Wandering 40 Years in the Afghan Desert

Taliban 2

The Taliban have taken military control, but Afghanistan’s future is cloudy. Assumption that the Taliban can, by itself, effectively govern a nation divided by conflicting tribal loyalties and a partially  reconstituted population, with a sharply contrary mindset, needs more validation. Rather than facts, agendas have delegated responsibility for the debacle in Afghanistan. Analysis demonstrates that United States President Joe Biden is not responsible for the airport evacuation disaster or for the Taliban rapid advance to power and entrance into Kabul. Reports from Afghanistan continue to be guided by ideology and supposition and not by substantiated information.

One perspective from available information has the United States government not having failed the Afghanistan government and its people; it has the Afghanistan government having failed the U.S. government and its own people. The Taliban did not take over the entire country; the Afghan government and its military forces left a vacuum that the Taliban filled

Labeled as a government, the Afghan administration was a corrupt enterprise that existed from U.S. economic and muscle support. When support evaporated, the Afghan enterprise, realizing it could no longer continue to run the country for its own profit and that its personnel may have to work for a living, saw no reason to remain in place. Following a standard Afghanistan civil war policy, where one side capitulates to the other side with promises of safe passage (https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/08/16/afghanistan-history-taliban-collapse-504977?mc_cid=399fbcfa0b&mc_eid=8069260ed8), national forces made arrangements and allowed the Taliban to take command. The military, which posed as an operational force, took the largesse from the U.S. government, lived freely, without working and without reporting for formal duty, agreed to give their armaments to the Taliban, and stayed home when their pockets became bare. .

The New York Times, December 2, 2010, related the corruption.

In one astonishing incident in October 2009 the then vice-president, Ahmad Zia Massoud, was stopped and questioned in Dubai when he flew into the emirate with $52 million in cash, according to one diplomatic report.

A cable, sent by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry detailed a colossal scale of capital flight from Afghanistan –- often with the cash simply carried out on flights from Kabul to the UAE. “Vast amounts of cash come and go from the country on a weekly, monthly and annual basis. Before the 20 August 2009 [presidential] election, $600 million in banking system withdrawals were reported; however in recent months some $200 million.”

Couriers are said to usually carry the money on Pamir Airlines, which is jointly owned by Kabul Bank and influential Afghans such as Mahmood Karzai, one of the president’s (at that time) brothers, and Mohammad Fahim, a Tajik warlord who was Hamid Karzai’s vice-presidential running mate in the August 2009 election

Other high-profile Afghans involved in amassing extraordinary wealth in Dubai include Sher Khan Farnood, the chairman of Kabul Bank who was disgraced this summer after corrupt loans at the bank almost brought down Afghanistan’s fragile financial system. The document notes that Farnood – an enthusiast for high-stakes international poker tournaments – was said to own 39 properties on the Palm Jumeirah, a luxury man-made peninsula in Dubai.”

Germany’s Spiegel Online, January 19, 2009 reports — “Need a driver’s license in Kabul? $180 will get you one within hours and $60,000 will get you out of jail.”

From Spiegel International, September 1, 2010:

 A UN study shows that bribery is equal to a quarter of the Afghan GDP. “59 percent of Afghanistan citizens point to corruption as the greatest problem facing the country — that ranks the problem even higher than security (54 percent) and unemployment (chosen by 52 percent of those polled). The study, released on Tuesday, was put together by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and includes the responses of 7,600 people from 1,600 villages questioned between August and October of last year.”

Jane Ferguson, Pulitzer Center grantee, in an article, The Many Lessons, Unheeded, Along the Way, substantiated the military ineffectiveness.

In the summer of 2004, traveling through Afghanistan, I had the unusual experience of mid-level U.S. soldiers and aid workers offering to speak on the record about the egregious gap between the rosy official pronouncements of progress and the realities, as they saw them. They showed me the empty, unused health clinics and schools we had built. They shared stories of the Afghan  soldiers and police who were deserting almost as fast as we trained them. 

How could a non-mechanized force of an estimated 60,000 core fighters (https://www.trtworld.com/asia/the-us-is-greatly-downplaying-the-size-of-the-afghan-taliban-23152) spread throughout large-sized Afghanistan, lacking tank brigades, helicopters, an air force, artillery, and a strong central command, easily penetrate urban defenses of supposedly well equipped forces. The June 2014 events in Iraq, when a small force of ISIS comfortably overcame a supposedly well equipped and well trained Iraqi military and captured Mosul, answers the question; they could if the well-equipped urban forces were non-existent or had no reason to fight.

