“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision”
- Helen Keeler -
As Taliban fighters make rapid strides towards Kabul and Kandahar, Afghanistan today is at the crossroads of its democratic existence. The noose is tightening around elected Governments in Kabul. They have already taken control of all international crossing places opposite Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. The road from Pakistan’s Chaman border goes right up to Karachi. Taliban is at the verge of a grand victory, which did not seem possible till USA had its troops in Afghanistan. These observations are based on Taliban claims.
However, Independent sources reveal that Situation was not as bad as was being made out to be. Taliban controls around 40-45 % rural area with total population of 26-30%. Most of Afghan population is city based. Kabul itself accounts for 25-30% of Afghanistan population. No major city and provincial capital have fallen — they are well defended. A major attack on Kandahar was beaten back with the Taliban suffering maximum casualties.
The lightning speed of withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, similar to the hurry in which it had vacated Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s, has facilitated the Taliban offensive. US President Joe Biden says that the objective of America’s entry into Afghanistan was not to build the nation but to punish Al-Qaeda, which was accomplished when Osama Bin Laden (OBL) was killed on 2 May 2011 in Operation Neptune Spear.
The question arises, if it was so, then what were US troops doing in Afghanistan, over the past decade since May 2011? Joe Biden was the Vice President, then, and he could have impressed upon President Barack Obama to pull out. The fact is that President Obama had pushed in more troops into Afghanistan in the final year of his second presidency. It is certain that additional US troops had a definite purpose and objective, and they were not sent to do poodle - faking. There is some confusion in the US.
A cynical buzz in Pakistan is that USA has lost the Afghan war and it could not finish the Taliban, despite best of weaponry. In fact, the cynical laugh of most Pakistanis considers it at as their own victory. It ought to be noted that Pakistan was the key supporter of Taliban with weapons and other materials. In fact, some of the ‘Jihadi Outfits’ of Pakistan, backed up by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan were fighting along with Taliban. It is evident from the arrival of dead bodies of ‘Jihadis’ to Pakistan from Afghanistan. It is also claimed in media that battle wounded Afghan Taliban are being treated in Pakistan military Hospitals.
One should not be surprised that the US was blind to such a double game of Pakistan. It had known all along of Pakistan’s support to Taliban, but the US administration had deliberately turned a blind eye. In fact, America always falters for short term gains over its long-term objectives. Most of its actions do not follow a measured approach. Take the case of Pakistan’s clandestine way of acquiring nuclear weapon technology since 1980. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had known this, but Reagan Administration turned a blind eye.
To win in Afghanistan, the US had to block Pakistan and cut out its financial aid for war against Terror. It had an illusion that by molly-coddling Pakistan, it can achieve its objective. In fact, even to pull out of Afghanistan, it has been seeking Pakistani support because it knew that Pakistan had a leverage with Afghan Taliban.
Former, US President, Barack Obama, in his book ‘A Promised Land’ states that Pakistan’s ISI has formidable links with Afghan Taliban. If this was known, why was USA not taking corrective action to squeeze Pakistan and punish her for this double game. It seems that last 10 years of US presence in Afghanistan was a comic tragedy of its confused policy on Afghanistan. It was not ignorance but deliberate closing of eyes. When one closes one’s eyes, it is darkness all round and one can hardly see the perpetrators of day light robbery.
However, US decision to post haste withdraw troops, now from Afghanistan, was not based on its strategic objective of checkmating China but the economic cost of the war. Most analysts believe that US had spent around Three Trillion dollars on its ‘Operation Enduring Peace’ in Afghanistan. But then, this was the price, a global superpower has to pay, if it wants to be the ring master of the global circus of nations.
US withdrawal from Afghanistan, at this stage, is considered to be at cross-purpose of its long term and strategic objective. It has not only conceded space to China in Afghanistan but also aided China to move one step further towards its objective of Global supremacy by 2049. Americans may realise this blunder by their current President. It would cost them heavily in future.
A recent Taliban statement telling China that it would not allow Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang any space in Afghanistan, ought to be noted. Taliban has also invited China to help Taliban with finances to rebuild war torn nation. It might flatter China. But Chinese euphoria would be short lived.
Afghanistan, historically, has been a graveyard of invaders and conquerors. Alexander the Great, who came into Afghanistan in 330 BCE, had faced strong resistance from local tribes. He was stated to have observed that Afghanistan was easy to March into, but hard to March out of. In the recent history, it was found out by erstwhile Soviet leadership which led to collapse of Soviet Union in 1989. It took 10 years for Soviet Union to disentangle itself from the Afghan quagmire.
And at an exorbitant economic cost. the mighty US, has found the truth of Alexander’s statement on Afghanistan. It is claimed that USA lost 2,400 soldiers and other 20,000 or more were badly injured or crippled over the last 20 years. It was easy for the US to get into Afghanistan after 9/11. But even after two decades, it could not find an honourable exit route.
The long-drawn negotiations with the Taliban did not produce the desired results. The stay in Afghanistan was a drain on US economy. What more increased number of soldiers bodies in body bags reaching homeland was causing social unrest. Thus, President Joe Biden had no option but to scoot hurriedly from Afghanistan. It vacated its Bagram airbase without handing over to Afghan forces. The story of Vietnam was almost re-enacted. This was no honourable exit. China would have to keep this in mind.
