Pakistan’s deep state. What it is paying is actually a sort of protection or ransom money on the false hope that this would prevent both the migration of not just refugees but also Islamist terrorists and the Taliban ideology into EU all over again.
Fatigued West Tries to Legitimize Withdrawal, Pakistan Brazens it Out
In fact, Pakistan has mastered the art of blackmailing the West with such finesse that it can brazenly use its Air Force and Special Forces to hit the anti-Taliban forces in Panjshir, and at the same time negotiate deals with the ‘fatigued’ and ‘helpless’ West for more funds to literally spread jihadi ideologies. What Pakistan did for 20 long years in terms of supporting the Taliban discreetly, it is now doing it openly. And yet, the West tries its best to rationalize its own exit and ‘window-dress’ the Taliban 2.0 whose brutality against women and minorities, banning coeducation, burning down amusement parks and books, snatching away young girls for use as sex slaves, disdain for modern education continues unabated.
Quite shockingly, Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff General Nick Carter even went to the extent of defining the brutal militants of Taliban as “country boys … who live by a code of honour…” What honour the British General was talking about is a million-dollar question but nothing in general is surprising anymore about the ostrich-like approach of the West, especially when Taliban’s new interim government’s ranks and files are filled with proscribed terrorists and terror sympathizers.
Will Pakistan Ever Let Afghanistan Become a Developed Modern State?
Factionalism within the Taliban rank and file as well as the possibility of Afghanistan getting mired in a civil war situation notwithstanding, Pakistan has more or less been able to create a proxy government in Afghanistan, something that it has wanted since 2001. It is however a foregone conclusion that Pakistan’s real objective is not to develop or create a functional state out of Afghanistan. For, a near-failed state like Pakistan can never create a functional state out of a semi-state like Afghanistan.
Therefore, apart from pimping for China and helping it ruthlessly exploit mineral resources of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s deep state would strive to do what it does the best, i.e., use the Afghan territory for breeding the next generation of Islamist terrorists to carry forward global jihad, and for which it would have easy access to funds flowing from Middle East. At the same time, it would demand funds from West by falsely pledging to keep the same terror groups at bay and preventing their flight to Europe and the US.
Besides, there is the lucrative narcotics trade that emanates from the poppy fields of Afghanistan. Pakistan would have its eye on that as well to keep its deep state and non-state actors in good shape considering its formal economy is as good as dead and is not in a position to sustain its armed forces on its own. It thus desperately needed to secure the narcotics trade to continue to get a pie of it. Development of Afghanistan is thus an anathema for Pakistan.
Can Taliban Ever Give Up Militant Radical Ideology and Embrace Modernity?
Besides, if one looks at the entire itinerary of Afghan ministers in the Taliban regime, with most being radical Islamist hardliners and terror sympathizers, it would be highly unlikely that the Taliban 2.0, for all its PR and for all the attempts at legitimization by the West, would ever be able to turn its back on radical extremist ideologies and embrace moderate Islam.
Certainly, they did not come to power to focus merely on building roads, schools, sanitation infrastructure and industries. And even if they strive to do so by any distant imagination, and get involved in nation building, their radicalized cadre driven by their obsession to wage war in the name of Islam would simply exit the Taliban and join other similar groups. At its core, the Talibanis are nothing but a bunch of radicalized illiterates indoctrinated in seminaries of northern Pakistan, who make money from narcotics trade and who know nothing but fighting with Kalashnikovs and perpetually in search of ‘enemies’.
No wonder their newly appointed education minister scoffs at the futility of Masters and PhD degrees and claims that Mullahs and Taliban have no PhD, MA or even a high school degree, but are the greatest of all. Therefore, the ‘Khorasan’ project for most of these terror groups is very much alive and for the entire Central and South Asia, there is a major danger lurking in the horizons of Kandahar, which would gather scale and momentum in the times to come. Taliban can simply not give up its militant ideology and objective of waging war in the name of Islam. Or else, Taliban would just not remain Taliban.
Is There Tacit US Approval behind What is Happening in Afghanistan Now?
In retrospect, two things are very clear. First, it is highly unlikely that Pakistan would have used its Special Forces and combat jets to pound on National Resistance Front in Panjshir without some kind of direct or discreet approval of the US administration. And if it did so without any green signal of the US, then it speaks all the more poorly about the credibility of the Biden administration.
Second, it does not seem that the US was ever serious about establishing a long-term sustainable and vibrant government led by bold political leadership in Afghanistan. Had it been serious, it would have backed to the hilt someone like Amrullah Saleh, instead of a puppet like Ashraf Ghani. The latter lacked the spine to lead his nation when he was needed the most. Unlike Ghani, Amrullah Saleh did not run away and pledged to continue the fight against Taliban.
In fact, it would not be entirely wrong to say that the revival of the Taliban 2.0 was itself funded by the US by endorsing the fake distinction between Good Taliban and Bad Taliban, by letting a large number of Taliban leaders to settle in Qatar and then negotiating with them for transfer of power even as Afghan Army was engaged in daily battles with the Taliban.
Time for India to Ask Some Tough Questions of Biden Administration?
As a flurry of US and British intelligence chiefs and NSAs make a beeline to visit India, it is perhaps time for India’s political leadership to ask some tough questions of the US administration about the mess they have left behind and whose impact on India is almost inevitable. Biden administration must be asked what they plan to do about Pakistan whose role in backing the Taliban is now out of the closet. The Americans must be asked whether they would support any intervention by either Iran or Russia in the near future if things get worse in Afghanistan, or create more impediments for them.
It took India 30 years to contain cross-border terrorism and its impact in Kashmir. It is for sure that the radicalized jihadis in Afghanistan would desperately seek the next war to fight and it is highly likely Pakistan would leverage that radicalized lot to once again foment trouble in India. Central Asia or Iran may not be spared either. The key question then would be whether India can remain a fence-sitter or it needs to act discreetly in tandem with Iran and Russia to contain the emerging catastrophe in the neighborhood.
Even as Panjshir Bravehearts fought it out against all odds, the world perhaps would soon be paying a big price for its silence and inaction. Perhaps, the only beneficiary of this would be the Western military industrial complex, which needs a war every few years to sustain itself. The seeds have been sown in Afghanistan. The West would make money from weapons sales. The Chinese would make money by exploiting Afghanistan’s mineral resources. The Pakistanis would survive by pimping for both the West and China, and extorting from both, while the rest of the world would perhaps have to grapple with the poison of narcotics and terrorism that would emanate from that place all over again.
Is it time for some course-correction? Is it time for India to take a stand and make a few bold decisions? Is it time for India to chart its own independent path to secure its future from the neighbourhood mayhem?
The author is a geopolitical analyst. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.