History is always written by the victor. After world war 2, it was almost certain that the henceforth history of the world would be written by the nations that stood tall. Even though the British controlled an empire so vast that at least one part of it was always facing the sun, it failed to emerge as a superpower after the war. With the rise of the Cold War, countries started to take sides as per their convenience. Those who were not brave or big enough to have their say were used as puppets. From Vietnam to Cuba, people fought wars that were controlled by someone thousands of kilometres away. Afghanistan, a country that had witnessed more than its share of violence in the past, was at the forefront again.
To understand what prompted the superpowers to control Afghanistan, we need to understand two things, first its location, and another is the domino effect. America believed, and probably rightly so, that if one nation becomes communist, its neighbours will follow suit. The interference of the Soviet Union in the politics of Afghanistan made America wary of its neighbours following the same trend. As the US tried to disrupt the government by fielding the Mujahideen, the Soviets had to invade the country to keep its control.
What followed was a decade of war between the Mujahideen backed by the Americans against the Socialists. The graveyard of the empires proved catastrophic for the Soviets and they had to pack their bags. The Americans abandoned them soon after and a deadly civil war broke out. The Taliban emerged victoriously and the stringent sharia law was imposed. It was only after an attack on the twin towers by Al-Qaeda that America decided to invade this haven for terrorists.
What followed was the ousting of the Taliban from power and the process of nation-building got underway. The election of 2004 witnessed the first-ever democratically elected president. But the things on the ground were pretty much the same for the people. Albeit women were allowed to do as they please, the financial status of people remain unchanged.
According to recent data, more than 80 per cent of Afghanistan’s population is poor. The US and NATO government Invested billions to modernize the Afghan military but the soldiers were often operating in insanely hard conditions. The Ashraf Ghani government became too self-centred and such was the distrust that they were not even part of the initial Doha talks.
It was projected that the Afghan army, trained by the Americans at a cost of billions of dollars, was as strong as any modern army. Turned out it was only on paper. The way the commanders abandoned their posts was enough to instil fear into the hearts of the citizens. If you were in a bank that was being robbed, the right choice for you would be to keep quiet because your money is insured by the government and you have nothing to lose. When the soldiers saw their commander running away, they knew they had nothing to protect. Now, if you are rushing to blame the commanders, hear this out.
The commanders thought they had nothing to fight when they saw their American and NATO allies abandoning them. The abandonment of the Bagram airbase in the dead of night was the biggest blow for the Afghan army. The army was abandoned by the same force that nurtured it for 20 years. When the Commander-in-chief of your most faithful ally has signed a treaty with your foes, from where would you get the strength to fight them? For what would you fight them?
When in 2006, Armullah Saleh, the then chief of intelligence warned about the regrouping of the Taliban, no one paid any heed. He was even forced to resign by President Hamid Karzai. After the killing of Bin Laden, everyone was fearing the withdrawal of the American troops. Though that didn’t happen, Saleh was still very much critical of it. He had done his homework and knew that if Americans withdrew, everything would crumble down.
He dauntlessly blamed Pakistan for providing safe havens and aid to the Taliban. Several attempts were made on his life but he somehow survived. He was on a quest to destroy the Taliban once and for all but failed to mobilize enough support. It turned out the people eventually paid the price.
The focus of the NATO forces had been cities only. They trusted their trained warlords for the rural areas. As the Taliban had backing from its neighbour, warlords were left to manage their affairs on their own. The corrupt governments were too proud to solve the ground problems. Ashraf Ghani, an ex-professor and World Bank employee, proved education has less to do to be a leader. Fearing that he would meet the same fate as Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai did in 1996, he fled the country when the enemies were at the gate.
He was repeatedly accused of ignoring the demands of its people, especially army personnel. The voices condemning the poor quality of food and delay in payment fell on deaf ears. Seeing the lack of response from the top officials following the advancement of the Taliban, the army personnel knew that they were on their own. They happily joined the Taliban or surrendered without giving a fight. The lack of air support or a well-defined plan to counter the mujahideen made taking the provinces a cake for the Taliban.
The Supreme court of India once quoted that the right to life does not mean to merely live like an animal, it should be a life of dignity. Abandoning the people of Afghanistan by their government was a violation of their fundamental right to live. Now that the Taliban is in control, they are at its mercy and will be forced to live on its terms. The world is slowly moving towards giving legitimacy to the government even though they have violated all the basic requirements of being called a legitimate government. Only time will tell what this new era will bring to this graveyard of empires, but the world will remember for a long time how a nation betrayed its people.