[News] The Return of the Taliban 20 Years Later

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Thu Aug 19 10:43:09 EDT 2021


counterpunch.org
<https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/08/19/the-return-of-the-taliban-20-years-later/>
The
Return of the Taliban 20 Years Later
Vijay Prashad - August 19, 2021
------------------------------

Photograph Source: bluuurgh – Public Domain

On August 15, the Taliban arrived
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in Kabul. The Taliban’s leadership entered the presidential palace, which
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had vacated when he fled into exile abroad
hours before. The country’s borders shut down and Kabul’s main
international airport lay silent, except for the cries of those Afghans who
had worked for the U.S. and NATO; they knew that their lives would now be
at serious risk. The Taliban’s leadership, meanwhile, tried to reassure
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the public of a “peaceful transition” by saying in several statements that
they would not seek retribution, but would go after corruption and
lawlessness.

*The Taliban’s Entry in Kabul Is a Defeat for the United States*

In recent years, the United States has failed to accomplish any of the
objectives of its wars. The U.S. entered Afghanistan with horrendous
bombing and a lawless campaign of extraordinary rendition in October 2001
with the objective of ejecting the Taliban from the country; now, 20 years
later, the Taliban is back. In 2003, two years after the U.S. unleashed a
war in Afghanistan, it opened an illegal war against Iraq, which ultimately
resulted in an unconditional withdrawal
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of the United States in 2011 after the refusal by the Iraqi parliament to
allow U.S. troops extralegal protections. As the U.S. withdrew from Iraq,
it opened a terrible war against Libya in 2011, which resulted in the
creation of chaos in the region.

Not one of these wars—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya—resulted in the creation of
a pro-U.S. government. Each of these wars created needless suffering for
the civilian populations. Millions of people had their lives disrupted,
while hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in these senseless
wars. What faith in humanity can now be expected from a young person in
Jalalabad or in Sirte? Will they now turn inward, fearing that any
possibility of change has been seized from them by the barbaric wars
inflicted upon them and other residents of their countries?

There is no question that the United States continues to have the world’s
largest military and that by using its base structure and its aerial and
naval power, the U.S. can strike any country at any time. But what is the
point of bombing a country if that violence attains no political ends? The
U.S. used its advanced drones to assassinate the Taliban leaders, but for
each leader that it killed, another half a dozen have emerged. Besides, the
men in charge of the Taliban now—including the co-founder of the Taliban
and head of its political commission, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar—were there
from the start; it would never have been possible to decapitate the entire
Taliban leadership. More than $2 trillion has been spent
<https://go.ind.media/e/546932/20Afghan20War2C202001-2021-pdf/kzm4lk/891208318?h=gXdXY60iRl3mCcc2AGzhfUmXIZ10i6m_szRU7RG90xs>
by the United States on a war that it knew could not be won.

*Corruption Was the Trojan Horse*

In early statements, Mullah Baradar said
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that his government will focus its attention on the endemic corruption in
Afghanistan. Meanwhile, stories spread across Kabul about ministers of
Ashraf Ghani’s government attempting to leave the country in cars filled
with dollar bills, which was supposed to be the money that was provided by
the U.S. to Afghanistan for aid and infrastructure. The drain of wealth
from the aid given to the country has been significant. In a 2016 report by
the U.S. government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan
Reconstruction (SIGAR) relating to the “Lessons Learned from the U.S.
Experience with Corruption in Afghanistan,” the investigators write
<https://go.ind.media/e/546932/ption-in-conflict-lessons-html/kzm4lp/891208318?h=gXdXY60iRl3mCcc2AGzhfUmXIZ10i6m_szRU7RG90xs>,
“Corruption significantly undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan by
damaging the legitimacy of the Afghan government, strengthening popular
support for the insurgency, and channeling material resources to insurgent
groups.” SIGAR created a “gallery of greed,” which listed
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U.S. contractors who siphoned aid money and pocketed it through fraud. More
than $2 trillion has been spent
<https://go.ind.media/e/546932/20Afghan20War2C202001-2021-pdf/kzm4lk/891208318?h=gXdXY60iRl3mCcc2AGzhfUmXIZ10i6m_szRU7RG90xs>
on the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, but it went neither to provide
relief nor to build the country’s infrastructure. The money fattened the
rich in the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Corruption at the very top of the government depleted morale below. The
U.S. pinned its hopes on the training of 300,000 soldiers of the Afghan
National Army (ANA), spending $88 billion
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on this pursuit. In 2019, a purge
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of “ghost soldiers” in the rolls—soldiers who did not exist—led to the loss
of 42,000 troops; it is likely that the number might have been higher
<https://go.ind.media/e/546932/rterlyreports-2019-10-30qr-pdf/kzm4ly/891208318?h=gXdXY60iRl3mCcc2AGzhfUmXIZ10i6m_szRU7RG90xs>.
Morale in the ANA has plunged over the past few years, with defections from
the army to other forces escalating. Defense of the provincial capitals was
also weak, with Kabul falling to the Taliban almost without a fight.

