Millions of words but nothing new to say.

 

Afghanistan.  Is there a beginning, a middle and an end to this story?

No one seems to have any clear idea of how to define a beginning. For sure, it’s not this year, nor twenty years ago.

It’s not a story of religion: it’s a story about crazy people who claim they have a God-given right to kill, maim, rape and cause untold psychological harm to others just because they can.

But that’s the recent past. Even the name “Afghanistan” isn’t particularly old.

Until the 18th Century, there was a region was called Khorāsān some of which is in modern Afghanistan – and outside which some of modern Afghanistan lay.

To understand what lies at the root of Afghanistan’s problems, it is first important to realise that our notion of fixed borders is actually quite recent: fluid borders were common until the early 20th Century: in the UK, Berwick has often been in Scotland or England, the north-west corner of Italy, the heartland of the Northern Alliance, has been part of France or Italy on several occasions and even now can’t really make up its mind. It is therefore important that we understand that Afghanistan is, perhaps, as much a state of mind as a clearly defined geo-political territory.

That is not to say that there is no area that is considered to be Afghanistan: in fact, given the shifting borders of so many states, and the inderterminate status of so many countries, Afghanistan is old having been declared to be a country in 1747.

The root cause of Afghanistan’s problems are deeply historical. There is a tribe, called The Afghans and that was a rebranding: they were Pushtun. But although there was a geographical region, its peoples were far from unified. There was, scholars have said, no common race and no common language.”

That bald statement leads to a complex train of thought: China, India, the USSR, The European Union – all have had to deal that same problem: how do you unify a people when there are no common factors?

Today, we know that Afghanistan is rich in the minerals that make 21st Century life function. But what was the importance over a period of hundreds of years. It’s not particularly fertile, it’s a logistical nightmare to transport anything in or out, it’s landlocked, it’s pretty barren for much of its land mass.

Archaeologists have found evidence that it used to be fertile and that there were quite sophisticated settlements more than 50,000 years ago. Two thousand years before Christ, the region had become a melting pot as traders from all over the world passed through. It seems that, in many respects, it was a second Silk Road, at that time, as a trade route going as far south as Greece. Over a period of centuries, wars were fought over the dominant religion: Buddhism and Islam being the principle protagonists. But even this was against a background of frequent changes in occupation.  An article published by McGill University says 2Through the ages, the Hindu Kush has been home to the Aryans ( Indo-Iranians: Indo-Aryans, Persians, Medes, Parthians, etc.). It also has been invaded by a host of people, including the Greeks, Mauryans, Kushans, Hepthalites, Arabs, Mongols, Turks, British, Soviets, and most recently by the Americans. On other occasions, native entities have invaded surrounding regions to form empires of their own.”

The bold letters are because these are the most recent foreign occupying forces. The British were sent packing after the Anglo-Afghan War of 1919, the third such war in a century but not before they had, as in many other parts of the world, unified, or nearly unified, what would later become countries. In 1919, for the first time, Afghanistan was a single, locally run, independent, country.The result was an Afghan government governing Afghanistan. But it was that “nearly unified” thing that caused later problems. The Durand Line was an artificial segregation that left tribal rivalries unsettled when the new government took over.

Things actually went quite well until 1973 when a sudden Soviet-backed takeover was launched by peripheral members of the incumbent royal family.

It was here that we first learned the term”Mujahideen” and their very existence demonstrates the shifting sands of politics. The Mujahideen supported communism and would fight anyone who disagreed and this led to one of the most bizarre alliances ever.  The Soviets funded training schools for the Mujahideen run inside Pakistan (not communist) by its apex intelligence body, the Inter Services Intelligence or ISI.

The new kids on the block were religious fanatics called The Taliban and they were the enemy of the Mujahideen. In a proxy war, the Soviets and the USA armed, funded and trained their own local teams. The Taliban, over-ran much of the country with relative ease – and the Russians ran away. The USA dusted off its hands, thanked its friends and went home. It was 1989.

What is perhaps the most surprising element of the rise of the brutal Taliban is that they originate from amongst the Pushtun of Kabul, the seat of (in Afghan terms) moderate government for so long. In a little over a decade, more than 95% of the country was under Taliban control.

And that’s where things started to go horribly wrong. A massively contorted version if Islam, driven by unthinking devotion to the letter of the Koran and to the Hadith, interpretative notes, led to the establishment of a regime that can, at best, be described as “heartless.” Now in he heart of Eureasia, a criminal gang with ferocious enforcement of a inhumane laws worked with impunity and, worse with weapons and training provided by, primarily, the USA. With no checks and balances, Afghanistan’s people were thrown into the middle ages while its leaders went on power trips and excursions of extraordinary personal enrichment.

