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Afghanistan, the burial ground of empires

When we look at America’s longest invasion campaign in Afghanistan, we understand that the foreign powers such as them go into that country in the name of either freeing the people of that land or making the world safer, none of which ultimately becomes a reality. In fact, every time the foreigners went into Afghanistan, they left the land worse off — pushing the people further into an abyss of darkness.
Now that the US military has left after years of a futile mission, experts say that Afghanistan is heading for a civil war and devastation, as well as loss of more lives.
Why had the West gone into that country? Well, they thought Taliban were harbouring al-Qaeda, and America wanted to eliminate that threat emanating from that axis. America claims that they have been successful in their mission, but we hardly accept that as a fact. We must remember that America “thinks” many things which, as we’ve seen, in a few years, turn out to be completely opposite.
After a few years, it was clear that the course of the mission had changed; it was more of a question of security than fighting against terror. However, their military were all along training up local defense forces, but now it looks like they have miserably failed to make any headway. And now, following a shambolic pullout, you wash your hands off, saying that Afghanistan wasn’t your responsibility.

The garden of military fanfare
Then whose responsibility was it, when you entered the country to eliminate bin Laden and, for that matter, al-Qaeda? You didn’t wait for anyone’s permission, did you?
This withdrawal has come as another example for the hegemonic superpowers. You can’t win everything with military might and money.
We’ve seen how the Soviets goofed up for about a decade. And before that, there were the British occupiers. Several times. Mongols too. None of those aggressions brought about any good for that country, and the people. Occupiers often invent narratives that are favourable to them and the mass media falls prey to their propaganda.
By doing that, you only destroy the peace of the common people there.
Occupying that country in the pretext of demolishing the Taliban after 9/11 didn’t work. The Taliban are more powerful than they were in 2001. The US also had to fight a proxy war against the Soviets, fuelling the Mujahideen and Taliban with resources. Later, while fighting the Taliban, it gathered militia from various countries across the world.
So, the land of Afghanistan has always been a playground of the military powers whenever they felt like showing off their fire-power. And in the process, thousands of innocent people die for no reason.
If you hadn’t gone there to nation-build, why did you then stay for two decades? Your mission, as you say, was accomplished long ago, wasn’t it?

Too good to be true?
The withdrawal looks too good to be true. All foreign troops were gone overnight! How could the US-led Nato give in so easily? How could they leave fully knowing that the country would plunge into civil war?
Yet, they left.
But wait; what if this withdrawal is a decoy? The US wants everyone to believe that this is not their war anymore, and they are leaving, but what if it has different strategies in mind? What if they had a deal with some of its allies who might play the next role in Afghanistan?
The idea of a new quad grouping involving the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan gives an interesting signal. Why Pakistan? Why a country that was instrumental in creating the Taliban that America-led Nato wanted to eliminate? Well, now they have left the country to those “insurgents” whom they wanted to defeat.

What now?
Firefights are continuing. One of the war-objectives, among others, of the Taliban was that they wanted the Nato forces to leave. That is now a reality. Now, they find themselves in an intensified internal war; their opponent — the government forces — considers them as terrorists and enemies of the people and the Taliban don’t enjoy the people’s support.
It won’t be easy for the Taleban even if they occupy all the districts in armed conflict. After the fight, the real responsibility would set in – running the country as well as the society. Is an Islamic Emirate acceptable to the international community – even its neighbours? Not really. The Taleban style of enforcing law would not only create challenges for the Taleban but also leave them alone in the international arena. Not that easy. It may be easy to win in the battleground, but it would be quite difficult at the negotiating table as well as planning for an election for a convincing way to form a government.
The people are looking for an alternative for both the government as well as the Taleban. An election could be disastrous for both the parties. Meanwhile, we hear anti-Taleban militias are mobilizing against the Taleban and reports of Taleban deaths are also in the news media. Many Afghans now want to flee the country, but hardly any nation-state has shown interest in their plight.
Afghanistan is in a mess – a mess that the empires had created.

Who’s next?
We need to remember a popular adage – Afghanistan is a burial ground for the empires. But at the same time, it is also a ground where the empires display their might.
The US exit has created a vacuum, a vacuum that neither the government nor the Taleban are capable enough to handle.
Hoping to talk to Beijing, the Taleban has already said that they saw China as a ‘friend’ to Afghanistan. They want China to start reconstruction work in the country.
We have to keep in mind that the country has the world’s largest unexploited reserves of copper, coal, iron, gas, cobalt, mercury, gold, lithium and thorium, valued at over 1 trillion dollars. Someone has to feel tempted. China National Petroleum Corporation has already won a 400 million dollar bid to drill three oil fields for 25 years. Chinese companies have also gained rights to mine copper at Mes Aynak in Logar province.
China’s strategies are non-military and steady and their strategies have proven to be effective for entering into a territory where other empires have fallen. That China may become the new empire is quite difficult to predict right now, but there are signs that it might.
Right now the Taleban itself looks like a new gang of occupiers. The ‘occupy’ attitude may not be good for them. They may think of knowing what the people are expecting. Many in the past had applied force, but force didn’t work.

First published in Dhaka Tribune –

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