The West must not repeat old habits of conceptual errors in Afghanistan

If the West walks away from Afghanistan, the tallest and darkest shadows in the game will belong to Pakistani generals and Chinese communist leaders.

The Taliban are back in full control of Afghanistan after being driven from power by the American-led invasion of the country in 2001. As a prima facie case, the Taliban is an ideologically driven radical religious group.  Despite their show of change, the fogs of uncertainty hover over what path they will follow for the future of Afghanistan.  However, the itinerary of movement proves evinces that any attempt to isolate or disengage the Taliban will be bound to a cataclysmic failure. 

The spectacular free-fall of the Afghan government retells a historical pattern of upheavals in Afghan history. In October 1929, a bunch of bandits captured Kabul and ruled the country for nine months. Understanding their sartorial wretchedness, the bandits’ leaders entered the royal palace. They rushed to wear the European dresses of the royals without knowing which garment was for man or woman.  The jubilant bandits looked like a bunch of clownish caricatures to the astound onlookers.

Against all odds, the Taliban ideology is fundamentally far different from the traditional ethos of the Afghan tribal warriors - a synthesis of religious fanaticism and Afghan nationalism - in the 19th century. From the same Afghan tribes as the Taliban, Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani had an entirely different vision of Islam.  Called in Europe, the Martin Luther of Islam was an innovator of modernization and reformation in Islam.  He lived in 1884 for a while in Paris and London.  So impressed by the everyday life there, he used to say that “There is Islam here in Europe but no Muslim, in the East there are Muslims but no Islam.”  Ernest Renan and other Western intellectuals listened to Afghani’s ideas about the modernization of Islam with interests.  I do not doubt that even the Taliban leaders do not have basic knowledge about their own great sage.

The Taliban proselytized ideology stemmed from a devious outside influence from the Pakistan military and its cleric lackeys with compulsive ambitions and purpose across Afghan politics.  More than 36 thousand State-controlled religious madrassas (Islamic seminaries) in northern and western parts of Pakistan functions as the breeding ground for the Taliban since the 1990s.  The clerics of the madrassa work as spies for the feared Pakistani military intelligence, ISI. They vigorously brainwash the young students from the Afghan Pashtun community into believing in a violent medieval Islamic ideology. They teach that Afghan nationalism, music, the presence of women, and all Westerners are enemies of Islam.  The founder of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, once famously said, “Love of one’s country is synonymous with idol-worshipping.” After the overtaking of Afghanistan, the first battle of the Taliban with the public was over the old Afghan national banner, music, and women’s rights.

Pakistan always wanted to use fanatical Taliban as a double-edged sword for state power, security, and geopolitical imperatives.  Pakistan has about 25 million Pashtuns of Afghan origin. Their territory was annexed by Pakistan in 1947 coercively, under the false pretext that Pakistan is the sole heir of the British Raj in South Asia.  The Pashtuns have a deep-seated feeling for outright independence like Baluchis in Pakistan. To counterbalance this trend, Pakistan provided broad support to the Taliban. This backing explains Pakistan’s duplicitous role in the war against terror since 2001 by killing the Taliban by Americans and killing Americans by the Taliban.  According to a new United Nations report, the leaders of ISIS, known as ISIS-K, entered Afghanistan via Pakistan.  The terrorist group massacred 13 US troops and 170 Afghan civilians in Kabul Airport’s suicide attack on Thursday 26 August,

Perpetual war in Afghanistan in the 19th century was popularized as a Great Game by Rudyard Kipling the West and labelled as a ‘tournament of shadows’ in Tsarist Russia.  If the West walks away from Afghanistan, the tallest and darkest shadows in the game will belong to Pakistani generals and Chinese communist leaders.  The West still has enormous leverage over the Taliban. The Afghan economy is contingent on foreign aid. The flow of financial aid must be contingent on the unmistakable moderation of the Taliban and their acting as a responsible member of the international community. The West should not give Afghanistan over to Pakistan and China.

Dr Ehsan Azari Stanzaic is a sessional lecturer in Literary Studies at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA)