Within three months of the United States’ military withdrawal from Afghanistan, a spate of terrorist attacks on mosques, medical colleges and even hospitals have killed hundreds of people. After 20 years of the virtual occupation of the country, is this what the Americans have left behind? Are the terrorists, hatched in Afghanistan to oust the Soviet Union in the 1980s, returning home after doing duty in Jammu and Kashmir, Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Syria, and so on? Who is handling them? Will these terrorists plague the countries neighbouring Afghanistan as well, or is someone igniting a civil war?
Terrorists cannot be trained with the fanciest weapons, pillowed with cash, drugged for violent killings and, after the assignment, expected to resume their lives as regular tax-paying citizens. They have mutated into a different form of life, like Ramu the wolf boy of Lucknow in the 1970s (Washington Post: The Mystery of the Wolf Boy, April 21, 1985).
Anyone watching the Syrian tragedy since 2011 cannot forget Abu Sakkar, the Free Syrian Army’s “heart eating cannibal”. Sakkar had actually ripped open a Syrian government soldier’s body, pulled out the liver and heart and bit into it. He became a prize item for TV features. Paul Wood of the BBC looked like a concerned psychoanalyst interviewing him. How do “independent” Western journalists so quickly reach a Muslim cannibal in a war zone?
It was precisely to boost the Free Syrian Army’s war-making abilities that the CIA and the Pentagon created a budget that ran into billions of US dollars. Candidate Donald Trump told Jake Tapper of CNN as much. In fact, he went on to name his favourite culprits for the lavish budgets — President Barack Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Mr Trump may have exaggerated a bit, but he was not entirely wrong. After all, there were TV clips of Mr Obama’s secretary of defence, Ashton Carter, choking in front of the TV cameras. He admitted that arms meant for the Free Syrian Army had landed in the hands of terrorists. To Gen. Lloyd Austin’s lot had fallen the ignominy of being grilled by the Senate Armed Services Committee about one of the many boo-boos the US had made in Syria. He is now the secretary of defence. A group of “good terrorists” in one theatre for whom a project of $500 million had been budgeted simply walked away with loot in arms and cash. Asked how many hands trained on his watch were still in battle, Gen. Austin had mumbled: “Four… (or) five”.
Against this perspective, terrorism is something that “they”, the bad guys, indulge in, but when a peacenik President like Jimmy Carter arranges for the Saudis to open their coffers for sums in excess of billions of dollars to fund hundreds of “madrasas” on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border, hundreds of thousands of Mujahideen are trained, Stinger missiles are placed on their shoulders to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan, and lo and behold, the Mujahideen have acquired the halo of a martyrs’ brigade.
Sometimes the problem for Americans is the so-called “American exceptionalism”. A number of clubs in the US play American football (which is different from rugby), basketball, baseball and call it the World Series because in the American subconscious, the rest of the world is presumed beaten. Or it is irrelevant.
It is the summer of 2014. President Barack Obama is livid with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki for refusing to sign the Status of Forces agreement before the US troops depart. Mr Maliki has to be ousted.
On July 4, 2014, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi releases a video from Mosul’s main mosque. He declares the formation of the Islamic caliphate. Within months, the Islamic State warriors in glistening new Humvees hurtle towards Baghdad. I call up Iraqi contacts. “Yes, US planes are pretending to bomb ISIS but the bombs are falling on the Shia militia.” And there are many of these in Iraq.
On August 14, 2014, President Obama gave a wide-raging interview to New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. “Why did you not order air strikes against ISIS just when it reared its head in June-July?” asks Friedman. Mr Obama gives the game away in his response.
“If I had ordered a bunch of airstrikes then, it would have taken the pressure off Maliki.”
In September 2014, Mr Maliki is shown the door.
Obviously, President Obama knew that he was taking a like-minded journalist into confidence. Like a good journalist, Friedman did not betray his confidence (nor his steadfast convictions) while later advising Donald Trump on Syria. “Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria?” He then asks the key question: “Is it really in our interest to be focusing solely on defeating ISIS in Syria right now?”
“There are actually two ISIS manifestations”, he writes. One is “virtual ISIS — it is Satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through the Internet. It has its adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us. Because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and give permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society, who feel humiliated from London, to Paris to Cairo — to recover their dignity via the headline-grabbing murders of innocents”.
“The other incarnation is the territorial ISIS”, he says. “It still controls pockets of western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies and defeat the pro-Iran regime in Iraq, replacing both with a caliphate.” Which, by inference, is in the US interest. It would be tactless for an establishment columnist like Thomas Friedman to say it now, but he will do so at an opportune time. Are ISIS and its numerous variants not an “asset” even today in Afghanistan? Friedman gives you a clue into the thought processes in the US establishment.
On October 13, 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a summit of ex-Soviet security forces that battle hardened terrorists are entering Afghanistan from Syria and Iraq. The Iranian and Chinese leaders have also said much the same thing. What is New Delhi’s take on these developments in the Taliban-run Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US withdrawal?...