President Biden’s August 31 commitment to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, followed an agreement made by his predecessor, Donald Trump, and allowed sufficient time to evacuate U.S. and other personnel from Kabul. From the time that President Trump signed the agreement to withdraw, all Americans had opportunities to leave Afghanistan and all Afghanis had opportunities to petition for assistance to leave Afghanistan. If administrations arbitrarily urged or forced people to leave, the actions would have indicated that the U.S. administration expected the Taliban to win, which would have demoralized the Afghan national army and created a panic and flood of people desiring to immediately leave. An emergency arose when the Afghan national forces suddenly collapsed and Afghanistan President, Ashraf Ghani, secretly left Kabul and signaled to all government employees that it was time to leave. “President Ghani promised via a television address to take responsibility for the security of the people of Kabul and meet anyone disturbing the law and order with full force. But late on Sunday, Afghan officials told news agencies that he fled the country for Tajikistan as the Taliban was on the verge of capturing power.”

The departure of Afghanistan’s President Ghani’s created a panic that left Kabul with anarchy and with no security and police forces willing to control and calm the perilous situation. The Taliban obediently stopped at the gates of Kabul, as promised, and finally entered to bring order to a disoriented metropolis, a maneuver that generated more panic.

With no advance information from his intelligence services that the Afghan national army  would suddenly collapse, that Afghanistan President, Ashraf Ghani, would secretly leave Kabul, that the Taliban was ready to enter Kabul, and  that there would be a chaotic and mass exodus of Kabulis to the airport, how could President Biden effectively act?

Kabul’s population created the hysteria, and for selfish reasons — a portion of the populace wanted to immediately leave and did not care that their personal distress could not be easily alleviated and would create difficulties for U.S. authorities and all other Kabul citizens. President Biden cannot be responsible for poor intelligence, sudden unexpected shifts in military situations, and uncalled for, unpredictable, and hysterical actions of others.

The corrupt Afghanistan government is definitely responsible for the debacle, but there is a larger perspective: U.S. intelligence and the U.S. government failed their own people and failed in a moral responsibility they had with the Afghanistan population, a moral responsibility that dates to the time of the Soviet/Afghanistan war. Meeting its moral obligation meant staying in Afghanistan for another twenty years, for the time that older generations die out and newer generations with newer mindsets arrive — the same amount of time it took the Hebrews to compete their biblical Exodus. Two new generations, educated into more modern and secular thought would have provided Afghanistan with a super majority of those who firmly rejected the Taliban, who learned how to govern, and had the will to protect their newly acquired values.

Why did the U.S. have the moral responsibility to remain in Afghanistan until the Afghan population had become educated into a new form of thought and living that rejected the Taliban? Answer: The Taliban gained its power due to U.S. interference in the Soviet/Afghan war.

It is well documented that the U.S. aided Pakistan intelligence agencies in support of Osama bin Laden and Afghan insurgents. “From 1979 to 1992, the United States (as part of CIA activities in Afghanistan, specifically Operation Cyclone), Saudi Arabia, and China provided between $6–12 billion worth of financial aid and weapons to tens of thousands of mujahideen through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).”( Steve Coll (2004), Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin Press.) The support enabled the Afghan militias to defeat the Soviet forces and war among themselves — Mujahideen commanders fought one another for ultimate power and divided Kabul into a civil war. Enter the Taliban.

Mullah Mohammad Omar, an Afghan mullah and former Mujahideen commander, led the Taliban (from the Pashto word Talib, meaning student) and founded the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996. Formed from some fighters in the war with the Soviets and 15,000 students from religious schools, the Taliban succeeded by initialing conquering Kandahar and then capturing 12 provinces before gaining Kabul. By eliminating corruption, curbing lawlessness, and making the roads safe for commercial travel at reduced and one-stop taxation, the Taliban gained support from the civilian population and business interests.

Without U.S. assistance, the Afghanistan insurgents would not have defeated the Soviets. If the Insurgents lost, the Taliban would have not been formed. The United Sates played an indirect role in strengthening the Taliban.

From U.S., the ABC’s of Jihad, Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway, Washington Post, March 23, 2002

In an effort to aid the anti-Soviet insurgency, the US government covertly provided schoolbooks promoting militant Islamic teachings and included images of weapons and soldiers in an effort to inculcate in children a hatred of foreign invaders. The Taliban used the American textbooks but scratched out human faces in keeping with strict fundamentalist interpretation. The United States Agency for International Development gave millions of dollars to the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the 1980s to develop and publish the textbooks in local languages.

The Taliban have returned and with less resistance to their military power. The lowered resistance does not come from an ideological acceptance; it comes from a nationalist acceptance — demonstrating that they could drive the foreigners — physically, socially, and politically out of the country. They bring a new face, describing themselves as a reconstituted Taliban. In a news conference, Zabihullah Mujahid, an official spokesperson for the group, promised they would “honor women’s rights, but within the norms of Islamic law.” He said they “wanted private media to remain independent, but journalists should not work against national values.” The Taliban spokesperson iterated they would not “seek revenge against those who worked with the former government or with foreign governments or forces,” and assured that “nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped.”

