By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (Retd)
Behind the continuing subterfuge of statements emanating from the US is the American excuse that Afghans must fight their own war. But did the Afghans ever ask the US to fight their war? America invaded Afghanistan for its own selfish interests for well known reasons but the manner in which it has capitulated to the Taliban leaving behind hundreds of American national and Afghan supporters is pure unadulterated cowardice. US media may keep blaming American Generals or politicians depending on who they want to side with but prominent US citizens have not hesitated to point out that America’s hands are soaked in blood after the debacle in Afghanistan.
The US is supposedly watching Pakistani actions in Afghanistan even as Taliban’s Al Isha unit is using biometrics left behind by the Americans to hunt down Afghans that supported the US and allies and videos are appearing of Taliban playing football with the heads of Afghans butchered mercilessly. The US naturally will keep watching Pakistani actions till eternity while discussions continue, like US Secretary of State Antony Blinken videoconferencing G20 nations next week, which affects the Taliban little.
Pakistani forces, fighting alongside Taliban since even before the US invasion of Afghanistan, are actively assisting Taliban surrounding and attacking the resistance forces in Panjshir Valley. Short of using air power, the US can easily launch drone attacks under guise of plausible deniability to halt the attacks – hellfire missiles being very effective against armoured and semi-armoured vehicles where the attackers enjoy an advantage. But the US will not do so and instead is talking of counterterrorism cooperation with Taliban – what a shame!
Amrullah Saleh, acting president of Afghanistan has written to the United Nations saying, “Around 2,50,000 people, including local women, children, elderly and 10,000 IDPs who arrived in Panjshir after the fall of Kabul and other large cities are stuck inside these Valleys and suffering from the consequences of this inhuman blockade. If no attention is paid to this situation, a full scale human rights and humanitarian catastrophe including starvation and mass killing, even genocide of these people are in the making.” This is a call to all national and international aid agencies to immediately mobilize their resources to end the war crimes committed by the hardliners. Would the US and UN intervene beyond puny calls on the Taliban to halt their offensive – no question about this with US-Turkey-Iran-Pakistan-China all supporting the Taliban?
As the withdrawal deadline approached, Senator Lindsey Graham stated on August 29 that the US military could retake Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan “tonight” if President Joe Biden would make the order. No doubt, while making such a political statement Graham knew that Biden will give no such order and that retaking Bagram meant fresh air assault, suffering casualties amid the continuing how to get the US nationals and Afghan supporters to Bagram for evacuation. The better option was to tell the Taliban that the deadline for evacuation would be extended till at least all Americans are evacuated (balance Afghan supporters could lump it). But with demonstrated pusillanimity by then, US had lost any leverage over the Taliban.
The Taliban has openly admitted Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan and have been inviting Pakistan’s foreign minister and DG ISI for consultations. But Washington lacks the resolve to impose sanctions on Pakistan. Instead lies are being told that Taliban and Haqqani network are separate entities. In fact, a terror attack on the upcoming anniversary of 9/11 may cause the US to call the Pakistani NSA Moeed Yusuf and DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed for more consultations; same way these two were summoned to Washington in July – to coordinate the Taliban offensive?
Al-Qaeda has praised the Taliban victory and said, “We praise the Almighty, the Omnipotent, who humiliated and defeated America, the head of disbelief. We praise Him for breaking America’s back, tarnishing its global reputation and expelling it, disgraced and humiliated, from the Islamic land of Afghanistan.” Moreover, Amin Al Haq, who had served as personal security chief of Osama bin-Laden, has been seen traveling in the open in Afghanistan for the first time in a decade with a Taliban escort. What happened to the drone strike capability of the US or is Amin Al Haq, a good boy now in directory of the CIA?
Turkey has made Kabul airport operational. As expected, the Taliban will allow Pakistan air force specialists to inspect the planes and helicopters left by the Americans in Afghanistan. America claims most of them were made non-operational; perhaps they left one Black Hawk helicopter fully operational at Kabul (on request of Taliban?) so that the Taliban could fly it over Kabul with a human body hanging under it to drive home a message. The aircraft may eventually be made operational by joint China-Turkey-Pakistani efforts.
Nikki Haley, a former US envoy to the United Nations, said the US needs to keep a close eye on China as it may try to take over Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover and use Pakistan to grow stronger against India. The Taliban have already said that China is their most important partner for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. China will definitely use air bases in Afghanistan for movement but will not need to ‘takeover’ Bagram Air Force Base in the manner Nikki is indicating. Besides, China has been strengthening Pakistan against India for decades. Nikki’s sudden statement perhaps reflects America’s long-standing desire to ignite a conflict between India and China-Pakistan.
The EU and Britain have joined the US in saying they will deal with the Taliban but won’t recognize them as Afghanistan’s government. According to recent news reports, the US and India are “reconciled” to ceding their influence in Afghanistan to China, Pakistan and its proxy Taliban so long as the territory is not used to nurture terrorist groups and foster terrorism; after two days of consultations, diplomats from both sides decided they would adopt a wait and watch posture in the light of Taliban’s assurance that the country would not become a terrorist haven that it was in the lead up to 9/11.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told journalists at the conclusion of his nearly weeklong visit to the US that the two sides also worked in tandem at the UN to, among other things, press the new regime in Kabul and its overlords to ensure a more representational government in Afghanistan. Does the US have another option and has all this not happened due to the deliberate US design? The demand that Afghanistan should not become a terrorist haven is laughable because it already is one, unless the US would term it so after the Houthis, Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, IMU, Farc and others congregate in Afghanistan.
Contradicting Taliban’s earlier stance that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen recently told BBC, “As Muslims, we also have a right to raise our voice for Muslims in Kashmir, India or any other country.” Pakistan has already shifted anti-India terrorist training camps to Afghanistan. All this naturally is of no concern to the US. On the contrary, South Asian instability would suit the US just like the Middle East. As to the ‘more representational government’ bit, it is an ambiguous term to fool oneself – leave it to the ones who call the shots and quit the illusions for hiding behind semantics.
Finally, the credibility of the US and its self-created image as a global policeman is down in the dumps which will have repercussions. For example, try pressuring Iran on the nuclear deal without first lifting all sanctions and see where this will lead to. The only comfort the US may find from its invasion, occupation and retreat from Afghanistan is that the four US Presidents (Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden) involved may be allowed to use the prefix ‘Mullah’ by the Islamic radicals-cum-terrorists whether they sport matching beards or not.
-The author is a veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.