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The Financial Express

After Afghanistan: America's new kind of war


An Afghan National Army soldier standing guard at a check post near Bagram US air base, on the day the last of American troops vacated it, at Parwan province in Afghanistan on July 2 this year –Reuters file photo An Afghan National Army soldier standing guard at a check post near Bagram US air base, on the day the last of American troops vacated it, at Parwan province in Afghanistan on July 2 this year –Reuters file photo

Turning points in history quite often come by surprise because the power that be of the day usually do not see them coming because they remain convinced in their invincibility. "We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality" was the comment  made to the Time magazine by an anonymous White House official (it is widely believed that  it was Karl Rove)  as an explanation for the invasion leading to the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.  The comment was  the  pure manifestation of American imperial hubris so much so that he even went on to say,  " We're history's actors…, all of you will be left to study what we do". But  twenty years later one such turning point in history led to  the American defeat leading to complete withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

The New York Times (NYT), the leading US corporate media mouthpiece and the cheer leader for the "war on terror" from the beginning to till today was deeply saddened to see the swift victory of the Taliban and the disintegration of the US client regime in Afghanistan resulting in the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. It all happened amid mayhem and bloodbath where 170 Afghans and 13 US soldiers died at the Kabul airport from suicide bombing and ten members of one family including seven children, the youngest two years old among many others died in a US drone attack in a residential neighbourhood of Kabul before the war finally ended.

The NYT lamented the defeat and its tragic nature by saying that the defeat by the Taliban was unutterably tragic "because the American dream being indispensable in shaping the world where the values of civil rights, women's empowerment and religious tolerance rule proved to be just that: dream".

Joining the chorus was also NBC where according to its chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, the fall of the Kabul regime and the desperate American withdrawal of troops represented "the worst capitulation of Western values in our lifetime".  Speaking on the Sky News, a commentator said, "It is a defeat of Western ideology".

Last week John Pilger, veteran journalist, author and film maker in an interview with  RT's Afshin Rattansi called the US military a killing machine and emphasised that the Afghan war must be viewed through the lens of Western imperialism. He then further expanded on how the scale of civilian casualties and destruction of Afghanistan by the US and NATO forces created today's situation.

Anand Gopal in his article titled "The Other Afghan Women" published in the New Yorker (September 6, 2021) wrote, "More than seventy per cent of Afghans do not live in cities. In rural areas, life under the US-led coalition and its Afghan allies became pure hazard; even drinking tea in a sunlit field, or driving to your sister's wedding was a potentially deadly gamble". He then went on to say that " In the countryside, the endless killing of civilians turned women against the occupiers who claimed to be helping them".

Now that the US and its foreign legion NATO troops left Afghanistan, they are completely unable to justify or explain why their supposed "nation building" mission led to such a defeat.

Afghanistan, in fact, has been  the poorest country in Asia and the number of Afghans languishing in poverty has doubled despite the claim the US spent more than US$2 trillion over the  20 years of its occupation of the country. In 2020, when Ashraf Ghani was president of Afghanistan said that 90 per cent of people in the country were living below the government set poverty line of US$2 a day.

It was a curious coincidence.  After the Shah of Iran fell in 1979, President Jimmy Carter authorised a US$500 million "covert action" programme to sponsor other regional Islamists to overthrow Afghanistan's progressive secular government and to counter the godless Soviets. So were born the Mujahadeens with close cooperation of Pakistan along with further funding from Saudi Arabia.

The Mujahadeen were dominated by a group called the Northern Alliance composed of ethnic groups in the North Easter part of Afghanistan. This alliance was under the full control of warlords who controlled the heroine trade  and terrorised rural Afghans, in particular rural women. The US supported these warlords and with that support these warlords carried on their banditry and murder across the country and that gave birth to the  Taliban as the reaction to that lawlessness and banditry.

It took three months, thousands of airstrikes, hundreds of special operations as well as   thousands of civilian casualties to drive the Taliban out of power in the autumn of 2001.

Also, the US-backed  warlord  Abdur Rahim Dostum was accused of massacring hundreds of Taliban prisoners of war including stuffing Taliban insurgents into metal shipping containers where they were suffocated to death in December 2001. The US never took any action against Dostum who became Deputy defence minister under the Hamid Karzai client regime and  Vice President under the Ashraf Ghani client regime. Twenty years later, the Taliban retook control of the country in less than three weeks time with a minimum of bloodshed.