Doubt to the Taliban’s statements are understandable; in an attempt to acquire allegiance and stability, all revolutionary movements portray a conciliatory and amiable tone. Afterwards, attempts to compromise professed and previously agreed upon doctrines lead to antagonisms among the leadership. Considering the previous Taliban governance, which contained continuous challenges to its rule — challenges that have not subsided — and considering a generation of new Afghans opposed to Taliban doctrines,  maintaining the old Taliban without rigorous suppression — more than before — will not be possible. A federation of states, where governors can shape the local legal, social ,and political policies, may be the appropriate arrangement for the new Afghanistan.

Remaining alert and responding purposely to Taliban’s actions demands acquiring accurate facts from truthful reporting. The latter has not happened, as usual, reports are selected and massaged by agendas.

Biased Reports
Washington Post, August 21, 2021

Seven Afghan civilians were killed outside the Kabul airport.

Note the use of the word “killed,” as if they were put to death, and the place being identified as “outside the Kabul airport, “ intimating the deaths occurred in a Taliban occupied area. The actual reason for the deaths and the area of the deaths where the deaths occurred are more accurately described by an Associated Press report.

Associated Press, Aug. 22, 2021, By AHMAD SEIR, TAMEEM AKHGAR and JON GAMBRELL

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — At least seven Afghans died in a panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul’s international airport, the British military said Sunday, as thousands were still trying to flee the country in a chaotic exodus a week after the Taliban takeover.

New York Times, August 20, 2021

But crowds are still waiting fearfully outside the airport gates, where Taliban soldiers have attacked people with sticks and rifle butts.

The same New York Times reported that the former National Government security Agency (N.D.S.) is operating as crowd control.

The N.D.S. (former Afghanistan government National Directorate of Security), which has been implicated in numerous human rights abuses over the years, is attempting to control the crowds at U.S.-held gates. American and British troops are relying, directly or indirectly, on former Afghan government and Taliban fighters to restrict access to the gates, to prevent overcrowding in the airport and make it easier to process people coming through.

The Guardian reports  the N.D.S. is responsible for abuses inflicted on the crowd of people.

Guardian, Hannah Ellis-Petersen, South Asia correspondent, Aug 18, 2021

The 01 Unit of the former government’s feared National Directorate of Security, working in cooperation with American troops, was controlling some entrances to the northern, military side of the airport, from which U.S. military cargo planes ferried people out of the country. The 01 Unit of N.D.S. troops, which had been based in Kabul, “at one point began whipping women to move them away from the gate,” she said.

The German Foreign Minister contradicts reports on Taliban interference with the airport crowds.

AP Wire, August 23

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the Bild newspaper that the main obstacle to getting people out was the crowds outside the airport. Asked about Taliban assurances of safe passage to the airport she said: “So far, I can say that what we need is being granted; the danger comes more from these uncontrollable crowds of people.”

The Taliban did not win; they never lost. They waited for the day when an inflated authority would lose its air and slowly shrink to nothing. They achieved military power but have not yet returned to or achieved legislative power. Biased reports that shape action to meet agendas will prove counterproductive.

BBC headline: Taliban to Stop Afghans From Going to Airport

Actual report: Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday that Afghans should stop attempting to reach Kabul’s international airport.

Big difference between “Stop” and “Request to stop,” which is  another example of how an agenda attempts to shape thought and can be counterproductive. Why did the Taliban ask their citizens not to go to the airport?

Foreign countries should stop encouraging Afghans to leave as the country needs their talents, a Taliban spokesman has said. Zabihullah Mujahid said Afghan nationals should head back to their homes, jobs and normal life, as there was “no danger” to them, adding: “Let’s live together.”

Afghanistan cannot afford a “brain drain.” It needs the trained brains to guide the country; if not, the reactionary Taliban will guide the nation.

The biases, driven from agendas, will push the Taliban to respond erratically and provoke counter reactions. These are the same agendas that created the Taliban and, by their destructive manners, will assure Afghanistan returns to the despotism and unrest before October 7, 2001, the latter being  the day that launched Operation Enduring Freedom, the day of the initial attacks by U.S. forces against the Taliban regime.

Dan Lieberman edits Alternative Insight, a commentary on foreign policy, economics, and politics. He is author of the non-fiction books A Third Party Can Succeed in America, Not until They Were Gone, Think Tanks of DC, The Artistry of a Dog, and a novel: The Victory (under a pen name).

Dan can be reached at [email protected] 

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