April 29, 1975, and August 15, 2021. The two photographs, 46 years apart, went viral on social media around the world on Sunday. The ’75 photograph is of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. The second picture is of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
The subject of the two photos is the same ¾ the US administration was rescuing their diplomatic staff from these two cities by helicopter. But in the case of Kabul, the picture was not as tragic as fleeing Saigon. Because, about 19 months ago, on February 29, 2020, the United States had accepted defeat and had signed an agreement with the Taliban. The primary condition of this agreement was that the United States and its allies wouldwithdraw troops from Afghanistan. It is unknown whether the treaty signed by the then Donald Trump government of the USA had consulted the Indian government or not. Of course, the United States had no statutory obligation to consult on the agreement with its friend, India.
But the Trump administration should have consulted on a deal with friendly India based on the apprehension that the Taliban-US deal would directly impact India. After the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan, India is faced with a situation that the country will have no role to play in that country and,in the worst scenario, not even a diplomatic presence will be seen. This deal between the Taliban and the USA thwarted nearly 20 years of efforts to rebuild a relationship.
Afghanistan is important for India’s strategic interests in the region. It is probably the only SAARC country whose people have a lot of love for India.
“The war is over!” came themessage from the Taliban. The Taliban stormed the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Sunday, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to resign. Taliban militants gathered outside the presidential palace yesterday for a “peaceful transfer of power.” The Taliban announced on Monday morning that the war in Afghanistan was over soon after taking control of the presidential palace. President Ashraf Ghani had fled from the country on Sunday morning.
Fleeing of Ghani and leaving the countrymen in grave danger has angered the Afghans, while The Taliban see it as a major victory. However, the former president claims that he has left the country to avoid a terrible blood bath. The political spokesperson of the Taliban, Mohammad Naim, has commented, “Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the Mujahideen. They saw the fruits of their efforts and sacrifices over twenty years. Thank God the country’s war is over.
” When asked when the new government will be formed in Afghanistan, Naim said the whole matter would be made known soon. The Taliban do not want to live in isolation but are interested in establishing peaceful international relations. Naimadded, “We have achieved what we were striving for, namely the freedom of our country and the independence of our people. We will not allow anyone to use our lands to target anyone, and we do not want to harm others.”
The US administration, including US President Joe Biden, has been embroiled in thiscomparative analysis of twodays. “Our goal has never been to build Afghanistan brick by brick,” Biden said in a late-night (IST) speech on Monday. The US President did not stop there. He added that he oversees the US military operation. Butthe people whoare in power in the Afghan administration and had received US assistance for the past 20 years should be held accountable for the present situation in Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani, who has handed over power to the Taliban without a fight, should be asked his question. Shortly after the speech, the US President went to Camp David for a holiday.
Joe Biden is partly right. Where is the USA’s rationaleto spend thousands of crores of rupees on Afghanistan for decades and self-sacrifice its soldiers? The US war mission in Afghanistan was the longest in the history of the USA. Ordinary Americans wanted to forget about it. Most of the numbers mentioned below are from Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School at Harvard University and the Cost of War project at Brown University. Since the United States fought the Afghanistan and Iraq wars together between 2003 and 2011, and many American troops have fought in both wars, some of the figures add up to both post-9/11 US wars. Till April of this year, 2448 US soldiers and 3846 US contractors have died in Afghanistan.
According to the US Department of Defence, total military spending in Afghanistan (October 2001 to September 2019) reached 778 billion dollars. Apart from this, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), an official component of US foreign policy, and other governmental agencies have spent 44 billion dollars for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
In other words, according to government data, a total of 822 billion dollars was spent in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2019. But thisfigure doesn’t include any cost to Pakistan, even though the United States has been using Pakistan as a base camp for Afghan-related operations. President Joe Biden has not discussed why people and money have been wasted for the last twenty years.
Probably, as the US President, he is not in a position to spell out. The re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan today is not a sudden event. The Indian government or experts in international diplomacy are surprised to see Taliban leaders drinking tea at the Presidential Palace in Kabul within 100 days of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in May this year, thereby ending a 20-year military standoff. I strongly feel that these experts are faking ignorance.
