Last week I was chatting informally with a couple of Afghanistan nerds — knowledgeable folks who have been there… and ummmm… done that. Not recently, but a few short years ago. These good folks are enraged at what’s going on in Kabul and want to make Joe Biden eat crow. Biden has emerged as the chief villain of the tragedy that is Afghanistan. Biden is no Gabbar Singh (the guy Bollywood fans love to hate). He is just an average American Joe, with not too much credibility left. Even the thoda sa respect he may have enjoyed for getting Trump the Chump out of the White House stands in tatters today. At least in the eyes of the watching world that is waking up to a dramatic new reality: that America stands nanga. And that shakes us all up. Why? Because, for over five decades, the idea of “America the Great” had been cleverly planted in our trusting, gullible brains and positioned as the ultimate fantasy, the most amazing dream factory. Even pseudo-socialists in India — yes, the jholawalas who pretended to detest capitalist Yankeedom — became instant converts with one generous grant from an American university. Our high minded sarkari babus and academics openly craved and courted American patronage. So many of them happily accepted fully sponsored American education for their children — some of whom embraced the American way of life, and never came back! No… not even for Diwali! They celebrated Xmas and Thanksgiving, acquired strange accents, married white American partners (rarely American Blacks), leaving their parents and grandparents to show off half-white bachchas to awestruck relatives back home. Yes Sir, yes Ma’am — Indians are besharam, undisguised racists.
What is happening in Afghanistan is being taken most personally by us! Not because we are so politically sensitised, not because we care all that much what happens to the women in that land (we barely care for our own women!), but because, our image of America has been shattered. Come on, most Indians know more about America than they do about Afghanistan, or even India. So many people I meet feign surprise when I mention accomplished, talented, highly educated Afghans I have met. Their eyebrows shoot up as they exclaim: “Really?” Yes! Really! These same people assume every Afghan is illiterate and poor, if not a closet Talibani. The same way they believe that every American in America is educated and rich, when the truth is radically different! Educated Americans form a minority! Educated beyond high school, that is. And even the high schoolers in America are grossly unaccomplished when it comes to language skills, basic maths, geography or history. But — and this is the truly astonishing part — those Americans who do make it, make it big! So big, in fact, that the world gasps at their achievements. They rise from modest, economically deprived, racially challenging backgrounds to scale the highest heights. Some of the modern world’s most innovative ideas and breakthroughs continue to emerge from the “land of milk and honey”. Scientific research and original, out-of-the-box inventions stun world communities on a regular basis. Which is precisely why the American position on Afghanistan has destroyed and tarnished America’s global reputation as the undisputed leader of a free world.
India is in a tricky situation vis-a-vis Afghanistan. I feel for Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, our erudite external affairs minister. He is in such a yucky spot! What can he possibly say to make India appear “neutral”, much less “supportive” of the Taliban? Eventually, India will have to make peace with whosoever is in power over there. So will the rest of the world. What the people of Afghanistan need right now is money. They desperately require basics —food, medicines, clean water. Goodwill comes from reaching out to a vulnerable neighbour on humanitarian grounds. This help should be extended minus any strings attached. Politics can be temporarily kept on hold. There is no point obsessing over Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan — these two nations know each other intimately. Im the Dim can continue to make boo boos galore (the Pakistani PM called the Haqqani Network, the proscribed terror outfit, an “Afghan Pashtun tribe” on Thursday). The relatively unknown player in the Afghanistan imbroglio at the moment is China. It is to India’s advantage to play footsie with China while the mess is being sorted out. Strategically speaking, there is far too much at stake in the region, and India should work harder to establish trust in Afghanistan without getting stuffy and moralistic. Their country, their rules! The people of Afghanistan need help — not bhashans.
“Don’t leave our people at the mercy of a terrorist group,’’ was the statement issued by a group of Afghan diplomats from the deposed government. They are pleading with the world leaders to halt the Taliban violence against women, activists and journalists. Meanwhile, Afghan women living overseas have taken to posting glamourised pictures of themselves in colourful attire. Some of the selfies are defiantly captioned — “This is Afghan culture and how we dress.
Anything less than this does not represent Afghan women” — read one post. Another stated: “This is a fight for our identity.” It is a plaintive cry from women living thousands of miles away, in a safe environment, appealing to the world’s leaders to step in and save their sisters. The telling posts and comments are neither accessible nor helpful to the women living through the daily terror in their own country. But at least the voices and images are being widely shared globally, starting conversations that demand urgent attention.
For women in India, some of these posts may not generate the required amount of empathy, given the sorry state of battered, bruised and raped victims right here in our backyards. Gruesome stories of violence against women and children continue to dominate the headlines, but nobody seems to care sufficiently. We are more obsessed with petty politics and who stole how much from which bank. There is the other national crisis to deal with as well — Virat Kohli stepping down as T20 captain after the World Cup. Afghanistan can wait!
Instagram handle: @ShobhaaDe; Twitter: @DeShobhaa