Yesterday, March 2nd, was the birthday of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. People may be forgiven (should they be?) for forgetting about Aafia since these seventeen birthdays of hers have gone by with her incarcerated, humiliated, tortured, and God knows what in one American gulag to another. But these seem to be ‘minor’ details right now.

In the brouhaha surrounding the US-Taliban ‘Peace Deal,’ the usual self-congratulatory political theatrics have been on full display. The post-9/11 Afghan theatre of the war OF terror has been the longest external war waged by the US in its entire history, putting aside the even longer internal genocidal war against indigenous Native Americans. The imperial war has lasted longer than both world wars combined.

The US/NATO war and occupation of Afghanistan offers a glaring case of what US Senator Fulbright (yes, the one who started the Fulbright program of scholarships and exchanges) called the ‘arrogance of power’ (of his country), his book being of the same title. The wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world, with a war machine on steroids, invading and occupying for nearly two decades one of the poorest countries on the planet – and one which had already undergone two decades of uninterrupted internecine war in the prior two decades.

Applying the term arrogance here would be a gross understatement. Imperial state criminality and terror against just another ‘shithole’ (to quote the current ‘genius’ American president) nation would be more appropriate. For those who suffer from historical amnesia and Western propaganda and lies – the both go hand in hand – some quick refreshing of our memory may be useful. There were no Afghans among the terrorists of 9/11. The Taliban government in Afghanistan both denounced the attack and was willing to cooperate with the Bush administration, according to all the rules of customary international law, if provided evidence by the US of involvement of terrorists located inside Afghanistan.

But the Taliban and Afghan society as a whole had to learn the hard way what dozens upon dozens of ‘shithole’ countries of the Global South have experienced throughout the 20th and 21st century. That is, Uncle Sam requires no evidence, no compelling or even not-so-compelling rationale, and no permission or authorization from the UN or anyone, to effectively implement America’s third great holocaust in its short history – that being the war against the Third World. The first two holocausts, of course, being that against the indigenous population followed by that against black African bodies captured, brutalized, and enslaved.

But to be fair, there were some post facto – after the war had already begun on the Afghan people – justifications offered for why the US/NATO invasion was indispensable at this moment. Three of the central reasons concocted were: 1) to get rid of the worst regime ever (the Taliban) with whom we will never negotiate; 2) to ‘liberate’ Afghan women from under the Taliban tyranny they live; and 3) to end the opium production completely because it ostensibly is so odious to ‘civilized’ American sensibilities. Many liberals and much of the international community bought into this ‘savior complex’ syndrome in which the US takes such pride. The anti-war movement knew better. On all three fronts, the fraud and lies have been so nakedly exposed that Washington no longer even tries to articulate any type of justification for its fiasco in the land called the ‘graveyard of Empires.’

Those who the US said it will annihilate and never talk to are precisely the ones who Uncle Sam was humiliatingly forced to negotiate with now. The plight of Afghan women, particularly outside of Kabul, is as bad if not worse than it was before the American invasion and occupation. Not to mention that Afghan women (and men, and children) don’t really get ‘liberated’ when bombs are dropping on their heads. And perhaps the biggest scandal of all is that, at around the time of the US invasion, the UN had openly declared that the Taliban had dramatically reduced opium production because of their official policy of banning the production altogether. Indeed, the most insidious deception that the Americans have played on this front is that the CIA, like in many of its other operations over the course of the past century, has benefitted enormously from the opium profits to fills its coffers for its rat lines that lead to its subversive and regime change clandestine activities all across the region. This is well-documented by now.

The American ‘war of revenge’ on Afghanistan was meant to be merely the first quick step to greater prizes in the heart of West Asia, including Iraq, Syria, and the Empire’s ‘golden calf,’ Iran. 9/11, as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice disgustingly stated, presented an ‘opportunity.’ The world found out very quickly what she meant by this term. It was an ‘opportunity’ to maintain and deepen American imperial hegemony over the last remaining few ‘stubborn’ nations that don’t behave as ‘good Muslims’ like the House of Saud or the Sisi regime of Egypt. When the American empire asks these ‘good’ and ‘moderate’ Muslim regimes to jump, their enthusiastic and uniform response is: how high, master? Sadly, some like the Iranians don’t play that game and therefore imperial disciplining is necessitated for them and their ilk in the region.

The prolonged US presence in a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis has been a power play to project waning American power against the growing multipolarity and strategic partnerships building in this crucial region. The central mission of the American imperial presence, with its satrap New Dehli, in Afghanistan became to sabotage and subvert the grand Eurasian integration plans by China, Russia, and Iran – the three crucial players in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And one can add Pakistan and Turkey to that list as well. The American political establishment is only interested in militarism, wars, weapons, bases, etc., and cannot fathom regional and global projects that are not interested in this ludicrous madness. Countries of the Global South, and particularly those who are directly connected to the initiative of Eurasian integration, desire prosperity for their nations, not death and destruction – the latter which seems to the name of the game for the American empire.

Of course, now we have a US-Taliban ‘deal’ that will allow Trump and the Pentagon to conceal the fact of the most powerful military machine in human history being defeated by an ethnic Pashtun resistance that was steadfast in its resolve to evict the occupiers. How long the truce called for in the ‘deal’ will last is anyone’s guess, but the imperial ‘wounded tiger’ surely must be getting tired of reckless defeats and fiascos everywhere it touches these days. On the other hand, addiction to hegemony and war don’t go away easily.

Nevertheless, the concern of Afghans and Pakistanis who have been killed and whose societies have been devastated by this ‘Af-Pak’ theatre of the war OF terror, should centrally be: restorative justice. Justice for all the drone victims, families and communities bombed during weddings and funerals, humiliating night raids into people’s homes in villages and towns. Justice for those who have had to endure one of the most corrupt puppet regimes for two decades that doled out billions of dollars to its favored warlords and family/clan members, while the people were left hungry, without even semi-decent education and health care. Justice for those who have been displaced and killed in the hundreds of thousands in Northwest Pakistan because Uncle Sam needed Islamabad to conduct military operations against its own people. And justice most of all for those who have had to endure the torture chambers and gulags of American empire, from Bagram to solitary confinement in supermax prisons in the US.

One of the clauses of the ‘deal’ is a significant prisoner exchange. Roughly five thousand POWs are to be returned to the Taliban. There is one Pakistani woman who has shamefully been caught in the venality of this entire American project. This piece started by mentioning her birthday yesterday. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui should be at the very top of that list of brutalized prisoners for whom justice and dignity must immediately be restored by their release.

Dr. Junaid S. Ahmad is professor of religion and world politics in Lahore, Pakistan.


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