An international conspiracy against Afghanistan began in 2010-11 during the administration of former US President Barack Obama. Under the auspices of the US Central Intelligence Agency, two countries from the Middle Eastand Pakistan’s ISI were involved in this conspiracy.
Before analysing this plot, let me narrate an event. Soon after 4,000 US marines flooded into Afghanistan’s Helmand River Valley on July 2,2009, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar called top Taliban regional commanders together for an urgent briefing. The meeting took place in southwestern Pakistan, not far from the Afghan border but beyond the reach of the Americans.
Baradar told the commanders that he wanted only to maximise enemy casualties while minimising Taliban casualties. He ordered them that it is futile to go for a head-on collision against the Americans as they have modern and higher power firearms. Instead, he had urged them to rely on guerrilla tactics whenever possible. To prevent the enemy from following the Taliban, he asked them to install “flowers” (IEDs) along their path. The commanders should concentrate on small ambush with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
He gave a special warning to his commanders that he would blame each of them for the deaths of Taliban fighters. “Put your weapons on your back and stay on your motorcycle,” Baradar advised them. “America has more military power, but we have much more faith and a sense of responsibility than the Americans.”
I mention this incident published in the international magazine ‘Newsweek’, because the centre of recent events in Afghanistan is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Baradar was the Taliban’s number two in 2009. He is still number two, despite being in prison in Pakistan for eight years.
On February 8, 2010, Abdul Ghani Baradar was suddenly arrested in Karachi, Pakistan. The Pakistani police and the ISI arrested him after receiving information from the US intelligence agency CIA. There are other stories about his arrest. But what is most surprising is that despite being in prison, Baradar’s power, his control over the organisation and everything else has not diminished in 8 years. He was in control of the secret funds of the Taliban. While Baradar was in prison, the Taliban emerged from Pakistan’s hiding place and set foot in the arena of international diplomacy.
On June 20, 2013, the Taliban opened its first foreign office in Doha, Qatar. Almost two years before the office opened, at least 20 Taliban leaders had been living there under US surveillance.
In 2013, the Taliban began informal peace talks with the United States, which also had the consent of the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The founders of the Taliban were Mullah Omar and Abdul Ghani Baradar. Omar died in 2013 and was replaced by Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan in 2016. Now the Taliban chief or emir is Maulvi Hibatullah Akhundzada. Significantly, despite the significant changes in the organisation, the second-placed leader never got changed. Since 2013, there has been a strange shift in international diplomacy, mainly due to the initiative of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.A decade after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and attempted killing of Taliban leaders in 2001, many of these countries havebecome supporters of the “good Taliban-bad Taliban” doctrine. With the participation of the Taliban in peace talks with the USA, the Taliban no longer remained an outcast in intellectual politics and diplomacy. On October 25, 2018, Pakistan released Abdul Ghani Baradar.
ZalmayMamozy Khalilzad,Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the US State Department, had announced that Pakistan had released Baradar in response to a US request. The script was ready. As soon as he was released from prison, Maulvi Hibatullah Akhundzada announced Baradar as the head of the Taliban’s diplomatic office in Doha. The Taliban’s peace talks with the United States moved forward at a rapid pace.
The peace deal was signed at the Taliban’s office in Doha on February 29, 2020, by Abdul Ghani Baradar on behalf of the militant group and ZalmayMamozy Khalilzad.Based on this agreement, the United States and its NATO allies have begun withdrawing troops from Afghanistan since March 9, 2020.
However, violating the terms of the agreement, the Taliban started occupying one district after another. The Taliban took control of the Presidential Palace in Kabul on August 15, 2021, sixteen and a half months after the agreement was signed. On August 18, the Taliban announced the name of Abdul Ghani Baradar as President of Afghanistan. It is an example of a perfect script and screenplay.
Everything happened in broad daylight. The Taliban office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, was opened to work in public. Hence, is it believable that those who raised their voices after the Taliban took control of Kabul did not understand what would happen in Afghanistan?Acting as a charitable partner, India has done an unparalleled job of rebuilding its terror and war-torn neighbour. But in countering terrorism, India has not followed the path of determined political and strategic influence needed to strengthen democracy.
