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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Witches’ brew in Afghanistan


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Afghanistan is in a mess, it has become a witches brew,  a fearsome mixture of untamed sex and brutality I begin with a quote from Alan Paton’s 1940 classic:

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear…have no doubt it is fear in his eyes”

The Afghan President has said that the sudden US pullout has emboldened the Taliban who will not move towards peace unless they are matched on the ground.

The US has learnt from its April 1975 Vietnam experience when there was a mad rush among South Vietnamese affiliated with the US to get out before the Communists came, with people clinging to helicopters.

In 2021 the US is coordinating a more structured exit of Afghans who served it. America and its allies spent more on Afghanistan than on rebuilding Europe after World War II.

Over one year ago, a tired America and a resurgent Taliban signed a landmark agreement in Doha leading to a “political settlement”, but the deal did little to find and promote a peaceful resolution to the war in Afghanistan or even to the war on terror

The crucial question is whether the Afghan state can survive without foreign troops The numerically superior Afghan security forces (350,000 as compared to 100,000 Taliban) seemed to be crumbling.

But they fought back.

In the early 1990s, the victorious Mujahidin, not having an enemy that they could unite against, turned on each other and Afghanistan descended into a brutal civil war.

As always, civilians bore the brunt.

Then in 1994, the Taliban, from the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, and trained by the Pakistani army, and some with experience of fighting the Soviets, emerged from their madrasas and as they marched in, promising peace and stability to a traumatized population, they were welcomed.

The Taliban’s track record is unwholesome.

They are the grandsons of the Pathan lashkars that invaded Kashmir in 1947, looking for zan, zar, zameen (women, gold, land) and have the same rigid ultra-rabid ideology.

There are reports that they are rounding up young girls from Taliban controlled areas and sending them to Waziristan (Pakistan) as sex slaves.

The Islamic State did the same in Syria

In September 1996, with military support from Pakistan and money from Saudi Arabia, they seized Kabul and founded the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Najibullah was at the UN compound when the Taliban soldiers came for him in the evening of 26 September 1996, abducted him, dragged his castrated body through the streets of Kabul, and then hung it from a traffic light pole outside the presidential palace to show the public that a new era had begun

They imposed their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam in areas under their control, issuing edicts forbidding women to work outside the home, attend school, or to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative

Thieves’ hands were cut off and women executed for adultery

Only three “free” countries, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE recognized the fundamentalist Taliban regime

Then 9/11 happened, the US invaded, no one rallied to their support, and America got into its longest annual war

With the Taliban gone, a new constitution opened the way for democratic elections, a free press, and expanded rights for women

In 2021, the resurgent, better organized and more savvy Taliban have so far reneged on all their agreements with the US and the Afghan Government, the latter in any case is totally marginalized

Claiming to control 85% of the country, the Taliban are on a charm offensive, claiming, in a signed piece in the New York Times earlier this year that they seek an “Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam…are protected”

However, no one in his right mind trusts them

According to the UN, they earn USD 1.5 bn annually from the opium trade, and more from mineral exploitation, taxes, land sales, production of narcotics etc

They will implement their version of a sharia Islamic regime inside the country, which most Afghans don’t really want but will have to put up with

Which countries will developments in Afghanistan impact?

Most obviously Pakistan, then China and Russia, then the five Central Asian stans, and then India – all want a stable, non-terror hosting Afghanistan

If the Taliban become overly aggressive, the Central Asian States will get very uncomfortable. Tajikistan,Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have suffered much from the Taliban brand of Islam.

During the Soviet era, Islam in Central Asia was officially suppressed – mosques were closed, and all contact with the wider Muslim world was severed.

That era is over! As Communist went out, Islam came marching in.

The Taliban do not trust Pakistan that dumped.

them after 9/11 without even saying “sorry guys” because of US threats (of the we will bomb you into the stone age variety), even though Pakistan renovated its mothballed Mujahedeen training camps and resumed clandestine support within a few years, terrified of the growing Indian and Tajik influence in Afghanistan

Feeling that their military had become an American mercenary, in December 2007 former Pakistani-trained Mujahedeen formed the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan (TTP) in the badlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan to capture state power through a terrorist campaign with support from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State

Afghanistan has frequently defied timelines and solutions

Empire after empire, nation after nation, have failed to pacify what is today the modern territory of Afghanistan

Attempts at anything resembling centralized control, even by native Afghan governments, failed

As the United States and its allies leave Afghanistan, they are only the latest to do so

It was only after the collapse of the Maurya Empire and several invasions from Central Asia that the mountains of Afghanistan began to “fill up,” and it acquired its reputation of being the home of many warlike peoples defending their individual turfs

As the British and Russians and Americans have learned, it is possible to conquer territory in Afghanistan temporarily, and defeat Afghans militarily in open battle, but it is virtually impossible to hold the region down for long

You can rent an Afghan, you can’t buy an Afghan

Afghan heroes are those who resist foreign occupation, and defend their honour, their religion and their homeland

Some of the Taliban leaders, Guantánamo graduates, do not grasp how much the country has changed – they still believe that they can shoot their way into power

The United States has spent billions of dollars to rebuild Afghanistan. Though beset by graft, in Kabul the effects are evident

High-rise apartment buildings remade the skyline, and the streets filled with cars; foreign aid helped create new jobs, and women began going to work and to school

After decades of civil war and repressive government, the capital became a rollicking international city