Xiao Bin, a research fellow at Chinese Academy of social sciences, is quoted by Global Times of July 15, 2021, to say, “China could actively become involved in the Afghan peace process based on its own interests. So, what are Chinese interests, which would compel it to get involved in Afghanistan."
It is a known fact that China’s main strategic objective is to replace USA as a main Global power by 2049. Chinese strong man, Xi Jinping follows a strategy of “Aggression and assertiveness” in China’s international conduct. In Chinese language, it is para - phrased as Fen Fa, You Wei. Therefore, it is likely to get involved in Afghanistan more aggressively, with its money power.
However, there is a big hurdle to Xi Jinping’s global ambitions. It arises from Uighur Muslim extremism of China. Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan is also a worrisome matter for China because, at some stage, religious frenzy of Taliban might motivate it to support Uighurs.
China has a common border with Afghanistan, extending to 73 Kms. It is through a small swathe of territory called Wakhan Corridor. This border enjoins Xinjiang (also called East Turkmenistan) province of China, which has Uighur Muslim population. Uighur Muslims are up in arms against Chinese Government.
It is learnt that China has imposed strict restrictions on Uighur Muslims. They are forbidden to bear skull cap, keep beard or offer Namaz publicly. It is also learnt that most of Uighur Muslims adults are put into concentration camps, called political reformatory schools. Besides, China is changing the demography by settling Han population in Xinjiang. This is why Uighur Muslims have resorted to separatist movement.
But for the time being, there is a breather for China because indications from Taliban are encouraging. Taliban has assured China that it would not allow Uighur insurgents to use Afghan Territory. In fact, Taliban has invited China to help Taliban in reconstruction of Afghanistan, after it comes to power.
China would not only like to use this offer but also exploit the power vacuum created by the US, not only in Afghanistan but entire region. It can now press with its Belt Road Initiative (BRI) project. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would be extended to Afghanistan too, which would give at an easy trade route to Central Asia.
What is more important for China is the safety and security of its dream project of Gwadar port of its CPEC venture in Pakistan, which was under perennial threat from USA, holding forth in Afghanistan. It would enhance China’s global accessibility. Gwadar the jewel in its BRI projects.
Notwithstanding favourable conditions for China’s entry into Afghanistan, it would face a major hurdle from Baloch insurgents and Pakistani Taliban. In mid-July 2021, the killing of nine Chinese engineers and four Pakistanis in a bus blast, near Kohat in Pakistan, have given an indication of shape of things to come. Chinese engineers were working on a Hydropower project at Dasu. While Pakistan tried to underplay this attack by calling it a “mechanical failure”, but China has openly declared that it was a “bombing”. China has decided to send its own team to investigate it.
China very much knows that road ahead to Afghanistan has to pass through Balochistan, which was going to be extremely arduous. Also, China ought not to forget the words of Alexander the Great, that it was easy to get in but very difficult to get out. It is not for nothing that history recognises Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires.
Even Pakistan ought to know that its relations with Taliban might not be on the same level as it was in the earlier regime of Taliban in 1990s. This leadership of Taliban would like to engage with rest of the world and would not be a mere puppet in the hands of Pakistan. The real troubles of Pakistan would start after initial bedding in of Taliban. Sooner or later the Afghan Taliban would develop sympathetic inclination towards the Tehrik-e-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP), who has a similar goal of true Islamic rule in Pakistan.
Besides, Durand Line would become a bone of contention. It is a known fact that Durand Line divides Pakhtoon land into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakhtoon have relations both sides of this border. Recently Pakistan has fenced the border which would check the free movement of Pakhtoons across this line. This would definitely spoil relationship. Therefore, this high-pitched happiness of today, might turn sorrow of tomorrow and it would rip apart the Pakistani thought of strategic depth.
Definitely, it might seem that India has lost out in Afghanistan. It is attempted to have a dialogue with Taliban might not have borne fruit. Many observers claim that it is 3 billion USD investment might go waste. It is not so. India had created enough goodwill amongst the general public of Afghanistan. With initial reluctance, Afghan Taliban has to recognise this, if Taliban wants to reconstruct the country and seek recognition from the world. It cannot exist in isolation. India must wait and watch and let curves of time unfold themselves.
Afghanistan would need, food items, petrol product and other such essentials. Religious fervour alone cannot sustain a nation. It will die down with time and hunger would make people rise against the rulers. It is dependence on Pakistan, for these items of daily use, would not be enough when Pakistan itself was starving.
Besides, religious and bigot inclination of Afghan Taliban might create problems in Pakistan. It would further push Pakistan into a deep abyss of fundamentalism. Women and freedom would suffer. The media, singing praises, in favour of Afghan Taliban today, would have no place to hide. Pakistan would move into medieval times.
Thus, Afghanistan situation, in the long run, would be catastrophic for Pakistan’s dreams, reminding me of a passage from the ‘Kite Runner’ by noted Pakistani novelist, Khaled Hosseni:
“But I am here, my leg blocks of concrete, my lungs empty of air, my throat burning. There will be no floating away. There will be no other reality tonight.”
About the Author
(Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran who served in ’71 War & has operated extensively in various insurgency environs across the country. He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert writing for several reputed publications such as ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: [email protected])
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')