Delhi’s diplomatic strategists left that task to the United States. India is largely on the back foot today in terms of diplomatic tactics in the current turnaround in Afghanistan due to over-reliance on the US. In fact, the only issue for the United States in peace talks with the Taliban was to take back their soldiershome from Afghanistan with as much respect as possible because the Americans realised that they could not eradicate the Taliban or prolong the war in that country. Experts have always said that terrorism cannot be suppressed in any one country by outside forces.
The US government got some Tajik, Uzbek and Turkish fighters as local friends in the anti-Taliban campaign¾ with the‘warlords’ like Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ahmed Shah Masood, Atta Mohammad Noor, Burhanuddin Rabbani¾collectively known as the Northern Alliance.
Patrick Oliver Cockburn, a prominent Irish journalist, was in Afghanistan in those days of 2001-02. Later, in his book “Age of Jihad”,he has described the nature of the US war against the Taliban. At one place in this book, he writes, “Afghanistan and Iraq saw only limited
fighting, though this was not obvious to the outside world as the media focusesalmost exclusively on the melodrama of war. In reality, the Taliban fighters andIraqi Army soldiers largely went home and had not suffered a decisive defeat onthe battlefield. The US and its allies were less victorious than they imagined andcould not afford to make the unforced errors they proceeded to make in theaftermath of their supposed military success. In Afghanistan, the US and its localallies restored many of the much-hated warlords, whom the Taliban haddisplaced Afghanistan was a prelude in other respects to the Iraq war and other post-9/11 conflicts. In all cases, the US and the Western powers lacked a reliablelocal partner, contrary to their claims, and though they might appear to havehad many allies, this was deceptive. “
US President Joe Biden had expressed his grievance at the easy fall of Kabul when he commented, “After ruling for 20 years, he fled the country in times of danger from the government.” He was referring to fugitive President Ashraf Ghani, the man who was brought to Afghanistan by the United States in 2001. Not only did they bring him back, but the US administration had also helped rig the election to keep Ghani in office. Ashraf Ghani played the role of a dead soldier in a cine script written in Washington to pave the way for the return of the Taliban.
There was no Afghan president or government at any stage in the US peace talks with the Taliban. The first tripartite meeting between the US-Afghanistan-Taliban took place on September 12, 2020, six months after the signing of the peace agreement. The meeting was attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Abdullah Abdullah on behalf of the Afghan government and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on behalf of the Taliban.
In the face of sharp criticism and ridicule from world public opinion, Joe Biden has mentioned the widespread corruption in the Afghan administration. This is not something new or unknown as corruption is a widespread and growing problem in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was ranked 177th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index annual report. One of the major scandals was the Kabul Bank financial scandal between 2010-13.
President Hamid Karzai’s brother Mahmoud Karzai and his other close associates were involved in that scandal. The people involved in the Kabul Bank scandal were accused of secretly lending money to family and friends, in addition to spending 1 billion US dollarsto live a luxurious life. Over the past 20 years, the United States has spent 144.98 billion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan, and the US Department of Defence has spent 837 billion.
To control and monitor these costs, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Agency, abbreviated ‘SIGAR’, was created in 2006 as per the decision of the US Congress. According to a SIGAR report, more than half of the country’s annual customs revenue in Afghanistan has been lost due to corruption. The New York Times wrote about the rampant corruption in Afghanistan, “Corruption can no longer be described as cancer in the system. Because corruption is the system.
”A spokesperson for the Russian embassy said that Ashraf Ghani had taken a lot of money with him when he fled Kabul on August 15.
Thus we find that the corruption has skyrocketed, opium cultivation has increased, heroin factories have grown, terrorism has not been eradicated, and the Taliban has returned to its former glory. But for 20 years, the United States has been sitting there with its allies, declaring war on terror. In those 20 years, 2,443 American and 1,144 Allied troops were killed, and 20,666 US soldiers were wounded. Afghans, meanwhile, have paid much more than that in the war on terror.
At least 66,000 Afghan soldiers have been killed. More than 48,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and at least 75,000 injured. However, according to experts, the actual numbers are much higher. The net result of this massive loss of money, resources and human life was that the United States made its illegitimate child, the Taliban, much more acceptable in the international arena and placed it on the throne of Kabul. And in doing so, the United States did not hesitate to forget India’s security and diplomatic position as a ‘friend’.