Then, assassinations and bombings drove most of the foreigners away. At night, the streets are quiet

Twenty years into the American-led war, Kabul feels again like the capital of a poor and troubled country

Afghanistan’s future is decided far from Kabul

A senior journalist has written that in his meeting with Ghani, he seemed abandoned, like a pilot pulling levers that weren’t connected to anything. He professed gratitude to the United States, but was clearly uneasy with the deal

Recently, he said, he had released five thousand Taliban prisoners – “not because I wanted to, but because the U.S. pushed me”

Donald Trump was clearly desperate to make a deal that would allow him to say that he had ended the war

When the Taliban refused to include the Afghan government in the talks, the U.S. did not insist

Despite all the sugar coating on it the deal is an American admission of a lost 20-year long, trillion-dollar war, a repeat of Vietnam without the face-saving device of a Geneva Conference.

For America, Afghanistan is no longer a major consideration while the Afghan regime considers the Taliban an existential threat

The Taliban will not share power with the existing Afghan government, and there will be no transitional government to write a new constitution and lay the groundwork for nationwide elections

The trends were clear in the Doha meetings

The two sides shouted at each other; Taliban leaders said the Afghan officials represented an illegitimate government, propped up by infidels and bankrolled by Western money

One Afghan Government negotiator said: “They thought they were there just to discuss the terms of surrender. They said, ‘We don’t need to talk to you. We can just take over’

The Taliban did reduce attacks on government troops and the US has not lifted sanctions against the Taliban

A bloodbath is in the making, because no party trusts the other

The spoiler-in-chief is Pakistan (a Pakistani official had once even thought of an Islamic union with Afghanistan) but even it will not relish the fact of millions of refugees again pouring over the border

Pakistan has long been a difficult and disruptive neighbor to Afghanistan, trying to limit India’s influence there, and cultivating radical groups within Afghanistan as proxies

It has increased Afghanistan’s instability by providing intelligence, weapons, and protection to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network

It fears an unstable Afghanistan that hosts anti-Pakistan militant groups

Pakistan bets that the Taliban will maintain significant power in Afghanistan – and perhaps even obtain formal political power – and does not want to alienate it. After all, the Taliban is Pakistan’s only- however reluctant and unhappy – friend among Afghanistan’s political actors

The tail wags the dog

Pakistan’s long refusal to clobber dangerous militant groups inside Pakistan suggests its lack of full control over its spawns, even though it is loath to admit it. Such a disclosure of weakness would be costly: reducing the omnipotent image of Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus with respect to varied domestic audience

Remember, that the Pushtun Taliban do not recognize the Mortimer Durand Line, that divides Afghan Pashtuns and Baloch from their Pakistani ethnic brothers (it was never intended to be a border)

No regime in Afghanistan can be a Pakistani puppet

Once the Americans are fully out, there will be a free for all in Afghanistan

The worst sufferers, as always, will be the people of Afghanistan

China cannot depend on Pakistan to keep the Uighurs and assorted Islamic radicals in Afghanistan under control and so has established direct contact with the Taliban (whose delegation visited China in July 2021)

Neither Russia nor Iran would be unhappy to see China and Pakistan get mired in Afghanistan

Saudi Arabia and the UAE would not like to see Johnny-come-lately Turkey jump into the fray and add to the cauldron of mischief

What about India?

India is supposed to operate the Farkhor Air Base in Tajikistan, 130 KM southeast of the capital Dushanbe

Indian commitment to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan has never been in doubt; New Delhi recently signed the US$ 300 million Shahtoot dam project that will provide clean drinking water to Kabul

The official Indian position on reconciliation supports “an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled process for enduring peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan”

The biggest risk in Taliban Afghanistan is terrorism

While the U.S.-Taliban agreement states that the Taliban will prevent terrorist outfits from operating on Afghan soil, there is little clarity on how the agreement will be verified and enforced

In late 2020, the Pakistani intelligence head of terror group Islamic State’s Khorasan unit (ISIL-K) was killed by special forces near Jalalabad, according to the Afghan security agency

Another release claimed that of some 400 plus IS captives in their custody, the highest, 299, were from Pakistan, while 34 were from China (presumably Uighurs)

China, in a global confrontation of its own choosing against the US, is convinced that even if the U.S. withdraws its formal military forces, it will retain a security presence and influence through private security forces and local partners and could play around in China’s Achilles Heel, Xinjiang

Strangely, Chinese and Indian interests in Afghanistan coincide to the extent of dealing with Islamic terrorism

Realizing that its sidekick Pakistan cannot control the Taliban, China has opened direct negotiations with them, describing them as a “pivotal force”

Even though it might take over, it is difficult to see an atavistic group like the Taliban survive permanently

It is the most radical, misogynist and brutal of all Jihadi outfits which has waged a relentless war against an internationally recognized, democratic Afghan government which hitherto was militarily supported by the “free” world

Despite all the nonsense in newsrooms about how India has been “excluded” from the Afghanistan process, we are betting on the future.


Witches’ brew in Afghanistan -


Deepak Vohra

Ambassador Dr. Deepak Vohra, Made in India,
Special Advisor to Prime Minister, Lesotho, South Sudan and Guinea-Bissau,
Special Advisor to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils, Leh and Kargil, Gauri Sadan, 5 Hailey Road, New Delhi 110001.


I am not Indian because I live in India, I am Indian because India lives in me!

They said: Hide from the storm; I replied: I am the storm  


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