By Rotimi Fasan
Kabul the capital of Afghanistan and the entire Afghan nation was this past week a veritable sinking ship from which everyone is escaping to safety.
It was all chaos across the country, especially in the capital city where the Taliban had effectively taken over. Nothing symbolises the return of the Taliban and the possible reimposition of their fundamentalist doctrine of governance more than the fall of the presidential palace and the escape into exile of President Ashraf Ghani. Like a pack of cards Afghanistan has collapsed and the scramble by foreign countries, especially Western nations, to evacuate their nationals has created chaotic scenes of palpable fear and anxiety.
It also tells everyone who cares to know that what ultimately propels the actions of the wealthy Western nations in any so-called Third World country is their own interest irrespective of the altruistic rhetoric that is often mobilised to conceal this.
For the Taliban, the road to Kabul was paved with the bad faith of Western powers who, led by the United States of America, no longer saw Afghanistan as of strategic relevance to the achievement of their national interests. In the immediate, this started with the decision by America, under Donald Trump, to pull American troops out of the war-torn country.
That decision was taken mostly to fulfil a selfish electoral promise to put America ‘first’ while the rest of the world is reduced to bored bystanders of the American reality show that governance had been reduced to under Trump. The determination to pull American troops out of Afghanistan assumed a frenzied dimension after it became clear that Donald Trump had lost the presidential election and would have to step down as president despite his attempt at subverting the electoral will of Americans.
By the time Joe Biden took over he was presented a fait accompli as only 2,500 of the tens of thousands of troops that first landed there over 20 years ago were left. The war in Afghanistan is by far America’s longest and costliest war. The war, in a sense, started far away from Afghanistan. It began when Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists launched targeted attacks on American soil, brought down the World Trade Centre in New York in a burst of fire and America, under George W. Bush, took up the onerous task of avenging itself by deciding to ‘smoke out’ everyone directly and indirectly connected with the 9/11 attack. The attack led to the death of over 3,000 people, including nationals of other countries. It was the worst attack of its kind on the American homeland.
Even more than the human toll, perhaps, the attack bruised America’s pride and injured its status as a global military power, the only one standing after the fall of the Soviet Union. The blow went below the belt and America reeled and doubled over from its impact. It was one day Americans would like to forget; a day written in worse infamy than one that marked the attack on Pearl Harbour which brought America into the Second World War on December 7, 1941. It was, therefore, a matter of national pride for America to bring the perpetrators of this criminal attack to justice. Thus began its search for Osama Bin Ladin and its quest to oust the Taliban from power. It was under this atmosphere that America made its way into Afghanistan in a bid to flush terrorists who had supposedly made Afghanistan, with the active connivance of the Taliban, their stronghold.
Ironically when Osama Bin Ladin, the arrowhead of this very insurgency was found and liquidated, it was not in Afghanistan but Pakistan where he had set up a new base. And rather than George W. Bush, it was Barack Obama that got the glory for the capture and assassination of Bin Ladin.
It took about a decade before America could have the cathartic pleasure of bringing Osama Bin Ladin to justice. During the period of the search for the then most wanted terrorist, America and its Western allies made Afghanistan their operational headquarters. Then their goals and aspirations appeared to have aligned with those of the government in Kabul.
America poured resources into Afghanistan, trained its military and helped prop up a wobbly regime that had its survival in the continued occupation of their country by Western powers. The cost to America of remaining in Afghanistan ran into trillions of dollars, dwarfing anything it cost it to prosecute the Vietnam war. With the cost of its operations rising rather than falling in Afghanistan, America started having a rethink of its position. Rather than defeating the Taliban outright, it only got further bogged down in the morass of a war and its accompanying politics that grew completely impossible.
Then entered Donald Trump in 2016 and he immediately went about his isolationist stance and the mission of putting American interest first in international relations and politics. With next to nothing as a plan, Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, not bothering about the interest or survival of the pro-American government in Kabul.
As always with Donald Trump, the optics of American troops returning home, the idea of him being seen as fulfilling his electoral promise to bring American troops back to America, carried more weight with him than any consideration of the larger interest of the people of Afghanistan. His was a case of use and dump, not just the government but also ordinary Afghans who risked their lives working with the Americans as with other Western powers. The result is the humanitarian tragedy that is fast playing out in Afghanistan with Western powers rushing to evacuate their nationals from the failing state that Afghanistan appears poised to become.
The optimistic projection of the Kabul regime lasting three months after the exit of America fell flat on its face as it took less than three days for the Taliban to crash their way into town. If Joe Biden could wash his hand off the abandonment of Afghanistan, blaming Donald Trump for the hasty, disorderly retreat, he cannot absolve America of responsibility. America can’t just leave Afghanistan to its fate. It played a major part in bringing the country to where it is today. It must share in the responsibility of ensuring that the Taliban moderates the application of its extreme, anti-women ideology that is bound to deny more women some of the basic freedoms guaranteed all free people of the world, including the right to education.
With the entire country as its field of operation for the better part of the last two decades, America has now restricted itself to just the airport in Kabul, trying the best it could to evacuate its nationals. This fall of the curtain means Afghans are now left alone to lick their wounds.