In departing and leaving stranded colleagues to their fate, the bookish Ghani, preferring pen to gun, had time to leave a message on Facebook. One could never accuse the man of having wells of courage. He reflected on either facing armed Taliban fighters or leaving his beloved country. In order to avoid immolating Kabul, which “would have been a big human disaster”, he chose a hasty exit.
Only a few days prior, on August 11, Ghani had flown to Mazar-i-Sharif, in the company of the blood lusty Uzbek Dostum, supposedly to hold the fort against the Taliban with another warlord, the ethnic Tajik Atta Muhammad Noor. Noor had pledged in June to mobilise the citizenry of Balkh province to fight the Taliban. “God forbid, the fall of Balkh,” he declared at the time, “means the fall of the north and the fall of the north means the fall of Afghanistan.”
This was not a move greeted with universal joy. Habib-ur-Rahman of the leadership council of the political and paramilitary group Hizb-e-Islami saw a bit of self-aggrandizing at work, hardly remarkable for a warlord keen to oversee his bit of real estate. “The mobilisation of the people by politicians under the pretext of supporting security forces – with the use of public uprising forces – fuels the war from one side and from the other it affects Afghanistan’s stance in foreign policy.”
The shoring up mission led by Ghani would do little to conceal the historical differences between Noor and Dostum. The former had done battle with Dostum’s troops during the latter’s time as a regional commander in the ailing Soviet-backed Afghan government. Dostum’s defection from the government (one spots the common theme) in 1992 to form the Junbish-e-Milli party presented Noor with a chance to join forces. But the Tajik left Dostum in 1993 citing irreconcilable ideological differences. With the initial defeat of the Taliban, Noor triumphed in several military encounters with the frustrated Uzbek, seizing the Balkh province in its entirety.
The accord reached between the parties on this occasion certainly did not involve agreeing to fight the Taliban. Both had come to the conclusion that scurrying to Uzbekistan was a sounder proposition. Noor subsequently justified the measure by claiming enigmatically that, “They had orchestrated the plot to trap Marshal Dostum and myself too, but they didn’t succeed.” Ghani would soon follow.
Members of Ghani’s imploding government have not taken kindly to the flight of their leader. “Curse Ghani and his gang,” wrote acting defence minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi. “They tied our hands from behind and sold the country.”
The head of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah also released a video withering in announcing that, “The former president of Afghanistan” had “left the country in this difficult situation.” God, he suggested, “should hold him accountable.” Abdullah, along with former President Harmid Karzai and Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are currently in negotiations with the Taliban over the formal transfer of power.
My message to the people of AFGHANISNAN, to the security forces and to the Taliban: https://t.co/MiFk0zaNRJ
— Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (@DrabdullahCE) August 15, 2021
The US and UK have deployed personnel in a hurried panic. Over the weekend, President Joe Biden, in announcing the deployment of 5,000 troops, told the press that they would ensure “we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel and other allied personnel, and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance.” Another thousand have also been added to the complement.
The monster leaves in shame, but its colossal power (just look at the size of the engines in this plane) is still there, albeit abominally managed.
Video: People run on tarmac of Kabul international airport as a US military aircraft attempts to take off. pic.twitter.com/9qA36HS0WQ
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) August 16, 2021
There was much embarrassment in all of this. The US and its allies made the fundamental error that training, money and expertise would somehow miraculously guarantee the stability, continuity and reliability of a ramshackle regime. Biden, in coming up with his own phraseology, had stated that a Taliban victory was “not inevitable”. In July, we were given a nugget of Bidenese that, while he had little trust for the Taliban, he did “trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more re- – more competent in terms of conducting war.”
As the Taliban was securing the capital, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken parried evident parallels with the US withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975. “This is manifestly not Saigon,” he said with little conviction.
Now, the scene was one of grave, turbaned and bearded men, armed to the teeth, overseeing the desk which Ghani previously occupied in the presidential palace. They had survived and outwitted an army better armed and supposedly better trained. They had survived airstrikes launched from within the country and from bases in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, via heavy bombers and lethal drones. They had survived the forces of the US, NATO and rival militias.
They now find themselves in control of an entity they wish to be recognised as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. History has come in its full violent circle. A group of insurgents dismissed as fundamentalist mountain savages who would be vanquished before the modernising incentives of the West have shown up, as previous Afghan fighters have, the futility and sheer folly of meddling in their country’s affairs. *
By Natylie Baldwin
As the Taliban have now effectively taken control of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, there is much that our political class, policymakers and media talking heads should reflect on and many lessons to learn. But it appears unlikely that this will happen.
I remember going to my first antiwar rally in October of 2001 to protest our attack on Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11. No one I knew wanted to go with me. I didn't see how dropping bombs on regular Afghanis who had nothing to do with Bin Laden or the 9/11 attacks would help anything, especially after the Taliban had offered to hand over Bin Laden if the U.S. would stop bombing their country - an offer George W. Bush refused. It was a fairly small protest in San Francisco organized by the ANSWER coalition. I wouldn't stop feeling like an outcast for my views until a year and a half later when antiwar protests swelled in the leadup to the invasion of Iraq. But the Bush administration merely blew off the largest and most coordinated antiwar rallies in the history of the world as "a focus group" that could be ignored.
As Sarah Lazare said on Twitter, the US press should be talking to those of us who were against this debacle to begin with, who could foresee the problems with trying to oppose a tactic with war, with trying - in the case of Afghanistan - to build a modern democratic country that is far from even being an industrialized country in terms of development and has no experience with democracy but is still largely a tribal nation that has been at war for most of the last 40 years (see my previous post on Afghanistan). I feel terrible for the plight of Afghan women and the prospect of sharia law, but we really had no business giving false hope to the women of Afghanistan that they could live as a modern western country when that was not the conditions that exist in Afghanistan - even with a western country propping up a corrupt and unpopular government. It certainly wasn't going to be the conditions when that western country leaves. Now I see pundits and even left-leaning commentators on Twitter using this as an excuse for why we should have kept delaying the inevitable and stayed forever. If the government we are propping up collapses after 20 years, it will collapse after 25 or 30 or 50. The problem isn't leaving too soon, the problem is the original policy of going in in the first place and thinking we can throw money at people who will then build a functioning democratic government with no skills, history or experience to do so. Sticking with something that doesn't work after 20 years won't make it suddenly work, it is just a form of denial.
Ironically, some of us are old enough to remember when George W. Bush campaigned on a more "humble" and less interventionist foreign policy and railed against "nation-building." Watch this clip for yourself.
As for the speed with which the Taliban have accomplished taking over many provincial capitals and now Kabul, I can only wonder at how utterly inept our intelligence analysts must be to have predicted last week that Kabul could fall within 30 - 90 days and then have it happen less than a week later. This begs the question: do these people have a clue what's going on anywhere in the world? Below is a press conference from a couple of weeks ago in which Biden says he doesn't think the Kabul government will collapse upon the exit of US troops. Though Biden deserves some credit for following through on Trump's withdrawal process, It would have been better to have prepared the American people for the fact that the Taliban were likely to take over and that the logistics of the withdrawal were not going to be pretty. But that would have entailed acknowledging that the policy was misguided to begin with and reminding us that we have been consistently lied to for years by military leaders and politicians about the situation in Afghanistan.
natyliesb | August 16, 2021 at 8:49 am
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^5000Breaking the lethal Western media monopoly is urgent.
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