Monday, August 8

Return to the past

Afghanistan is a country battered by history, a complicated mosaic in which seven main ethnic groups coexist, speaking four languages ​​and up to 30 minor languages, and professing at least five religions, although the Sunni branch of Islam is the majority. Almost all minority ethnic groups are not exclusive to the country but shared with neighboring countries: Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, sometimes in conflict with each other, which in the past has facilitated the creation of quasi-independent regional powers, which in contemporary times have given rise to the so-called warlords, authentic feudal lords in their domains, who have made the governance of the country extremely difficult.

It is also a crossroads, with a tortuous geography, between the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia, and therefore of great strategic value. In the nineteenth century it was the ground of the so-called “great game” between Tsarist Russia and the British Empire whose objective was to mark the limits of the latter in Asia. The British never managed to completely dominate the country – despite three wars with different results – but they did manage to artificially divide the territory of the majority Afghan ethnic group, the Pashtun, through the so-called Durand line (1893) that marked the border of Afghanistan, first with British India, and, after its partition, with Pakistan, where the Pashtuns live in the so-called Federal Administration Tribal Areas (FATA), now integrated into the province of Jaiber Pastunjuá. This arbitrary division is essential to understand what is currently happening in Afghanistan, because it directly involves Pakistan on the Afghan board. The Taliban movement was born in the FATA, promoted by the Pakistani Inter-Army Intelligence Service (ISI) to obtain and maintain control of the Afghan country under the influence of Pakistan.

With the coming to power in Afghanistan of the Marxist People’s Democratic Party in April 1978, the American CIA began to organize and empower the Mujahideen, jihadist guerrillas already operating from Pakistan, with the support also of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, to oppose the Kabul government. Since the intervention of the Soviet Union, which took place at the end of 1979, these activities received massive support, both in economic terms and in terms of weapons and military equipment, in order to weaken the Soviet Union as much as possible, which had to leave the country in 1989. Up to 35,000 jihadists fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets, paid with Arab and US money, which even provided them with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. One of those fighters was named Osama bin Laden.

In 1992 the Mujahideen entered Kabul, ending the Marxist government, but the country became an ungovernable puzzle, because the different factions were at odds with each other and the warlords had their own practically independent mini-states, until in 1996 the movement The Taliban, promoted as we have said by Pakistan and led by Mullah Omar, who collected many of the former combatants, achieved control of almost the entire country, except for a part that remained independent under the authority of Ahmad Masud at the head of the so-called Northern Alliance.

Al Qaeda was born from these mujahideen who fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but later – in accordance with its jihadist ideology – it turned against its supporters and attacked the United States with the attacks of September 11, 2001. The US government had to do something quickly to face the national shock of having been attacked on its territory for the first time in its history, and after an ultimatum to Afghanistan to hand over bin Laden, which the Kabul government did not accept unconditionally, it attacked Afghanistan of the Taliban, with the support of the Northern Alliance, and of the United Kingdom and Canada, followed later by many other countries. Before the end of the year, the Taliban had been defeated and expelled in most of the country, although nuclei of resistance remained that would gradually consolidate and reinforce, dominating more and more territory, until achieving the reconquest that culminates now, twenty years later. .

The Taliban movement, founded in the Koranic schools of northern Pakistan, is an extremist jihadist current, based on Saudi Wahhabism, which seeks to impose Islamic or Sharia law on Afghan society, in a radical and cruel way. This is a drama for the population that wants freedom, even if they are Muslims, or even worse for those who are not, and above all for women and girls, subjected and deprived of all rights, including education. However, this may not be a problem for the US or Europe, which have accepted a similar situation in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, for example, without question for many years, and have never had much hope of achieving a substantial change in the economy. Afghan society despite huge amounts of money invested. The really unacceptable issue for Washington was the support of the Taliban to international terrorism, and in particular to Al Qaeda, that is to say, what could constitute a danger to its security or that of its allies.

That is why in February 2020 the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha, in which they promised to withdraw all their troops before May 2021, in exchange for the assurance that the Taliban would prevent the use of Afghan territory to any group or individual that attacked the US and its allies, and the application of a total ceasefire that should serve to initiate intra-Afghan political talks that would allow a political agreement. A good idea if it had been promoted when the Taliban were weak, but delayed when they already felt strong to re-dominate Afghanistan. When President Biden announced that the withdrawal would take place definitively before September 11, the Taliban, instead of the promised talks, launched a general offensive to regain control of the entire country, with the known result.

