US-Afghan: 'A Riddle, Wrapped In A Mystery Inside An Enigma?'
Which is, is not
The regional summit in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, on September 16 and 17 under the auspices of the Shanghai Co-operative Organization, will search for greater clarity on whether or not the Taliban have begun to find their feet in Kabul.
There is undoubtedly more bounce in the tread of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mohammad Qureshi as he touches capitals of countries sharing borders with Afghanistan. Such a summit would for Pakistan be what dreams are made of. China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan all have borders. But the Tajik border with Afghanistan is supervised by Russian troops. Even otherwise, as members of SCO, both Russia and India will qualify.
New Delhi, which had placed its eggs in the Ashraf Ghani’s basket in Kabul under US supervision, is now looking for new hatcheries. A quest for alternatives has been tentatively on for some time. Has New Delhi been nimble or are some of the others listed above spotted in the new situation as an occasion to lessen New Delhi’s absolute dependence on Washington. The narrative that Washington has promoted Islamabad as a dominant player in Kabul, unsettles South Block. Which is why it is being whispered in New Delhi’s ears.
Reaching out to the Taliban or countries bordering Afghanistan, entails internal adjustments, toning down jingoism, a tricky proposition on the eve of elections in UP in 2022 or national elections in 2024. That is the Modi regime’s problem.
In Afghanistan, my mantra is: that which is, is not. Yes, on the face of it, the United States has suffered a defeat as humiliating as the one in Vietnam in 1975. In the minds of the new-cons around George W Bush, all the reversals of the 70s and 80s (and there were many) would be forgotten in the post Soviet “full spectrum global dominance”, the “American century”. But alas there never was any restoration of the American élan after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008-09. It has been downhill since despite the town criers who have been allotted the facility of the global media.
This media and its backers will continue to pester Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. The optics must be horrible for a people who have never been aware of the untold destruction of some of the world’s oldest civilizations. It would make your hair stand if you realize the callousness of those who looted the Baghdad museum, watched Palmyra, bombed and Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed. Yes the last act was by the Taliban, creatures reared in the hundreds of Madrasas on the Pakistan side of the border, financed by the Saudis, trained by the ISI and armed by the US.
Never forget Zbigniew Brzezinski’s words. “We were not worried about some stirred up Muslims' ' he said. “Our purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union.” This mission was achieved, but in the process were created Mujahideen/Taleban, the next target for the Military Industrial Complex, breeding Islamophobia, the driving force for more Talebanization and worse.
Biden’s speech on Afghan withdrawal has to be read in full. He has already set into motion the mother of all debates on foreign policy. “Foreign policy that emphasizes military restraint and diplomatic engagement and co-operation with other nations will serve American interests and values better than policies that prioritize the maintenance of global dominance through military means.” The new debate initiated by the Quincy Institute, is on these lines.
The focus, Biden said, will now be on “competition” with China and Russia. “And there is nothing China or Russia would rather have, would want more in this competition than the United States to be bogged down for another decade in Afghanistan.”
His amplification of this decision is refreshing. “The decision is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”
The figures Biden furnished were known but the break up was an eye opener: $300 million per day for 20 years? 20,774 American servicemen/women injured and 2,461 killed. “We’ve been a nation too long at war; if you’re 20 years old today, you have never known an America at peace.”
He cites what he rightly calls a “shocking and stunning statistic” for those who believe wars can be low risk or low cost: “18 veterans, on an average, die by suicide every single day in America.”
If Biden’s statement marks a sincere departure from recent American foreign excesses, America may well be on a path when it will recover its stature as a nation to be admired not feared. But those prone to dreaming such dreams too willingly must know how circumscribed a President’s power are. Barack Obama came to power swearing he would shut Guantanamo Bay as an “un American” facility. The facility still flourishes. A file for “eyes only” placed on the President’s table in the Oval office by the intelligence agencies will pulverize any President.
There is an expression in Persian: “Sahle mantane” which means incomprehensible in its simplicity. That is the kind of puzzle Afghanistan is today. On August 15, Taliban entered Kabul, an event touted as a great victory over the US. On August 24, William Burns, CIA Director, is accorded a welcome by Taliban’s Abdul Ghani Baradar for “secret talks''.
What on earth is going on? The existence of ISIS-K was known for years, why does military action take place only after 175 people including US servicemen have been killed by a suicide bomber outside Kabul airport?
Russia’s Permanent envoy to the UN Vassily Nebenzia was livid with US, UK, France, India for not accommodating his concerns about mass brain drain facilitated by the US airlift, and the freezing of Afghan assets. Is a scorched earth policy being pursued? Russia and China abstained from voting on the resolution on Afghanistan adopted by the UN Security Council.
Will the West squeeze the Taliban until the pips squeak? Another great game may well have begun at a time when Biden is singing a different tune. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma?