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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 35, New Delhi, August 14, 2021

Afghanistan on a flexuous course | Sheel Bhadra Kumar

Friday 13 August 2021

by Sheel Bhadra Kumar*

The U.S. government’s ultimate time limit of total military withdrawal from Afghanistan is nearing [31st August 2021] the world and the people of Afghanistan are in total confusion and uncertainty about the future of Afghanistan which has witnessed a civil strife, terrorism, violence, numerous deaths, war and foreign interventions for many decades. It has long been a prize sought by empire-builders and superpowers. But the country’s forbidding landscape of deserts and mountains has made many imperial and superpowers ambitions to rest. Afghanistan is called graveyards of superpowers’ might. Though we find multiple ethnic groups there but they have fought fiercely against foreign invasions exhibiting their tireless resistance. Afghanistan has failed till date to build a strong modern nation but has instead long endured as a patch of contending ethnic factions and ever-shifting alliances.

Geographical location

Afghanistan is a mountainous and landlocked country at the crossroads of central and south Asia lying along important trade routes connecting southern and Eastern Asia to Europe and the Middle- East. It is located in the heart of Asia. It is bordered by Pakistan to the east and south [longest land border, called, Durand line], Iran to the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north and China [Xinjiang region to the north-east [at the end of the long, narrow Vakhan corridor]. It is a country mostly of ethnic groups like Pashtuns [42 percent]. Tajiks [27 percent], Hazars [9 percent, Uzbeks [9 percent] and other ethnic factions in small numbers.

Geographical challenge and oddity

Once a renowned Urdu poet Allam Iqbal had said; “Asia is a body of water and earth, of which the Afghanistan nation is the heart. From its discord starts the discord of Asia; and from its accord starts the accord of Asia”. Today we find his saying to be prophetic and true because now we see every Asian nation genuinely interested in restoration of peace and tranquility in Afghanistan. But why we find Afghanistan to be so tough and intractable. The geography of Afghanistan is varied, but is mostly mountainous and rugged, with some unusual mountain peaks, ridges, plateaus, river basins, highlands, hot windy deserts. Large parts of the country are dry despite rivers and reservoirs. It has a continental climate with harsh winters. In general, the climate of Afghanistan is of extreme cold- winters and hot summers which make foreign invaders very tough to acclimatize and survive in such extreme harsh conditions.

Fragile economy but the lustful attraction

Primarily Afghanistan economy is based on traditional agriculture and animal husbandry. Its economy is a subsistence economy. Being a poor country, we see opium poppy for heroin production. Afghanistan is notorious for opium trade. But there are many reasons of its attraction.

1. Afghanistan is rich in mineral deposits. There are abundant natural gas deposits, petroleum, coal, iron, copper, lead, zinc, lithium, gold, silver, sulfur, mica and others which are in great demand globally.

2. Second, its central location in Asia makes it strategically, geographically and militarily unavoidable by competing powers in Asia and the world.

3. Third, Afghanistan is located on important trade routes [The historical silk route and presently China’s ambitious Road and Belt initiative. Therefore, we see ambitions of big powers contending in Afghanistan.

Constitutional frameworks of Afghanistan

Until the mid 20th century, Afghanistan was ruled by the absolute power of the king. In1923 and 1931; two constitutions were promulgated affirming the power of monarchy. In 1964, a constitutional monarchy was established based on the separation of powers. In 1973, in a military coup, the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of Afghanistan was established. Again in 1978, The Afghan Revolutionary Council was established. In 1979, there was a third military coup and the Soviet troops intervened in Afghanistan and the intervention of superpowers started in Afghanistan,

The Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the cost it paid

In 1978, there was Saur revolution in Afghanistan which was oppressive and corrupt. It perused a policy of execution of its opponents. The people of Afghanistan were unsatisfied with its harsh, oppressive and anti-people policy. Nur Mohammad Taraki was assassinated and turbulence and chaos pervaded. It was a phase of cold war and bipolar rivalry between the USSR and the U.S. The Soviet Union regarded Afghanistan to be an area of its influence. Turbulence in Afghanistan may give the U.S., its greatest adversary, an opportunity to interfere in the arc of the Soviet influence. Afghanistan was its border state. Without delay, Leonid Brezhnev, the strong leader of the USSR, decided to send its troops in Afghanistan in 1979 which is called’ The Brezhnev Doctrine’. But the military intervention of the USSR proved to be wrong and disastrous for the Soviet Union Soviet Union. It lost 15 thousand troops, tanks, weapons and incapacitated great number of armies. The Soviet Union was supported only by the East Germany and India. On the other side, Afghanistan was supported by the U.S, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, U.K., Egypt, Israel, West Germany and others. The Soviet Union failed in Afghanistan miserably. It was called a ‘Beartrap for the USSR ‘alike the U.S. entanglement in the Vietnam War. Through the Geneva accord, Mikhail Gorbachov, then General Secretary of the Soviet Union, decided to withdraw Soviet forces from Afghanistan, which was completed in 1994. But Afghanistan became major military, economic, political and diplomatic drain for the Soviet Union. The geography, guerrilla warfare of Afghan mujahedeen and the foreign support made Afghanistan a trap for the Soviet Union. The Afghan imbroglio became a vulnerable point for the Soviet Union in confrontation with the west. In 1990-1991, the cold war II ended which was started with the Soviet Union intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. The myth of the Soviet Union hegemony was exposed . The Warsaw pact countries disintegrated. The world was transformed from two polar to uni-polar world. The U.S. remained the only superpower. The Soviet Union was degraded from global power to an enervated major power. The president of Afghanistan, Hezbullah was overthrown, installed and supported by the Soviet Union, by the Afghan Mujahedeen’s.

The U.S. intervention in Afghanistan

After the exit of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, a coalition of victorious Mujahedeen parties formed a government and named the country, the Islamic state of Afghanistan led by the Taliban. TO espouse the supremacy of Islamic law, the name of country was changed to the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan. The terrorist groups, like Al-Quada and the Taliban, strengthened their positions in the region. We find an ascendency of Al-quada and its leader Osama-bin-Laden in Afghanistan and Peshawar of Pakistan in the late 1980s to Sudan in 1991 and back to Afghanistan in the mid1990s.

The Taliban which arose from the ashes of Afghanistan’s post-Soviet civil war provided Al-Quada sanctuary for operations. Al-Quada killed Ahmad Shah Massoud who was commander of the Northern Alliance, an Anti-Taliban coalition. It was a severe blow to the Anti-Taliban resistence. An American commentator on international politics, Peter Berger, called this assassination ‘like a curtain raiser for the attack on New York and Trade Centre in the U.S. on 09.11.2001’.

The American president George W.Bush vowed to win war against barbarous terrorist attack against the U.S. and signed a resolution authorizing the use of force against those responsible for attacking the U.S. Thus the U.S. forces entered the territory of Afghanistan in quest of eliminating terrorist organizations and their leaders. In this endeavor, the U.S. Special Forces killed Al –Quada leader, Osama-bin-Laden in Pakistan’s territory. The U.S. secretary of state, Donald Rumsfeld called it an end to major combat. Hamid Karzai was picked to head the country’s transitional government. On june22, 2011, the U.S. president Barak Obama announced troop’s drawdown. On December5, 2011, Bonn conference was held, but it failed. In February2019, a peace-talk was held at Doha between the U.S. government and the Taliban leaders without the participation of the Afghanistan government representatives. The U.S. committed to withdraw its army phase wise and the Taliban representatives pledged to block international terrorist groups from operating from Afghanistan’s soil. The question arises as why America agreed to exit the Afghan soil in so haste. Its answers can be enumerates as given below:

1. The U.S. lost 2400 military personnel’s and more than 20,000 troops were badly injured. The U.S can bear all losses but the loss of Americans becomes unbearable for the Americans and the U.S.administration. We have seen protests in American cities against the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam War.

2. The U.S. Expenditure on Afghanistan war escalated from 3 billion to 5 billion a year in Afghanistan war. The U.S. spent 776 billion dollars from 20011-2019.It was enormous and very difficult to bear for the U.S.economy. It was a wasteful drain.

3. The American taxpayers were questioning the basis and rationality of huge expenditure and senseless involvement in Afghanistan. It was this period from 2001-2020, China bolstered its military, technical, technological strength regionally and globally to get the surplus muscles to challenge the U.S hegemony.

It is why despite a classified intelligence report presented to the Biden administration that Afghanistan could fall largely under Taliban control within two to three years after the departure of international forces; the Biden administration is withdrawing its forces before 31st August 2021.

