Sep 24, 2023
Sep 24, 2023
For the umpteenth time Afghanistan is fading from the world stage like it did in the past after the British left India and the Soviets left Afghanistan. America has handed over much of the responsibility to NATO and for the next six months Britain and its general are in charge. In the last two months ten British soldiers have been killed by insurgents in the southern provinces, which is more than all the British deaths since the invasion in 2001. The Taliban have regrouped in the south and even control the countryside and some small towns. In the north there is infighting between two Uzbek warlords and marked discontent amongst the Pashtuns in the center north. The western provinces are influenced by Iran as are the ethnic Hazaras who are Shiite. Hekmetyar, a radical Sunni leader who destroyed Kabul during the fighting between Mujahedeen after the fall of Najibullah is being armed and supported by Pakistan and its ISI.
Just as in Iraq, the lack of security has prevented any reconstruction or economic improvement. European and American NGOs live in protected and isolated enclaves indulging in conspicuous western lifestyles while the average Afghan is unable to feed himself or his family. The writ of Karzai's government barely extends beyond his palace and corrupt government officials forcibly expropriate the property of the powerless common people. They are further compelled to grow opium for survival and thus bear allegiance to warlords who are often drug dealers as well. There is constant intimidation by the resurgent Taliban and indiscriminate aerial bombardment by the American and British forces. Thus the helpless poor are easily recruited by the insurgents who share their orthodox Islamic beliefs.
America's unwillingness to suffer the casualties of war led it to use the Northern Alliance and other warlords as proxy fighters against the Taliban and in hunting for the top brass of Al Qaeda. That is how Bin Laden etc. managed to escape from Tora Bora. America used its air-power as usual and a few special forces. It did not disarm or defang the warlords. The Northern Alliance in its civil war against the Taliban had committed atrocities against civilians including women and children. Its joint force of Tajiks and Uzbeks was unacceptable as dominating the central government to the ethnic Pashtuns who constitute the majority and extend across the Pakistani border to the Northwest Frontier Province.
Afghanistan was a buffer state between the British and Russian empires. The British fought three wars with the Afghans and could not subdue them for long. They appointed a ruler of their choice and financially and militarily subsidized him from their Indian treasury. It was Kipling who invented the term "The Great Game" and popularized it in his anti-Indian racist novel Kim. The power of the central government has been always weak in the country and when strong, has led to local rebellions. The roads are poor to non-existent and rail connections practically non-existent. The various ethnic groups Hazara, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turcoman live in their own separate ethnic regions except for major metropolitan cities. The only unifying force is Islam and even there the Iranian side of the country is Shiite and the rest Sunni.
There are as many Pashtuns on the Pakistani side as there are in the southern Afghan provinces. Sir Mortimer Durand drew a line to separate British India from Afghanistan which the latter have never accepted. The border is porous and Pashtuns cross it with impunity as the Pakistani central government's writ does not extend to the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In fact Afghanistan was the only nation that refused to recognize Pakistan at its birth as a separate nation at the UN because of its claim over the Pashtun province of Pakistan.
A strong Pashtun dominated central government in Kabul would destabilize Pakistan. This is why Pakistan nurtured and supported the Taliban who had a stronger Islamic rather than Pashtun identity. They were beholden to Pakistan and melded with Pakistan's much proclaimed Islamic identity, thus providing Pakistan with its much desired strategic depth where it could train terrorists to fight in Kashmir and store its WMDs safe from Indian retaliation. It is still supporting the Taliban through the ISI and pretends to co-operate with America to obtain economic and military aid.
The indiscriminate air raids, maltreatment of Afghan prisoners, economic stagnation, opium based economy, warlordism, corruption and the attacks on Islamic states like Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories has further inflamed the Islam based xenophobia of the Afghan population. It is a matter of a short time before America and NATO tire of spending blood and treasure and withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq leaving a narco-terrorist Afghanistan or its separate ethnic fragments like in a future trifurcated Iraq.
India has given over 500 million dollars in aid to Afghanistan. If it is to break up, India would be better off if there is a separate Pashtunistan rather than a Neo-Taliban ruling over a united Afghanistan, because that would frustrate Pakistani strategy. India has good relations with Tajikistan and would continue to have good relations with the Tajik section of Afghanistan as well as with a newly formed Pashtunistan. If America attacks Iran the chaos that Iran instigates in Afghanistan is sure to hasten its fragmentation. India needs to have contingency plans for such an event even as it currently does and should support the Karzai government.
More by : Gaurang Bhatt, MD