India’s connections to Afghanistan go well beyond geopolitics in the perennially troubled region. Not all of us are experts at deciphering the tragedy unfolding virtually next door, but most are horrified and saddened by what they see on their television screens. With Kabul gone, the Taliban is back in control, and that is indeed an ominous sign for us, here in India, as well as for the rest of the watching world. Never mind that the big global players are being silent and distancing themselves from the carnage as innocents cower in fear, wondering about their fate. Familiar scenes of American military helicopters hovering over the city, evacuating their own, bring back disturbing memories of Vietnam and the resounding defeat of America at the hands of local nationalists determined to take on and chase out the American bullies.
Kabul has always evoked a deep emotional resonance with Indians. There is sentimentality involved, not mere curiosity. Which may explain why desi millennials feel so strongly about the recent happenings in Afghanistan. Till today, most discerning customers of dry fruits in urban markets wait for local merchants to announce the arrival of fresh consignments from our neighbouring country. Growing up in Delhi, I remember my mother eagerly looking out for the well-built Pathans to visit the colony, carrying the best dried apricots, walnuts, pistachios. Kids would squeal in delight and alert others about the sighting of the impressive looking, kindly men, sporting zari jackets over voluminous Pathan suits, the long tail of those distinctive turbans catching the breeze as they strode from house to house with their wares.
Our film industry was equally fascinated by these men, after the success of a Bimal Roy produced film titled Kabuliwala (1961), starring the magnificent Balraj Sahni as Abdul Rehman. I recall lustily singing, “Mera naam Abdul Rehman, pistawala hoon mein Pathan…” and being intrigued by the character based on a 1892 short story written by the great Rabindranath Tagore. This may be the reason why I am unable to watch the gut-wrenching footage of the current Taliban takeover. It’s inhuman and outrageous that America and the UN nonchalantly waltzed away after being around for 20 long years of faking, not staking, a claim “in the interests of humanity”. This false narrative has been totally seen through. But who can question either America or the UN?
Besides Vladimir Putin, of course!
The reasons for the withdrawal of troops remain disingenuous and unconvincing. America is done with Afghanistan -- that’s the truth which will never be acknowledged. Perhaps it is believed that there’s nothing more to gain, only American lives to lose, by staying on. Afghanistan has been left high and dry… to survive or collapse. Zero collateral damage. Zero accountability. What the rest of the watching world feared (the Talibanisation of the region) is taking place even as those who can flee to safer terrain have done so, starting with the President, who is believed to be in Tajikistan, after abandoning his people. The same people who must feel twice betrayed -- by their own leaders and by the Americans. Twenty years of being around, and America walked away without any attempt to make the Afghans self-sufficient on any front. Ill-equipped to resist an attack, it was a no-brainer that the Taliban forces would move in swiftly and take full control once the American troops pulled out.
The biggest concern remains the fragile status of women in Afghanistan. They will be the worst hit and most abused segment of society controlled by the medieval, cruel, misogynistic thinking of the Taliban bosses. The other major concern involves China swiftly replacing America in the power axis. Whichever way one looks at it -- there are no victors in this grim scenario. It’s a leap backwards into several centuries of oppression and brutality. The world will have no recourse, no choice, but to stand by and see a country self-destruct. What did anybody do when the magnificent sixth century Bamiyan Buddhas were blown up by the Taliban forces? According to reports at the time, Mirza Hussain was 26 years old when the Taliban forces took him and 25 other men prisoner and ordered them to plant explosives that blew up the world-famous Buddha statues in Bamiyan, their hometown. He survived the incident, and restarted life as a bicycle repair man. A shocked world remained a mute witness to this destruction.
So, the big question remains: Who let down Afghanistan? Was Ashraf Ghani, 72, as weak a puppet as the Americans desired when they made him President back in 2014? For a former academic and economist, who had vowed to die for his countrymen a few months earlier, it was indeed disgraceful of him to flee with his wife and children to Dushanbe. The Americans not only looked the other way during the siege of Kabul, they had sent Black Hawks and Apache helicopters, plus 5,000 soldiers, to ferry their own diplomats to the airport. But Joe Biden’s ruthless, cold-blooded move will not cost him a thing back home! Americans were fed up with the distant war and the $2 trillion that had been spent on… well, pretty much nothing!
Joe Biden merely completed the dirty job started by Barack Obama and carried forward by Donald Trump. If ever the sinister machinations of various US administrations are honestly chronicled by impartial historians (if such a breed exists), it will be a sorry narrative on all counts. As analysts have pointed out, this is an old, old tactic, successfully carried out across the globe, from El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Panama, Haiti and beyond… Most infamously and publicly in Vietnam -- where there was a lot of egg on America’s face.
Despite all this, of course, successive US Presidents have continued to play nasty war games in countries they have no business to be in. Had President Ghani been more engaged with his own people, and helped build Afghanistan, perhaps history would have read differently.
At the moment, we in India need to behave more like Americans, and plan our strategy with the same level of far-sightedness and calculation. There is much more at stake for us in Afghanistan than there ever was for America. Besides, I hear our embassy in Kabul is housed in a staggeringly beautiful building with a lovely compound. We definitely don’t want to jeopardise that gorgeous former palace by messing up in this hyper-sensitive period!