August 14, 2021

The Fall of Afghanistan

"Everybody knew that the Taliban was originally an instrument for Pakistani colonization of Afghanistan." - Christopher Hitchens, 'From Abbottabad To Worse' Vanity Fair, July 2011.

"Joseph Bradley: How do you like Pakistan so far? 

Maya: It's kinda fucked up." - From the 2012 film, 'Zero Dark Thirty.'

"I am considering two promises. One is the promise of God, the other is that of Bush. The promise of God is that my land is vast. If you start a journey on God's path, you can reside anywhere on this earth and will be protected... The promise of Bush is that there is no place on earth where you can hide that I cannot find you. We will see which one of these two promises is fulfilled." - Mullah Omar, from 'Mullah Omar - in his own words' published in The Guardian on September 26, 2001.

The fall of Afghanistan, authored by America and Pakistan, didn't happen overnight, though it may seem that way. And it reads like a horror novel, not a mystery or a thriller. 

Why Afghanistan has reached such a bottom continues to be asked. 

But Afghanistan never left the hole it was left in after the Soviets left. 

After its quick victory in the fall of 2001 Washington never had the desire to defeat the Taliban completely. And, now, in their retreat 20 years later they've basically put the country on the platter for them. 

And it isn't the first time they've backed the Taliban.

Ahmad Shah Massoud understood what the Taliban was and who was in their corner back in the 90s. An excerpt from, 'Afghanistan in the shadow of Ahmad Shah Massoud' by Hashmat Moslih, published on September 9, 2014: 

It is said that Massoud’s greatest enemy was his stubborn independence. When he was approached to make a deal with the Taliban, he had responded by saying: “If I have a place left beneath me to the size of my hat I will fight.” On other occasions, he had said: “If surrendering to the powerful was in our calculations, we would have surrendered to the Soviets.”

Towards the end of his life, he was convinced that not only Pakistan but the US and Saudi Arabia also support the Taliban. In an address to his fighters Massoud once said: “After years of fighting, finally we see that the US and the Saudis enter into negotiations with us on behalf of the Taliban…”

Afghanistan has had the misfortune of being a landlocked, strategic and resource-rich land with no history of unity. It is treated as a chess piece, nothing more. 

In recent times, the intervention of outside powers has stunted the development of the country. 

Lacking a functionung economy and led by corrupt politicians, its trajectory has been similar to Iraq's. But there is one key difference. Iran has been a better neighbor to Iraq than Pakistan has been to Afghanistan. 

Pakistan and Afghanistan have the same religion, share similar customs and have not fought a war against each other unlike Iraq and Iran. One would think there are enough commonalities to form an alliance and grow rich together.

But when countries are ruled by generals and warlords, as these two are, warfare is life. Culture, religion, education, civic infrastructure, everything, takes a back seat.

Pakistan's hunger for Afghanistan will never be satisifed. It has an outsized national ego and suffers from short-term thinking. Its generals truly believe they are a match for India and that controlling Afghanistan will give them an upper hand in a future confrontation.

Pakistan needs to be reminded how small it really is and that without America's protection it doesn't stand a chance in any fight.

Christopher Hitchens:

There’s absolutely no mystery to the “Why do they hate us?” question, at least as it arises in Pakistan. They hate us because they owe us, and are dependent upon us. The two main symbols of Pakistan’s pride—its army and its nuclear program—are wholly parasitic on American indulgence and patronage. But, as I wrote for Vanity Fair in late 2001, in a long report from this degraded country, that army and those nukes are intended to be reserved for war against the neighboring democracy of India. Our bought-and-paid-for pretense that they have any other true purpose has led to a rancid, resentful official hypocrisy, and to a state policy of revenge, large and petty, on the big, rich, dumb Americans who foot the bill. 

The tragedy of Afghanistan can't be understood without recognizing the strange American-Pakistani relationship and their joint support for Islamic extremists over the past several decades. 

Why, after the useful 9/11 and Bin Laden fictions, did Washington continue to paper over Pakistan's criminal transgressions in Afghanistan?

Maybe the cocky generals in Islamabad are following Israel's example and using nuclear blackmail against Washington. Or maybe Washington still believes it can keep Pakistan away from China. 

Whatever the reasoning, the outcome has been a bolstered Taliban and a country on the precipice of hell.