Since the end of World War II, the United States has been acclaimed as the leader of the Democratic world upholding multiparty democracy, freedom of expression, civil liberty and freedom of press. It was lavishly providing economic assistance to countries practising democracy and at the same time mindful of strengthening the military to protect against the threat of communism championed by the Soviet Russia. As the countries in Asia and Africa began gaining freedom from the colonial powers, the focus of the United States shifted more towards sheltering the newly independent countries from the influence of communism. In the process, the rulers of the countries placed pluralism in the back burner and pledged loyalty to Washington. The choice earned them economic and military aid from the United States and established themselves as indispensable leaders of their countries. The institutions required to promote democracy fell through the crack and autocracy swept over the newly independent countries. India was, however, an exception largely because its charismatic and Western educated leader Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, being an ardent socialist but indoctrinated into parliamentary system of governance, steered the country in the democratic path and followed socialist economic agenda. The leaders in the United States though uncomfortable with Nehru, never doubted that Nehru would embrace communism for political expedience.
In neighbouring Pakistan the situation was obstreperous. The leaderships believed in pluralism but could not focus on building the institutions prerequisite for a functioning democracy. Many of the leaders being immigrant from India could not trust the new electorate. Once it became reasonably clear that a general election would engender their political demise, they tried to perpetuate in power in undemocratic fashion. But they were quick to fall in line with Washington, expressed their overwhelming disdain for communism and thus qualified for American economic and military assistance. The unelected politicians and bureaucrats ruled the country for over twenty years and happily joined the American-led military alliances like Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and South Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO). Pakistan government even hosted American military base near Peshawar much to the irritation of Moscow.
Following the dismemberment of united Pakistan in 1971, the short lived elected government maintained close ties with the United States. The military government seized power in 1979 as people revolted against deceitful election conducted by the civilian government. The military installed puppet governments and ruled for a long period. The United States courted the military backed administration in order to channel massive arms supplies to the "Mujahedeen" in Afghanistan fighting against the Soviet army. The trend continued till 2007. The autocrats in Pakistan were warmly treated by successive American governments.
Egypt, once hailed as leader in the Arab world, has been under autocrats for decades. Its president Gamal Nasser fostered a close relation with Soviet Russia and benefited from Russian military and economic assistance. But the 1967 war with Israel dealt a devastating blow to the prestige and image of the country. In the six-day war, its air force was destroyed, and the ground troops virtually surrendered to the invading Israeli security forces. The vast Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal which was the major source of revenue for Egypt fell under the control of Israel. Nasser died of profound shock and humiliation of the defeat in 1968 and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. Sadat after a brief war against Israel in 1973 concluded a peace agreement with erstwhile enemy Israel and regained the control over the Suez Canal. He shifted his allegiance to Washington and secured massive economic assistance. The annual grant of $2 billion continued during his successor Hosni Mubarak and continues even now. The Arab Spring brought about an elected government under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi. But Morsi was dislodged by the military in less than two years and restored autocracy in the country. President Abdul Sattar Sissi has absolute control over the country with no space for dissident voice. But the United States government enjoys excellent relation with Cairo despite frequent and widespread human rights abuse in the country.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is another county in the Middle East with whom the United States fosters excellent friendly relation despite its record of gross human rights violation. Very recently, the women have been granted option to drive vehicle but many women activists claiming fundamental human rights have been incarcerated. Some of them have been in prison without being charged, and others have been indicted for the crimes they never committed. It has also been reported that women activists while in detention have been subjected to sexual abuse.
Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist of the Washington Post, went missing from the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul two years ago. There was allegation that a killing squad was dispatched from Saudi Arabia which killed and dismembered the body of Khashoggi. His mortal remains remained untraceable. Turkish government launched an investigation on the circumstances that led to Khashoggi's disappearance and concluded that the journalist was murdered at the instruction of Crown Prince Mohammed Bib Solman. The CIA came to similar conclusion and reported that the murder was carried out at the knowledge of the Crown Prince. This was denied by the Crown Prince and the Saudi government. The Trump administration accepted the denial of the Saudi government over and above CIA's conclusive report. A trial in Saudi Arabia found six people guilty of murder. They were sentenced to death, but the government commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment. The prisoners are reportedly accommodated in luxury hotels and it is not surprising that they would be set free.
The human rights abuse in the Kingdom and the complicity of MBS was denounced in the Congress. The members demanded abrogation of the arms sale agreement with the Kingdom and imposing sanctions against the persons responsible for the murder of Khashoggi. Trump administration dismissed the uproar in the Congress and went ahead with the arms sale. President Biden declined to place the de-facto head of the Saudi government under sanction. The deal on the arms sale remained unaffected. Now there is business as usual between Riyadh and Washington.
Syria passed through a horrendous civil war. Almost half of its population left the country and took refuge in the neighbouring countries. The Assad regime confronted the rebel forces with all its might and unleashed unprecedented brutality over the population in rebel held areas. The eight years of war destroyed the homes and infrastructure in the country and rebuilding would cost billions of dollars. Now that the rebel forces have been pushed out of major urban areas the Assad government has been trying to restore the civil administration. It is seeking help of the neighbouring countries to normalise relation with the Arab world and with the international community. King Abdullah of Jordan has been on the mission to persuade the United States and Arab neighbours to restore diplomatic relation with Syria. Proponents of normalisation argue that 10 years of isolation and pressure on Assad have not made progress on political settlement, and sanctions have exacerbated the sufferings of the population. The United States believe engagement with Arab world and international community would counter Iranian influence in Syria.
The abrupt and unplanned withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan swept the Taliban to power in mid-August. The Afghan army failed to put up resistance. Thousands of Afghan-Americans, foreign nationals got stranded. The Taliban administration was persuaded to let the Kabul airport functioning and allowing the foreign nationals leave Afghanistan. In two weeks more than 180,000 foreign nationals, diplomats and American soldiers were evacuated through chartered flights. It is estimated that another 80,000 Afghans who are eligible to American entry visa have been left behind. The State Department is hoping that they would ultimately be resettled in the United States.
In the past six weeks, the situation inside Afghanistan has rapidly deteriorated. Two major explosions took place in the mosques in Kabul killing more than 100 people and severely injuring hundreds in the last two weeks. The Islamic State reportedly claimed the responsibility. Most of the schools and colleges have been closed, the female staff in the colleges and universities have been instructed to stay home. Markets are short of supplies of essential food items. Humanitarian agencies are not fully geared to render relief handouts.
The United Nations has pleaded for softening the restrictions, arguing that Afghanistan's 40 million people have been left without means of income and the country is on the verge of massive humanitarian crisis. The international community must respond before a catastrophe strikes. Taliban should allow that to happen. Time is the essence.
While diplomatic legitimacy remains withheld, a number of countries have established contacts with the Taliban administration. The Group of 20 has convened a special session on Afghanistan in Rome at the end of this month. Russia which kept its embassy open in Kabul has invited the Taliban to a meeting in Moscow on October 20 for consultations. China, Iran, Pakistan and India have been invited.
The Deputy Director of CIA held direct talks with Taliban in Doha on October 9 and discussed about the safe passage of American and other foreign nationals, formation of inclusive government and ensuring participation of women. The Taliban administration was led by its foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. Biden administration realised that stability in Afghanistan is in the interest of all stake holders including Washington.
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former
official of the United Nations.