Challenges and threat for neighboring countries

Pakistan, China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkeministan., Uzbekistan are Border States of Afghanistan. India is a distant and friendly state of it. .Different perceptions of threat as well as new opportunities lay around these countries.

China’s foreign minister Way Yi met with the senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Tiajing on 28 July 2021.China fears of possible spill over of Islamic fundamentalism in its Xinjiang region where the East Turkistan Islamic Movement pose anxiety for it. China is envisaging the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as an opportunity because the U.S.is its chief strategic opponent. China may also gain a strategic corridor allowing it and its long time tested ally Pakistan, to bring further pressure against their common rival India. China is also seeing an opportunity to exploit untapped and unexplored mineral and natural resources of Afghanistan to its advantage. But, instead of backing one side against another, as the Soviet Union and the United States have done, China has adopted as ‘Afghan-led, Afghan-owned ‘approach, in line with its principle of non-intervention.

Pakistan is to play a very active role in shaping the future government in Afghanistan. Pakistan with the help of its Taliban allies may exert further pressure in Jammu-Kashmir and border regions in India. It can pose threat to India’s commercial, economic and development projects and investments in Afghanistan. But, the influx of refugees from Afghanistan is posing problems for Pakistan also.

India is Afghanistan’s largest donor, trade partner and capacity- builder. There is fear of threat for India-Afghanistan friendly relations and investments. If the Taliban’s come to power, bilateral relations may be hampered.

Russia fears of spilling of Islamic fundamentalist movement in its Islamic regions.
The U.S. entered the quagmire of Afghanistan to eliminate the specter of terrorism but it is deserting it in turbulence, chaos and in bloodbath .The common people are feeling disillusioned and cheated by the U.S. administration. Their hopes are shattered and women terrorized.

Multiple crises Afghanistan faces

Afghanistan is facing multiple crisis of different and multiple dimensions and proportions.

1. Afghanistan is facing pandemic, drought and dire Economy.
2. A resurgent Taliban movement is gaining momentum and its control on new territories of Afghanistan is increasing alarmingly.
3. Afghanistan security personnel’s are struggling to hold territory.
4. Political elites have thus far have failed to unite against the common threat of the marauding Talibali assaults. Many Afghans are searching for alternative to both Taliban and the present president Ashraf Ghani.
5. The common people are in gloom and despondency. They are fleeting to other neighboring countries, Iran, Pakistan as refugees. These countries are now reluctant to welcome these refugees from Afghanistan.
6. Activists, intellectuals, writer, activists and sympathizers of western armies are uncertain about their future.
7. Marginalized ethnic groups like Hazaras fear genocide.
8. The women and girls are in a state of extreme fear and in flux. Their access to schools, to work place, to the ballot box and in representative bodies is threatened.
9. There is a profound sense of betrayal among the common people of Afghanistan. Why did the Americans and the western forces wage war for two decades in Afghanistan?

Summing up

The question now is whether the Afghan government under Ashraf Ghani or perhaps some other international force can prevent the Taliban from using violence to monopolise power. Will an enduring legacy of violence and chaos come to a halt? Will peace, harmony and stability ever come to Afghanistan? As far as India is concerned, a period of turbulence lurks in its regional environment forcing it to think to reshape and shift its foreign policy paradigm in ever-changing and fluid Sough- Asian environment whose epicenter lies in Afghanistan.

(Author: Dr. Sheel Bhadra Kumar is Assistant professor of political science
at the Government Mata karma Girls’ college, Mahasamund [C.G.])

Notes and References:

1. Ahmed Rashid’, Descent into Chaos; The US and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, Penguin Books,London,2001
2. Frederick Forsyth, The Afghan, Bantan Press,London,2006
3. Khalid Hosseini, the Kite, Runner, Bloomburg pub. House, London, 2003.
4. Razaultt Laskar, Afghan foreign minister, dials Jaishankar, callas for emergency UNSC session, Times of India, New Delhi edition, 04 August 2021.
5. Vivek Katju, India is losing out in Afghanistan, The Hindustan, T imes, New Delhi, 02 August, 2021.
6. Steve Coll, Ghost Wars, Penguin Books, London, 2005.
7. Leaving the past Behind, Editorial, The Hindu,19,July 2021

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