The Plight of Afghans and Geopolitical Games – Analysis

Afghanistan 2

“The disaster the people of Afghanistan have endured over decades is beyond human imagination and the plight of the people has multiplied with big power games in Eurasia, which eventually resulted in the Taliban take over,” according to Dr. K.B. Usha, faculty at the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Dr Usha was delivering a Web-Talk on “Afghanistan, Geopolitics of Impasse,” organized by Vakkom Moulavi Memorial and Research Centre (VMMRC) at Vakkom in association with the Institute for Global South Studies and Research (IGSSR).

Dr Usha, who is also the author of A Wounded Afghanistan: Communism, Fundamentalism and Democracy said that the narratives on Afghanistan have a particular dimension entrenched in the West’s manipulation of the global public opinion. The ‘war on terror’ itself was designed as a strategy of dominating the geopolitics of Eurasia to contain countries like Russia and China. It began with the ‘containment project’ of the cold war era, but got transformed into a new project in the post-cold war period. After the Ukrainian crisis, the U.S. activated the ‘second containment’ (of Russia) campaign that precipitated after Washington’s Asia-Pacific geopolitical power games with a new focus on China,” Dr Usha said. The manner in which the U.S. decided to leave Afghanistan is also an indication that its geopolitical games have come to a stage of serious crisis and chaos.

According to Dr Usha, “the West has long been interested in Eurasian resources—oil, natural gas and minerals—with the global energy cartels entering the region. They had even indulged in clandestine negotiations with the Taliban. Meanwhile, the U.S. has always used human rights, conditions of women etc. as instruments for legitimizing intervention and hegemony in Eurasia,” she pointed out.

In the post-9/11 scenario, the U.S. military intervention, while seeking to track down the perpetrators of terror attacks, was also aimed at “nation-building, the outcome of which has been supposed to be a legitimate democratic political system guaranteeing Afghan women a speedy liberation.” In the West’s scheme of things, “the post-war democracy would guarantee gender equality and women’s inclusion in the democratic process and political institutions, thereby providing Afghan women a rightful position in the society.” Dr. Usha said that “though the gender inclusive agenda looks fine in principle, addressing the women’s rights issue with a narrow conceptualisation of women’s situation based only on the recent past and ignoring the complex structural and socio-cultural dimensions of women’s oppression is inherently contradictory.” According to her, “reading the military solution of gender inequality in the context of broader strategic intentions of US hegemonic interests and the hurry in finding a foothold in Central Asia, the American notion of democracy and democratisation looks very minimal and inadequate to include women’s rights, especially their political rights.” But it was “evident that the US attempt to bring in gender equality in Afghanistan remained a short-lived project and was not according to the needs of women or in the context of Afghanistan. Women’s enemies such as fundamentalism, poverty, illiteracy, health decline and foreign intervention still remain unchallenged. Since the war on terror, the US has not been able to wipe out fundamentalism, but brought new fundamentalists into power. The Afghan women’s rights activists see the American actions in Afghanistan as betrayal of women in the country.”

Dr Usha said that “the U.S. promise of ‘freedom agenda’ and ‘democracy’ appeared to be a great leap forward for the women of Afghanistan. When the United States launched war on the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, First Lady Laura Bush declared that the ‘war against terrorism’ is also a war for the rights and dignity of Afghan women. Thus, ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ was posed as an operation enduring liberation of women in Afghanistan. American ruling elites such as Condoleezza Rice adored their First Lady’s commitment to fight for the women of Afghanistan.” She also said that in order to keep this rhetoric alive, special care was also taken to highlight the inclusion and institutionalisation of women’s rights in the democratic governance process.”  But these offers were flawed. “The gender agenda evolved out of pipeline politics and war on terror geopolitics. There exists evidence that the US ‘gender agenda’ in Afghanistan was the discovery of American geopolitical and energy interests and foreign policy goals in Eurasia,” Dr. Usha observed.

Assessing the post-9/11 scenario in Afghanistan, Dr Usha said that though the state tried to incorporate women’s rights and created institutions for guaranteeing women’s rights, the reality of women’s situation testified that the legitimacy of liberal democratic secular state was in crisis. “The hegemonic American foreign policy behaviour and their military intervention in oil resources rich developing nations such as Iraq and Lebanon for reasons fabricated for protecting American interests proved that their cry for women’s rights and democratic political order in Afghanistan was only an alibi to achieve geo-strategic interests in Eurasian Central Asian regions. The years of “attempts to liberate Afghan women did not create any better results but it looks either as bad as Taliban or even worse,” she pointed out.

Dr. B. Ekbal, former vice chancellor and chairman of the COVID-19 Expert Committee, Govt of Kerala, said that “the Taliban’s emergence would pose a serious threat to Afghan society in general and its health sector in particular. Afghanistan is strategically located in a region with Iran, Pakistan, China and other Central Asian countries. Even as the polio eradication has come to its final phase in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Taliban’s anti-vaccine campaign has come as a major setback. This would make it impossible to complete polio eradication and control the COVID-19.” Dr. Ekbal noted that “since 2018, the Taliban forces have been blocking the door-to-door distribution of polio vaccine. They even shot dead three female health workers in Jalalabad in March this year, shocking the world. Most importantly, if the COVID-19 vaccine is blocked in the country, Afghanistan, with a surge in case load, would be the next breeding ground of a new variant of the Delta virus, which will be the next worst scenario,” he added.

Mr. Shajahan Madampat, Abu Dhabi-based writer and commentator who chaired the session said that “notwithstanding all problems that have accumulated over the last two decades, Afghanistan witnessed the emergence of a civil society which was sensitive enough to questions of rights and justice. This civil society, which has also been instrumental for rights mobilization, is increasingly under threat under Taliban rule,” he said. Dr. K.M. Seethi welcomed. Dr. Ravi Raman, Member of State Planning Board, Dr. Zahir Bashir and others participated in the discussions.

From VMMRC and IGSSR News

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