Saeed Naqvi | Afghan in mess, but Biden’s end to US ‘forever wars’ welcome

Deccan Chronicle.  | Saeed Naqvi

Opinion, Columnists

What happened in Afghanistan was a process set into motion as early as the 1970s, where imperial interests were directly involved


American President Joe Biden’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has been messy, agreed, but if it means an end to the US’ “forever wars”, isn’t that to be welcomed? When Donald Trump asked Jimmy Carter “What should we do, China is going ahead of us?”, Jimmy Carter’s pithy response was: “China hasn’t been at war since 1978; we’ve never stopped being at war.”

Natural calamities worldwide are increasing at the rate of knots due to global warming, which may well become irreversible. That’s where all our focus should be, jointly.

What happened in Afghanistan was a process set into motion as early as the 1970s, where imperial interests were directly involved. American imperialism had already taken a drubbing in Vietnam. Portugal’s pullout from Angola, and Mozambique brought the Communists to power. Then Mengistu surfaced in Ethiopia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

Such an outcome must be foreclosed in the Iran-South Asia region.

Ironically, the Saur revolution, or the April 1978 coup, brought Afghan Communists Khalq and Parcham to power. This epoch-making event was a consequence of a botched-up adventure instigated by US intelligence. The Shah of Iran’s notorious Savak took the operational lead. I was in Kabul for the first press conference by Noor Mohammad Taraki, the Communist PM.

Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski had embarked on securing a global order in which “regional influentials” would play a key role. The Shah, arch-regional power in Brzezinski’s book, allowed Savak to clean up the stables in nearby Kabul where Mohammad Daud, a Marxist “numa” (lookalike), was leaning excessively on Moscow.  

Diehard Communists around Daud had to be eliminated. As happens in many intelligence operations, the Savak plot got leaked. Mir Akbar Khyber, a Communist trade union leader, was inadvertently killed, alerting Communists across the country of the Savak plan.  

In a pre-emptive move, military officers Aslam Watanjar and Abdul Qadir Dagarwal mobilised armoured carriers, drove into the presidential palace, killed Daud and his relatives, and the Communists took power.

Kabul under the Communists paved the way for the Soviet Union to enter the country. Once again, Brzezinski was in action. Peering into Afghanistan from the automatic “frontline state”, Pakistan, he began to think tactically towards a strategic end.

The US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan got into a huddle for their own ends. The US would provide military training and hardware to drive the USSR out of Afghanistan. The Saudis and the Pak establishment wanted this outcome too, but they had key agendas of their own. The Saudis would spend billions in the project to manufacture a kind of Arabized Islam to undermine the Shia ayatollahs in Iran who had come to power just the previous year. It suited Pakistan’s President Zia-ul Haq. He was able to embark on his “Nizam e Mustafa”, or government based on Islamic laws. This would Arabise the country’s Islam and wrench it away from the “mumbo-jumbo” of secularism and composite culture being promoted in India. Had he lived, India’s social evolution would have pleased him.

Hundreds of madrasas, or seminaries, came up on the Pakistan side of the border, hatcheries to breed the Mujahideen who eventually helped drive the Soviets out in 1989. True, a year later the Soviet Union fell, but the departing Americans left behind unemployed Islamic militants who farmed out for work in Kashmir, Egypt, Algeria. The spiritual heirs in the diaspora of this brand of militancy were utilised most recently in the Syrian carnage.

In 1996, the Taliban, a progeny of the Mujahideen, fired by the kind of Islam instilled into them in the madrasas, were once again boosted by the Americans. Senior hands in South Block had joined the US camp after the Soviet Union’s collapse. The lemon sold to everybody was that the Taliban will control Afghanistan and the US will control the Taliban. This coordination will help Unocal’s TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline. After Unocal was sold to Chevron in 2005, the US found other reasons to stay on: Pakistan next door was too nuclear to be ignored; the Uyghurs in Xinxiang and Muslim populations in the Caucasus looked like low-hanging fruit, accessible from Afghan real estate. Priceless poppy in Helmand?

Al Qaeda’s founder Osama bin Laden made Afghanistan his base since 1980 with a singular mission: to help the Taliban see the backs of the Soviets. Their occupation of a Muslim country was an insult to Islam. Once the Soviets were driven out, Bin Laden set his sights on foreign soldiers and oil companies in his homeland. He raised the banner of revolt against Riyadh, soon after Juhayman al-Otaybi and his al-Ikhwan group (an extremist cousin of Muslim Brotherhood) shook the Kingdom by occupying the Mecca Grand Mosque for 20 days. The Saudi royal family’s strong links with the Bush clan was the backdrop for the clash of civilisations as soon as George W. Bush entered the White House in January 2001. Eight months later 9/11 happened. Egged on by the neo-cons, the US occupied Afghanistan.  

It’s being said this is the first time that soldiers trained by the US waged no battle against the Taliban. What happened in Vietnam? Google C-Span and see Gen. Lloyd Austin, now defence secretary, being grilled by the Senate Armed Services Committee on a $500 million project to train Syrian militants. “How many of our trainees are fighting?” Huge pause. Then Gen. Austin: “Four or five.”

The media neo-cons won’t give up. In a satirical piece, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times implies that the Taliban “the morning after the morning after” will turn up at the White House, turbans in hand. “Please sir, take over our country once again!”