As many people are aware of, today (August 15) marks the first anniversary of the debacle in Afghanistan whereby the Taliban seized the capital city Kabul and essentially put a seal and stamp on the defeat of the U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan. Coincidentally, today also marks the 75th anniversary of India’s independence from Britain, which one must note was induced by the same Afghan militias and tribesman who defeated the American-led international coalition which occupied Afghanistan for approximately the last two decades and in turn led to the ultimate decline and demise of the British empire in the 20th century.
As some analysts and scholars have suggested, the defeat of American-led international forces in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban is reminiscent of the defeat which both Britain and the former Soviet Union experienced in Afghanistan at the hands of Afghan rebel groups prior to the defeat experienced by America and its allies. As the former CIA agent Milton Bearden wrote with reference to the late American scholar Louis Dupree in a famous essay titled “Afghanistan: The Graveyard of Empires,” there were four factors or mistakes which contributed to the defeat of the British in Afghanistan and were repeated during the American experience in Afghanistan over the course of the last two decades:
- The occupation of Afghan territory by foreign troops
- The placing of unpopular Afghan leaders in power
- The “harsh acts” of Afghans who were supported by foreign troops against their local enemies
- The reduction of money and subsidies paid to the central government and to the tribes which worked with the foreign troops
Hence, history repeated itself in Afghanistan, given that America made the same exact mistakes as the British and the Russians made during their ventures into Afghanistan. Bearden also wrote that while the overthrow of the Taliban and waging war against them “may be attractive in terms of human rights,” there is little “practicality” in such actions. Moreover, the “political implications” of such actions include adding fuel to the fire of extremist and jihadist groups who gained credibility and legitimacy to a certain extent from American actions and blunders in Afghanistan.
And as Bearden rightly predicted, America’s occupation of Afghanistan led to the “coalescing of Afghanistan’s majority Pashtun tribes around their Taliban leaders and the rekindling of a brutal, general civil war that would continue until the United States simply gave up.” Bearden also predicted that the “military alliance” which the United States made with the Tajik and Uzbek ‘Northern Alliance’ against the Southern Pashtun majority dominated by the Taliban would “backfire.” As a result, and as Bearden wisely noted, no one can “replace an emir in Afghanistan” unless it is done by “the people of Afghanistan themselves.” This means that the overthrow and removal of the Taliban is simply impossible at the moment.
More than anything, American and British interests in Afghanistan revolve around drugs and opium, which until now made up the most lucrative business and enterprise in the world. While democracy, women’s education, and human rights are important issues for moderate, Westernized, and liberal Afghans like myself and others, these issues were merely a pretext for American and British forces to invade and occupy Afghanistan. America and Britain are largely insincere to their commitment towards these issues, as has been demonstrated in recent times. Thus, if the Taliban were to really go through with their “zero-drug policy” as they did in the year 2001, will America and Britain make the same mistakes all over again? In my opinion – and I could be wrong – the decline and dysfunction which reigns over Washington right now would inhibit a repeat of such blunders and mistakes.