Trust the United States to create a mess and then blame others for not helping sort it out. US President Donald Trump’s crib that his country, though 7,000 miles away, was fighting terrorism in Afghanistan while neighbouring Pakistan had done little and India had done nothing about it hides more than it reveals.
Trump’s statement, in the context of impending troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, gives the impression that the US went out of its way to stem terrorism while countries that need to be bothered don’t seem concerned. This is a classic subversion of facts and relies heavily on the proverbial short-term memory of people.
To put the record straight, the US got involved in Afghanistan voluntarily in response to its invasion by the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1979. The cold war was still raging, and Washington drew up a plan to counter the Soviets in Afghanistan by proxy.
The US took the help of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, liberally funded the effort and supplied weapons to enable the Mujahidin fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The US intelligence agency CIA networked with its Pakistani counterpart, ISI, and set up bases in regions bordering Afghanistan.
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Scores of fighters were trained in Pakistan and sent back to Afghanistan where they engaged in guerrilla warfare with the Soviet military. As part of a multi-pronged offensive, the US covertly encouraged the growth of opium by the Mujahidin in Afghanistan to entice Soviet military personnel and make them unfit to fight. These strategies proved successful and the Soviet military, after a decade of occupation withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.
The power vacuum caused by the withdrawal triggered chaos and lawlessness in Afghanistan. This was eventually sorted out by the Taliban, which was created by Pakistani intelligence from among the Mujahidin with the tacit approval of Washington.
The Taliban came to power, restored order and administered the country based on a Constitution inspired by Islamic Sharia laws.
Besides refusing to recognise the Taliban government, the US merely paid lip service to protests when the Taliban all but demolished any semblance of liberalism in Afghanistan.
Religious texts were given prime importance. The Taliban’s version of Islam was super-strict and rigid, women were firmly cut off from employment, lost their rights and remained home, and schools for girl children were all shut down. The crowning glory for some, and the nadir for others, was the Taliban’s destruction of the sixth century-built Bamiyan Buddhas.
A parallel consequence of the US’s strategy in Afghanistan was the creation of the al-Qaeda and the emergence of Osama bin Laden, who fought the Soviets as part of the Mujahidin, having the luxury of being funded and trained by the US in bases in Pakistan.
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The US, simply put, was neck deep in its involvement in Afghanistan. And, it seemed that its strategic planning in Afghanistan had largely been successful. Until the success came back to bite the superpower on September 11, 2001, when the al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center in New York.
The US prior to the attack had realised that bin Laden had made use of its training and funding to empower the al-Qaeda, but could not or did not do much about it. Obviously, the US administration was not expecting the kind of attack it experienced on 9/11.
In all its moves, the US had never seriously consulted any other country. Its long-time ally Pakistan was only too willing to play ball with Washington. The Saudis had nothing to lose and everything to gain by helping the US implement its strategy in Afghanistan.
As for India, it was a Soviet ally and had nothing much to do with the US at the time of the occupation in Afghanistan.
Whatever relationship existed with the Taliban ended abruptly after the 9/11 attacks and the US overnight changed its policies. The Taliban became an enemy and Pakistan, which had incubated the group, was told to shunt them out of the country or hand the fighters over to the US.
The US–led coalition invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and that is how it found itself in a country 7,000 miles away.
Washington’s hubris led them to believe it would be a matter of a few months, if not weeks, before it decimated the Taliban and the al-Qaeda before installing a friendly government in Afghanistan and returning home in glory.
However, the situation turned out quite different.
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Yes, the Taliban was overthrown and al-Qaeda leader bin Laden was killed. But that was about it. Try as it might, the US with all help from its powerful Western allies has found it impossible to eradicate the Taliban and install a strong government independent of it in Kabul.
Trump’s statement blaming India, Pakistan and others therefore, is a sign of US frustration at not having its way. Not only that, the so-called “war on terror” launched by his predecessor George W Bush has managed to spawn even more terrorist groups and consequent attacks on unsuspecting people around the world.
If the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had a reason, however contentious, the subsequent attack on Iraq in 2003 was completely indefensible.
Washington’s attack on a country that had never threatened the US nor intended to do so has created instability of a kind that the world is still reeling under and will continue to suffer the repercussions for a long time.
The emergence of the Islamic State, which Trump is today asking India and Pakistan to fight, is a direct result of the US invasion of Iraq.
Instead of doing a bit of soul-searching, it is rather ironical that Washington expects its minions to undertake a task that seems beyond the capability of even the most hardcore military and intelligence experts under his thumb.