Nothing was safe from their zeal. And while the world knew the term Mujahideen, it was when The Taliban destroyed the Buddas of Bamyan in 2001 that this group found itself in the living rooms of the world courtesy of tea-time news broadcasts. That was just six months before al Qaeda attacked the USA.

There is little evidence that the two were connected – indeed, The Taliban have generally been critical of al Qaeda and its brutal off-shoot Da’eah / ISIS / ISIL, the latest splinter of which, ISIS-K, is intent on worsening the present situation in Afghanistan. US Intelligence continues with its story that The Taliban hosted Osama bin Laden and al Queda during their preparations for the 11 September 2001 attacks but there are contrary views that they were based in one or more of several other locations in the region, and some of those views are supported by known money flows and communications relating to the attacks. Even so, in retaliation for 11 September 2001, US and British forces (Bush / Blair) began a bombing campaign against “the Taliban” based, in large part, upon a false notion that “the Taliban” were a local problem with a clearly defined base of operations. Then the invasion happened, the Taliban were corralled and the foreign forces set about trying to build a safe and secure state under a democratically elected government – without understanding that that Afghanistan remained tribal. When they found that out they decided to back certain warlords, the equivalent of regional sultans but with extreme criminal tendencies.

However, links between the Taliban and al Qaeda had been known for some time and in 1999 The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1267, 1267 was, and is, the central tool used against terrorists giving, as it does, the power to impose sanctions. It is this that is now giving many world leaders the heeby-geebies for Afghanistan has a seat at that table and, on the face of it, if The Taliban are accepted as the lawful government, then they will have power of veto over any action that others want to take under Resolution 1267.

But it is on the ground that the biggest fears arise. Today is the last day of the mass evacuation by “western” governments. The Taliban, standing in groups of men, arms crossed, weapons prominent, say that they have changed, that they will not brutalise those who do not fit their perverted interpretation of Islam, that they will not prevent women going to work or girls going to school. But that’s a lie and we know it’s a lie because every time they say it they add a caveat “according to Islam,” they say.

They mean “according to Islam as we read it.”

We should not be under any illusion: this is not an Islamic group. It breaks the rules of Islam by murder, by kidnapping, by rape and by trading in narcotics.

It says that Islam allows the kidnapping of any woman married to a non-Muslim and the use of her for the physical pleasure of the devoted.

It says that any girl over 12 years of age is available for marriage and so they take them.

It says that a woman who engages in “khalwat” i.e. close proximity with a man who is not her husband or close relative is to be punished and that includes public whipping or, even, stoning. So what is “close proximity”? In Taliban-speak, it can be sitting at an outdoor table at a café and drinking coffee.

No, there is nothing to say that today’s Taliban will behave any differently to the way they have continued to behave in the enclaves where they hid out during the two decades of occupation.

What is perhaps the most remarkable is that the USA, as the leaders in Afghanistan, were so fundamentally wrong about what the Taliban had been up to.

The USA, having decided to leave Afghanistan, announced that they would be gone by 31st August 2021. Their own intelligence showed that the Taliban would overrun the country and that the 20 years of training and arming local, government, military would ultimately prove hopeless. It will take four to five months, the USA said. It took ten days. Local forces abandoned their posts, many surrendered. At that point it was learned that the government installed by the Americans had not been paying the forces. How did the Americans not know that? Or did they not care, their minds having left long before their bodies? Some flew or drove equipment to neighbouring countries to keep it out of the hands of the Taliban. The end result was that much of the country fell without rockets or heavy artillery.  Without the Americans, the people saw no chance for successful resistance.

The Government had a number of female ministers. One Taliban leader laughed when a reporter asked him about women in government. This is rooted in the Hadith which are widely disparaging about women and are, often, the last refuge of misogyny of those promoting a medieval interpretation of Islam. For example, one hadith says that the evidence of two women is the equal of the evidence of one man. Lest anyone run away with the idea that this is a curiously Islamic approach, it persisted in Christianity until the 14th or 15th Centuries. Even the fundamentalists in Islam are, if we look at it dispassionately, simply at a different point in their development cycle.

But it is difficult to be dispassionate when the abhorrent behaviour is not only within recent memory but never really stopped: it was just contained in a corner of Afghanistan where the Taliban were content to take a long-view and, even more, to sit, plan and train.

 

The idea of a democratically elected and effective government was a pipe-dream.

 

Now it’s not even that.

 

 

 


Further Reading:

 

https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/a/Afghanistan.htm

https://www.npr.org/2021/08/18/1028726623/taliban-destroy-statue-of-foe-raising-fears-over-their-claims-of-moderation

 


 

Image – women working at computers in Afghanistan before the Taliban over-ran the country.: Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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