A relative, who is one of this government’s true believers, recently circulated a video of people hurriedly getting onto a small airplane. When I asked what this was and why they had shared this video, the answer was, “This is Ashraf Ghani’s family fleeing Afghanistan.”
The explanation was made in such a gleeful tone that I found it extremely disturbing. Other family members got in on the discussion with one cousin, remarking, “Historically, Taliban rule in Pakistan had been better for Pakistan.” That remark simply seemed to reflect the sense of excitement and anticipation that appears to be widespread in Pakistan about the return of the Taliban next door.
Pakistan’s Afghan policy, has always centred around somehow being in control of the politics of that country, mainly through religious groups. The lucrative nature of using Islam as a rallying cry in Afghanistan was made clear after the Russian invasion. The US, aided willingly by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, mobilised ‘mujahideen groups’ against the Soviet forces and the rallying cry of ‘saving Islam’, along with the cash and arms that poured in for this purpose proved to be very effective in the conflict. Certainly, many in Pakistan profited from the conflict but while these individuals and establishments would often complain about all the Afghan refugees who flooded into Pakistan, they never really complained about all the money they made. They just went on and on about ‘strategic depth’ and continued to happily support militant groups. The generals watched in horror as one Pakistani prime minister tried to find a political and consensual solution to the conflict so he (Junejo) was dismissed by the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq fairly quickly. Subsequent, elected prime ministers have been similarly undermined and challenged on the Afghan policy front.
My cousin thinks that history shows us that Taliban rule in Afghanistan has been good for Pakistan. Hmm, that would be because of the scores of public executions in the football stadium. Or perhaps because of the Taliban government’s efforts to take the country back to the dark ages. Or perhaps because the Taliban’s efforts to fix the country concentrated on such useful and revolutionary measures as smashing televisions, destroying ancient statues and insisting that women and minorities (like the well-entrenched Sikh communities) had no rights at all. Or perhaps that regime was ‘good’ for Pakistan because the militant violence then seeped into Pakistan and resulted in more than a decade of terror: bomb blasts and armed attacks. Despite all of that violence, many Pakistanis refused to condemn the killers because somehow they felt a sort of grudging admiration for the extremists, the ‘true believers’. Never mind the brutality of armed attacks or the heroin, Kalashnikovs and network of Saudi funded madrassahs that flooded the country, the mujahideen/Taliban groups were apparently ‘good’ for Pakistan.
The way the US has simply upped and left Afghanistan is shockingly callous. They invaded the country in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, all in the name of fighting against religious militancy and terrorism. I am not sure what they did in two decades of occupying the country: but the Afghan Taliban now seem stronger than before and their forces are now re-taking the country bit by bit. Along the way, they execute journalists, comedians and anyone else they disapprove of. And they continue their practice of targeting any high profile individuals or government officials who oppose them – just a few days ago they killed Dawood Khan Menapal, the head of the Afghan government’s press operations for local and foreign media. He was gunned down in his car in Kabul during the time of Friday prayers.
The interesting thing about all this is that the world does not seem to be interested in Afghanistan any more. The advance of the Taliban forces on the capital, the decimation of the Afghan security forces along the way, the fact that thousands who believed in the west’s false claims of furthering democracy and progress now fear for their lives – none of this is considered worthy of sustained media coverage. There are occasional news stories, of course, but the intensity is nothing like it was when the Bamiyan Buddhas were blown up or when one or two western coalition soldiers were killed. Everybody seems to be watching events in Afghanistan with a degree of resignation, with a sense that Taliban victory is inevitable. The country seems to have been thrown to the wolves. After two decades of US occupation, it’s back to square one, nothing seems to have changed in the country except that Kabul now has trendy coffee shops and the trappings of western capitalism. After claiming that they were training and supporting government forces, the US-led coalition has abandoned them: the soldiers who resist the Taliban are now simply cannon fodder. It seems a familiar enough pattern: invade and occupy a country and wage a war in the name of peace and progress, get lots of people killed, and then just get up and leave.
Many organisations in the west are now trying to do their conscientious bit by arranging sanctuary for those Afghans who worked with the western coalition – the translators and media fixers in particular. But how tragic it is that those who worked for what they thought was positive change, progress and the rule of law in their homeland are now forced with the choice of either losing their country or losing their life.
Meanwhile, people in Pakistan (or at least my right-wing relatives) continue to be all excited about the return of the Middle Ages. Probably because of the thinking that Afghanistan should be regarded mainly as a battleground for the covert Indo-Pakistan war and ongoing power struggle in the region. Or perhaps because of the thinking that a religious ideology will trump any other ideology, particularly that of Pakhtun nationalism (something that we seem particularly phobic about). Some people will be of the opinion that the Taliban are more representative of the Afghan nation than any other group so eventually some sort of political evolution will happen in the country and that will be better than an artificially imposed system. Well, that’s all very well but what about those two decades then? What of all the lives lost and the promises made?
And what about the Afghans dreaming of peace and progress? Their fate can be summed up in two words: cannon fodder.
Thank you America. And thank you also to all you neighbours of Afghanistan.