Today there is only the cruel choice between continued American presence and Taliban rule
After a trillion dollars and 2000 dead Americans, there is precious little to show as the U.S. heads towards its 2014 exit. America’s primary goal had been to create a stable, non-hostile Afghan government and army which could stop extremist groups from once again using Afghan territory as a base. But Hamid Karzai is already on the way out, rapid desertions could collapse the Afghan National Army, and only die-hards like Marine Gen. John Allen say that the U.S. can win. The Taliban are smelling victory.
America’s failure drives many bearded folks – and Imran Khan’s thoughtless supporters – into fits of ecstasy. It also delights some Pakistani leftists at home and abroad; imperialism has been humbled. Some comrades imagine that a mythicalAfghan “working class” – whatever that might mean – will pop up from nowhere and somehow stop the Taliban from moving in as fast as the Americans move out. Do they also hope for snowflakes in summer?
Foreign occupation is usually cruel, and it is easy to understand how the Americans have alienated Afghans with serial murderers like Sergeant Bales, Quran burnings, and aerial bombings of wedding parties. One certainly wishes they had never come to this part of the world and, particularly, that Pakistan had not become their willing pawn in the great anti-Soviet jihad.
But history cannot be undone. Today there is only the cruel choice between continued American presence and Taliban rule. Of course, by some miracle, the Afghan National Army could perhaps hang on with the help of American air power. But for this to happen, even the Almighty might be hard pressed.
Face it, comrades. What the Americans did in Afghanistan pales before the crimes committed by the Taliban government, 1996-2001. As the people of Swat were also to see a decade later, these lords of war reduced society to unspeakable barbarity. They proscribed music and sports in Afghanistan, inflicted harsh punishments upon men for trimming their beards, flogged taxi drivers for carrying women passengers, prevented sick women from being treated by male physicians, and banished girls from schools and women from the work place. Bodies of opponents swung from Kabul’s lamp posts for days before being taken down. Iran denounced the new Pakistan-supported victors as “fanatical, mediaeval Taliban” after they slaughtered 5000 Shias in Bamiyan province.
The Taliban are the most retrograde political movement in the history of Islam. But today some Pakistani TV commentators, with an eye towards pleasing GHQ, prattle away about the “new Taliban” being different from the “old Taliban”. It’s complete poppycock. One hears of atrocities almost every day: wherever the Taliban are strong in Afghanistan or Pakistan, they are back to their sick habits of summary executions, stoning women and men to death, and chopping hands. Just go to Google and find videos posted by the Taliban proudly advertising their atrocities.
For those friends who plan to pop champagne in Islamabad, Lahore, or London to celebrate the American exit, here’s a simple challenge. Leave your make-believe world, go live under Taliban rule and, if you are fortunate enough to return, tell us how it was. If you are Shia, Hazara, woman, or one who cannot be silent upon witnessing wanton cruelty, be sure to say goodbye to your loved ones.
Instead of the Taliban, our comrades are free to pick from any of the following replacements of American imperial rule: Hezb-e-Wahdat, Hezb-e-Islami, Jamiat-e-Islami, or ten others. Whichever you choose doesn’t really matter. I suspect that this will knock out their anti-imperialist rhetoric pretty fast.
Call the international community scum if you like. But, compared to a decade ago, Afghan women today are said to live an average of 15 years longer than they did a decade ago because of better health care, nutrition and increased GDP. Tell us what the bearded folks plan to bring instead?
So what is the future of Afghanistan after 2014?
There is zero chance of a secular, pluralistic democracy. Tribal Afghan society, locked into primitive concepts of honor and revenge, is likely to remain unenlightened and torn apart by internal conflicts for generations to come. Afghans are already bracing for civil war after 2014.
The only question is: what could be the least bad outcome? Since we Pakistanis must live with a theocracy next door, then one can only wish for a relatively enlightened version rather than a barbaric one.
A relatively peaceful future will require that power in post-withdrawal Afghanistan be pluralistically shared by the country’s diverse ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, etc. The alternative is limitless butchery.
Regional actors can and must prevent this, as well as prevent a repeat of earlier Taliban horrors. To this end, Pakistan should give up its craving for “strategic depth”, Iran should be brought in to the picture by the U.S as a helpful ally, India should refrain from intrusions into Afghanistan that might antagonize Pakistan, and China must not signal the Taliban that it can fund them in exchange for mining rights. None of this is likely. But in despair one sometimes asks even for the moon.
The author is a professor of physics and teaches in Lahore(LUMS) and Islamabad (QAU).