The impressive Taliban advance, which has taken control of the country in less than two weeks, with hardly any fighting, can only be explained from the weakness of an artificial and puppet regime, sustained exclusively by international military intervention and by the money that flowed. foreign powers and greased the corrupt mechanisms of the Kabul government and the warlords in the regions. The Taliban have a strong political and religious motivation, the same that brought them to power in 1996, and they also have the majority support of the Pashtun ethnic group, to which 40% of Afghans belong. Faced with their determination, the Afghan armed forces, trained by the US, but without any political, ethnic or ideological cohesion, and with a certain awareness of serving foreign interests, lost the slightest hope of victory when they learned of the imminent departure of the forces. international and have collapsed with virtually no resistance.

Afghanistan thus returns to the situation of 20 years ago. About a trillion (European) dollars has been spent in this period, of which some 150 billion on reconstruction work, more than half of it on training the Afghan security forces, including the Afghan National Army, which we see what it has served for. There have been more than 3,500 deaths in the international contingents – including 100 Spanish – and more than 64,000 in the Afghan security forces. And all that for what? It was not possible to rebuild the country or stabilize it despite the sacrifice of so many people, nor was it possible to end the corruption that is undermining the country, nor was it possible to achieve a government acceptable to all. Was there really a plan when it was decided to attack Afghanistan, was it known what future was desirable and possible? Or, as happened in Iraq and Libya, it was only intended to destroy what was there without knowing what would happen the day after (which in these cases becomes the year or decade later), or what means would be used, or what possibilities had to build a viable and safe alternative. The strategic error of not considering what is the final state of the situation to be achieved and how it will be achieved, costs many lives and many resources to achieve nothing.

Have the Taliban learned anything from their experience so that they do not repeat the same mistakes? It seems that their stated intention does not involve revenge, although recent events belie such good intentions, and many Afghans – who are desperately trying to flee – do not believe them. It may be probable that they will refrain from supporting international terrorism organizations in the future, given the threat of a repeat attack against them. We will have to see it.

What is clear, in any case, is their intention to reintroduce sharia in the country, in its harshest version, which will mainly affect the westernized population of the cities, and especially the women who have achieved in recent years to access a free and full life, because in the rural world, particularly in the areas inhabited by the Pashtuns, who have always been governed by their own code, the Pashtunwali, which is already quite primitive, they will notice it much less.

The discrimination against women and girls imposed by the Taliban, which is not very different from what exists in Pashtun society, is unbearably brutal from our western vision of the 21st century (because it also existed in Europe centuries ago), and it cannot be tolerated. But he is not going to make do with an Oklahoma Marine brandishing his rifle in every Afghan home. Among other things, because sooner or later the marine will want to return to Oklahoma. And the family of the Afghan girl will continue there, with their beliefs and traditions. The only way is to promote the acceleration of social change, which in any case will probably take place more slowly than is desirable. For that there are positive and negative stimuli. Among the former, conditional economic aid, investments in equal education, cultural and media diffusion … Among the latter, political and economic pressure, even the threat of a new intervention against the government if it does not respect minimum human rights.

But let’s face it: until in Afghan households, especially in rural ones, it is not assumed that women and men have the same rights, until the mentality of the population changes, no armed contingent is going to change things. Today, many Afghan families continue to marry their daughters under the age of 16, without their consent, to adult men. If this has not changed in 20 years of military occupation, it would hardly change in another 20. Only culture can save them.

The moment is dramatic, no doubt, both for them and for most Afghans. Now the Taliban can only be convinced that if they want to stay in power, they cannot under any circumstances support any international terrorist movement or activity, either by action or omission, and must respect a minimum level of human rights, on pain of re-enactment. be violently evicted from the government of their country. And then get to work with all possible political, diplomatic, media and economic means, to seek accommodation for refugees, protect all those who do not share the Taliban ideology and in particular to guarantee as far as possible women and girls. girls a free and dignified life. Our decency demands it of us and our responsibility demands it of us.