To this end, the recently appointed defense minister to the Ghani
government, General Bismillah Mohammadi, commented
<https://go.ind.media/e/546932/di1-status-1426904905055444993/kzm4m1/891208318?h=gXdXY60iRl3mCcc2AGzhfUmXIZ10i6m_szRU7RG90xs>
on Twitter about the governments that have been in power in Afghanistan
since late 2001, “They tied our hands behind our backs and sold the
homeland. Damn the rich man [Ghani] and his people.” This captures the
popular mood in Afghanistan right now.

*Afghanistan and Its Neighbors*

Hours after taking power, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s political
office, Dr. M. Naeem, said
<https://go.ind.media/e/546932/ice-status-1426964064106860545/kzm4m3/891208318?h=gXdXY60iRl3mCcc2AGzhfUmXIZ10i6m_szRU7RG90xs>
that all embassies will be protected, while another spokesperson for the
Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said
<https://go.ind.media/e/546932/M33-status-1427237251352776705/kzm4m5/891208318?h=gXdXY60iRl3mCcc2AGzhfUmXIZ10i6m_szRU7RG90xs>
that all former government officials did not need to fear for their lives.
These are reassuring messages for now.

It has also been reassuring that the Taliban has said that it is not averse
to a government of national unity, although there should be no doubt that
such a government would be a rubber stamp for the Taliban’s own political
agenda. So far, the Taliban has not articulated a plan for Afghanistan,
which is something that the country has needed for at least a generation.

On July 28, Taliban leader Mullah Baradar met
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with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, China. The outlines of
the discussion have not been fully revealed, but what is known is that the
Chinese extracted a promise from the Taliban not to allow attacks on China
from Afghanistan and not to allow attacks on the Belt and Road Initiative
(BRI) infrastructure in Central Asia. In return, China would continue its
BRI investments in the region, including in Pakistan, which is a key
Taliban supporter.

Whether or not the Taliban will be able to control extremist groups is not
clear, but what is abundantly clear—in the absence of any credible Afghan
opposition to the Taliban—is that the regional powers will have to exert
their influence on Kabul to ameliorate the harsh program of the Taliban and
its history of support for extremist groups. For instance, the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (set up in 2001) revived in 2017 its Afghanistan
Contact Group, which held a meeting in Dushanbe in July 2021, and called
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for a national unity government.

At that meeting, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar laid
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a three-point plan, which achieved near consensus among the fractious
neighbors:

“1. An independent, neutral, unified, peaceful, democratic and prosperous
nation.

“2. Ceasing violence and terrorist attacks against civilians and state
representatives, settle conflict through political dialogue, and respect
interests of all ethnic groups, and

“3. Ensure that neighbors are not threatened by terrorism, separatism and
extremism.”

That’s the most that can be expected at this moment. The plan promises
peace, which is a great advance from what the people of Afghanistan have
experienced over the past decades. But what kind of peace? This “peace”
does not include the rights of women and children to a world of
possibilities. During 20 years of the U.S. occupation, that “peace” was not
in evidence either. This peace has no real political power behind it, but
there are social movements beneath
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the surface that might emerge to put such a definition of “peace” on the
table. Hope lies there.

*This article was produced by Globetrotter
<https://go.ind.media/e/546932/2021-08-17/kzm4mh/891208318?h=gXdXY60iRl3mCcc2AGzhfUmXIZ10i6m_szRU7RG90xs>.*

*Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian
Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).*
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