The mountainous region of Panjshir about 150 km north of Kabul was the only holdout of the anti-Taliban forces headed by Amrullah Saleh who served as vice president in the ousted US client regime of Ashraf Ghani along with Ahmad Massoud, a  leading local political leader, has also been captured by the Taliban thus bringing the whole of Afghanistan under the Taliban control.  

Two decades of  occupation and missile, air and drone strikes did little to contain the Taliban. If anything, those actions rather bolstered the number and strength of the Taliban.

But the Taliban victory also caused a massive outflow of Afghan refugees. A sizeable number of these refugees were collaborators with the US and NATO occupation forces, most of whom were evacuated by the US and NATO countries but still some are left behind. Also, the dire economic condition in the country is forcing many to leave the country and heading towards neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Iran, even Turkey.

Another country that has been involved in "nation building" in Afghanistan along with the US and NATO countries over the last two decades is India which now hosts more than 15,000 Afghan refugees. India  also evacuated the people associated with its "nation building" efforts in Afghanistan along with Hindu and Sikh minorities in the wake of the Taliban victory.

According to  Al Jazeera Indian Muslim politicians, writers, journalists, social media influencers and ordinary citizens have become the targets of a hate campaign launched by the country's Hindu supremacist ruling party BJP after the Taliban captured power in Kabul. A section of the India media is also involved in spreading Islamophobia in the wake of the Taliban victory, some are quite open and others nuanced in spreading anti-Muslim hatred.

An Indian TV anchor (TV9 Exclusive) asked the Taliban spokesperson Sohail Shaheen why so many Afghans were leaving the country despite safety was guaranteed to all Afghans by the Taliban. In response Shaheen said " If the US parks a plane at the Delhi airport promising Indians to fly out of India into America, lakhs (100,000s) of Indians will assemble at the airport within hours". The sub-text of Shaheen's response is that the vast majority of these Afghan refugees are economic refugees.

More importantly the shifting policy priorities to China and domestic terrorism which has increasingly been more challenging, have produced the realisation among the US policy planners that the terrorism as the US perceives it,   is unlikely to disappear and needs to be managed to keep its primary focus on confronting China. So, the US has now settled for a sub-optimal outcome rather than a decisive victory over terrorism. 

President Joe Biden in his speech on August 31 did not  accept any responsibility on behalf of his country for the horrendous war, and blamed the defeat on a cowardly Afghan army not willing to fight for the US sponsored Afghan government. Instead, he used the rationale to leave Afghanistan on the need to fight the "terror threat"  in many other places rather than keeping thousands troops in just one country.

He further added that the reality today is "we don't need to fight a ground war to do it". Biden made it amply clear the US will continue with its "war on terror" in Afghanistan and many other places around the world for indefinite future but it would be fought differently.

This war will be conducted using drone, air and missiles strikes and special forces raids. Drones and airstrikes rely on difficult to interpret satellite images and dubious local information, but keep military casualties down.

The US is now also in the process of deploying what is called "Hybrid War" tactics to discredit and destabilise a government that is not yet even formed and has not even started to function. This type of war blends conventional warfare with political warfare, irregular warfare and cyber warfare supported by influencing methods such as media disinformation, diplomacy and foreign electoral intervention etc. 

This new war in Afghanistan now will also be a silent war, an economic war with sanctions and debt weapons as devastating as  the US "humanitarian bombing" with cluster bombs, helicopter gunships and drones.

On August 24, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson after chairing the G7 meeting very clearly stated that withholding aid and recognition gave them "very considerable leverage-- economic, diplomatic and political" over the Taliban. Under the current prevailing dire economic condition in Afghanistan, the exercise of such  a "leverage" will lead to the loss of hundreds and thousands of Afghan lives.

Already the US has frozen US$9.4 billion of the Afghan Central Bank's foreign reserve. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has suspended US$46 million emergency reserves to Afghanistan as well as has decided to cut off US$370 million Covid-19 aid. The World Bank also has decided to freeze US$1.4 billion in aid. The European Union (EU) also has  frozen US$1.4 billion in aid. The aftereffects of such measures will certainly inflict much more miseries and deaths than the hot war  of the last 20 years.  Afghanistan under the Taliban now need to garner a much wider global community support to enable the country to withstand the economic coercion and hostile posturing of the US and its allies.

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