By Donu Kogbara
SINCE the Taliban triumphantly marched into Kabul nearly a fortnight ago, many people have gloomily predicted that Nigeria will suffer a similar dire fate at some point in the not-too-distant future.
After all, we too have deadly vipers in our collective bosom, as in home-grown and foreign Talibanesque Islamic extremists – ISIS, Al Qaeda and mostly Boko Haram – who look from afar like a rag-tag bunch of thuggish, illiterate nonentities but are surprisingly focused, well-armed, well-organised and deeply entrenched.
We also, as did the pre-Taliban Afghanistan that was presided over by Ashraf Ghani until he fled to seek refugee status in the United Arab Emirates two weekends ago, have a government and military establishment that have, till now, spectacularly failed to use the considerable resources at their disposal intelligently and effectively.
OK, so if 75,000 Talib fighters can overcome 300,000 US-trained Afghan soldiers, can Boko Haram et al not eventually trounce the Nigerian army into submission and take over this country?
I have a Nigerian friend who worked in Afghanistan for the United Nations between 2005 and 2008, when the Americans were in charge. He has been so saddened by recent events and recently sent me his heartfelt recollections about a country he grew to love:
Afghanistan is a strange and beautiful land that has to be experienced to be believed.
My first experience was breathlessness, not from the stunning and rugged mountainous scenery, but from my asthma as I struggled to adapt to the altitude.
This was compounded by the dust, which is worse than harmattan in West Africa. Mercifully, winter’s frigid conditions provided bitterly cold respite that produced teeth-clattering relief from my respiratory convulsions.
My experience is a metaphor for the resilience of Afghans who have been disappointed time and again by the Great Powers whose grasp has always proved greater than their reach.
Or is it the other way round?
While Afghans bear the brunt of the pain and disappointment, foreigners also carry the burden of failure.
It is failure that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle humanised in the first encounter between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Watson, the medic with a drug addiction, had just returned from Afghanistan when he met Holmes. Watson’s experience there shaped the character he became.
For those of us Watsons, this will be our enduring trauma.
Before I left Maine, where I’d lived for seven years, for Kabul, an Afghan friend warned me about this trauma and how it would end. He told me candidly that ‘you can invade Afghanistan. But, you will never hold it.’
This view was echoed by a senior foreigner I met at a dinner party I attended in Kabul, two years into my service.
It is a pity that America can justify stationing tens of thousands of troops in a peaceful and prosperous OECD country like South Korea for seven decades and not keep just 3,000 troops as a deterrence in Afghanistan.
Sending in 3,000 troops now to evacuate diplomats, citizens and Afghan interpreters just doesn’t compute for me.
Biden has, in this instance, mimicked Trump, leaving just this question to be answered: Where is Afghanistan in the ‘battle for the soul of America’?
My friend developed an understanding of this notoriously difficult country and got to meet Afghans of all types, including terrorists.
And, though surprised by the speed with which the Taliban filled the vacuum that was created by President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops, was not surprised by the Taliban victory.
He says that when he was based in Afghanistan, it was obvious to him that the American modus operandi was profoundly flawed.
He accuses the Americans of enabling corruption that demotivated ordinary Afghans and undermined America’s own attempts to establish a disciplined, militarily strong democracy by, for example, allying with local warlords who were anti-Taliban but drug dealers.
I asked my friend whether he sees parallels in Nigeria, and he said that though there are definitely disturbing similarities, he is pretty sure that Boko et al can never conquer the whole of Nigeria.
“They might be able to get their hands on Abuja, but they will not be able to conquer Lagos or any other Southern city or state.”
I share this view.
I am convinced that Southerners – Yoruba and Edo Muslims included – will never allow fanatical Islamic combatants to defeat and enslave them.
Most Southern Nigerians are so complacent and trouble-averse – and so prone to grumbling instead of acting when they feel oppressed – that they come across as cowards. But I cannot see them continuing to play a meek and mild game if jihadis try to invade.
IN the meantime, the
situation in Afghanistan is nothing short of a tragedy. Especially for female adults and children. It is hard to believe that Kabul was once so sophisticated that it was described as the “Paris of Central Asia” in the 1960s … and that Afghan ladies could once take education for granted and wear whatever they wanted to wear without being assassinated by primitive, psychotic male chauvinists who hate progress and use religion as an excuse to inflict endless outrages on society.
Tears have regularly rolled down my face at intervals while I’ve watched desperate Afghan women trying to escape from their country and their new misogynistic Taliban overlords.
Some have thrown their babies over Kabul airport’s perimeter fence, in the hope that foreign soldiers and departing aid workers will take pity on the infants and take them to better lives in the West.
In some provincial towns, bewildered parents have been told to submit the names of daughters aged 12 and upwards, so bachelor Taliban fighters, some savage paedophiles, can acquire wives.
It is at times like this that I realise how lucky I am, despite the numerous professional and personal challenges that I face.
Nowadays, when I am feeling overwhelmed by my problems and sorry for myself, I remember what someone very wise once said: “I used to cry because I had no shoes, until I met someone who had no feet.”
May God protect the women of Afghanistan. And it’s not just about the women. Moderate Afghan men also have plenty to fear from the Taliban and some fell out of the sky last week as they desperately tried to cling to planes that were departing. May they rest in peace.