‘It’s a monumental US foreign policy disaster which may emerge as a potential threat to American homeland security’
By Iqbal S. Hasnain
President Joe Biden handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban literally on a platter on August 15, 2021 after 20 years of nation building costing trillions of dollars to American taxpayers.
Upfront it is a monumental foreign policy disaster by the United States. Why have Americans not shown strategic patience with Afghanistan as they have done by keeping American forces in South Korea, Japan, Syria and Iraq?
President Biden has reversed many Trump era agreements like climate change and Iran nuclear deal. Why on earth has he not reversed the decision to pull out to avoid an impending disaster which down the years may emerge as a potential threat to American homeland security?
After signing the agreement with US special envoy Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban leadership under Mullah Baradar activated its leaders and foot soldiers in Pakistan (mentored by Pakistani ISI) and pushed them into Afghanistan with a strategy.
First, to spread in the rural areas and mix with communities as their lifestyle is similar to Taliban’s and secondly cut a deal with soldiers of Afghan Armed Forces and strictly advised not to engage with American forces.
More than 5,000 veteran Taliban fighters were released from Afghan jails under agreement between US negotiators and Taliban delegation at Doha in Feb 2020.
As a consequence, Taliban’s ranks swelled by trained fighters and provided leadership to new recruits and transformed loose canons into a formidable organized force.
The Taliban’s political leadership engaged in talks at Doha, Qatar with the US negotiators are the ones who had during their rule in nineties enforced the strict Sharia law.
This included banning of music and films on television, enforcing public executions of adulterers in sports stadiums and deliberate destruction of archeological heritage sites.
Women accused of adultery were publicly stoned to death and chopping off hands for small time crime was common. Today, by contrast they are trying to project the image of a changed regime.
But with one woman member in their delegation, they are presenting a false picture of liberalism. The Taliban shrewdly foxed the American negotiating team, by giving out an image that Taliban has changed and adopted a tolerant tradition of Islam.
But they never denied about their strong adherence to the tenets of puritanical Wahhabi-Salafi creed of Islam popularly known as ‘desert Islam’.
These efforts are made by primarily leveraging social media. The Taliban cultural commission employs Facebook and Twitter to broadcast messages of its propaganda in multiple languages. It issues communiqués and spreads fake news on WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram.
The main objective is to manipulate the global perception of Taliban and reassure the Afghan educated middle class of its tolerance and inclusive approach.
They skillfully spin narratives by depicting themselves as patriots. The ultra-conservative Wahhabi-Salafi movement of the 14th century manifesting itself through 21st century technology is indeed a smart option.
The Taliban, in return, offers some significant concessions in return for the graceful exit of American forces.
Today’s Taliban have a better understanding of how to market itself to a gullible world though in reality, the Taliban still follows the ultra-conservative Salafi-Wahhabi ideologies.
Nevertheless, the lower cadres of Taliban, ISI and al-Qaeda are clearly raised in the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology taught by madrasas in Pakistan. Their hatred of the Shiite, mazars and Sufism in general is visibly visceral.
There are three distinct ethnogeographical regions: western Afghanistan dominated by Persian speaking Hazaras and Tajik groups, a majority of whom follow Shia Islam and speak the Dari language; northern Afghanistan dominated by Uzbek and Tajik of the Sufi Sunni strain of Islam who speak Turkic languages and Dari; and in the south and eastern part of the nation where the majority are Pashtun tribes who speak Pashto and follow puritanical Wahabi Sunni school of Islam.
These divisions reflect Afghanistan’s complex history of invasion, colonization, and incomplete efforts to create a unified, independent state.
In 654 A.D Arab armies colonized and spread the message of Islam across the Hindu Kush mountains. They defeated the Buddhist rulers and established Yakub ibn Lias as first Muslim ruler of Afghanistan.
The Ghaznavid dynasty lasted 200 years and consolidated Islamic rule further eastward into India. Genghis Khan captured Afghanistan in 1219 and the Mongol empire was later expanded by Taimur, who ruled from Samarkand, a city in modern-day Uzbekistan.
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Shah Rukh was a great connoisseur of art and culture and under his patronage, the region saw a unique blend of Persian and Central Asian culture.
The Afghan Lodi dynasty ruled northern India from Delhi between 1451 and 1526. Babur, a descendent of Taimur, was driven out of the Fergana valley, an area shared by Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and the scene of recent ethnic violence.
He first conquered Kabul in 1504 and later defeated the Pashtun Lodi dynasty and established Turkic Mogul rule in Delhi, which lasted until 1857 when the British Army ended it.
In the 18th century, the feuding tribes came together and established the modern state of Afghanistan, driven by the power vacuum created by the decline of Persian Safavi dynasty in the west and the Turkic Moghul empire in Delhi, and Uzbek Janid dynasty in north.
Since then, the three distinct nationalities have never come together except briefly during the Soviet occupation when the warlords, tribal chiefs, and religious leaders fought together with funds and weapons supplied by the United States to bleed the occupiers.
Since Soviet forces withdrew, and the Soviet Union collapsed, Pakistan has played an increasingly important role in shaping the politics of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s trump card was to install Pashtuns as the new rulers and marginalize the northern and western ethnic groups.
The interior minister of the Benazir Bhutto government, a Pashtun, conceptualized a strategy with the active cooperation of Pakistan’s Army and Intelligence service (ISI).
They used both Afghani and Pakistani students (Taleban) studying in various madrassas as mercenaries to capture southern Afghanistan and ensure Pakistan’s trade and sphere of influence with Central Asian Republics.
The present political leadership of Talibans is mainly drawn from the earlier ruling dispensation. After the American invasion the entire leadership moved to Pakistan and was protected by ISI.
When Americans requested Pakistan to bring Taliban leadership on table to negotiate peace with Americans, they were shepherded to Doha for conversation with the Americans.
This has resulted in an agreement without seeking any tangible assurances. It is not rocket science to understand that they follow Wahhabism which preaches hate and extremism for other Muslim sects and that form the core tenets of Wahhabism.
Those who believe that Taliban will not mentor or harbor al-Qaeda and ISIS are delusional. International media reports suggest that in the present Taliban ranks a substantial number of foreign fighters have been seen moving in Kabul and in provincial capitals.
Reports also suggest that those escaped from Syrian prisons have moved to Afghanistan during the last few years.
A group of fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was also seen moving around on motorbikes with face fully covered and having red bandanas.
They had old links with Talibans and al-Qaeda. Sharia law/ Islamic law will soon be imposed as announced by the Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid during his press briefing on Aug. 17 with international and local media in Kabul.
Many Islamic countries implement Sharia law selectively, but under Wahhabi-Salafi creed of Islam women’s freedom is severely restricted.
The establishment of an Islamic Emirates in Afghanistan by Talibans will be an existential threat to the security of the region and beyond.
(Iqbal S. Hasnain is a Pro- Chancellor, Jamia Hamdard University, New Delhi, India. He is the author of the upcoming book Islam Lost Its Brakes in 1979.)