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Taliban Takeover : US-Led Liberal Global Order is a Sham

WebdeskAug 23, 2021, 01:49 PM IST

Taliban Takeover : US-Led Liberal Global Order is a Sham

The West perhaps couldn’t have built a nation in Afghanistan but the manner in which the withdrawal has unfolded casts a long shadow on the Western ability to manage the emerging, highly volatile global order  
 

 

Harsh V Pant

 


ABANDONED BY THE WEST: As the Biden Administration faces its reckoning with the collapse of all that was achieved in Afghanistan over the last two decades, Pakistan’s duplicity stands out as the key variable that destroyed Afghanistan and brought ignominy to the US


 

These are surreal times In Afghanistan. In a matter of hours, the old order had folded like nine pins and all that was left were the ruins of the last two decades. The new order is yet to emerge fully but the contours of that order can be discerned based on the past experience of the Afghan nation and the region. Even as the Taliban advance entered its final lap, the western intelligence was still predicting that Kabul could be taken in a matter of 30 days. But it took less than 30 hours for the Taliban fighters to reach the gates of the Presidential Palace in Kabul from where the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani, had already fled. The West was in any case cutting and running but the speed of Taliban advance meant that once again America had to live through the Saigon moment with diplomats being evicted by the helicopters and sensitive documents being destroyed. Despite the optics, the US policymakers still continue to insist that the Afghan mission had been “successful” and a defiant US President Joe Biden finds the chaos “gut wrenching” but stands by his decision to withdraw.
 

Ties with Afghan people will continue: Jaishankar

External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar recently said for India, the ‘historical relationship' with Afghan people has always been important, and that relationship with the ‘Afghan people obviously continues’.” I think that relationship with the Afghan people obviously continues and that will guide our approach in Afghanistan in the coming days,” the Minister said.
 On whether India had any communication with the Taliban in recent times, he said: “At this point of time, we are looking at the evolving situation in Kabul. Obviously, the Taliban and its representatives have come to Kabul, I think, we have to take it on from there.”
The Minister also said, “these are early days” to answer or take calls on certain questions more specifically. “Our focus right now is to ensure safety and security of Indian nationals over there.” 
On whether some elements in Pakistan could disturb or influence things in Afghanistan, he was again categorical: “At the moment, like everybody else, we are very carefully following the developments in Afghanistan. I think our focus is on  ensuring the security of Indians in Afghanistan and the safe return. That has been very much the focus of my talks with the UN Secretary General and other colleagues.”

 

As late as last month, Biden was pushing back against suggestions that the Taliban could swiftly conquer Afghanistan by arguing that “the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” And in less than a month Western  nations have been scrambling to evacuate their citizens and diplomatic staff even while acknowledging that there will be a new Government in Afghanistan. The British Government is underscoring the new ground realities when in matter of days its discourse has shifted from asking the Taliban to protect “human rights” to asking the West to work together to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a breeding ground for terror. 

After talking of freedom, democracy and human rights for the last two decades, there is little doubt that the West will be moving quickly towards accommodating the Taliban regime. As mostly happens in the rough and tumble of international politics, pragmatism will have be the last laugh at the cost of significant social, economic, and political gains of the past 20 years. Those Afghans who believed in these ideals and worked for them, often risking their lives, today stand vulnerable to complete abandonment by those who at one time seemed the be having their back. The hard-won rights for women and minorities as well as for democracy have already been sacrificed at the altar reaching a modus vivendi with the Taliban.

The West will be trying to preserve some shreds of dignity from the mess unfolding by telling the world that political reconciliation of some sort in Afghanistan is still possible. General Nick Carter, Britain’s chief of defence staff, for example, has already suggested that the Taliban want an Afghanistan that is “inclusive” for all and may have changed in their second avatar. 

But for an outfit that has won this victory against the mightiest military power on the earth through the use of force, any talk of moderation will only be temporary. And in the territories that the Taliban have already captured, they have gone back to their good old-fashioned regressive agenda against women and ethnic and religious minorities that had so shocked the global conscience during their horrific 1996-2001 rule. From young girls being forced to marry Taliban fighters to decreeing oppressive dictates against women, from summary executions of soldiers and political opponents to banning music and television, there is hardly anything ‘evolved’ in this Taliban 2.0.

But Western Governments will tell their people that some form of accommodation with the Taliban, whether evolved or not, is important for the larger good of the Afghan people as this would mean Afghan taking ownership of their own future. While the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Afghanistan will be brushed aside, the strategic consequences of Taliban’s re-emergence will have to be reckoned with by the West for a long time. If, as is being suggested in some quarters, one of the reasons for the US withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is to focus attention squarely on the competition with China, then the credibility of western assurances as a security guarantor after the Afghan debacle are not worth the paper they are written on. The coalition of partners that the West is trying to construct to manage China’s rise is likely to face greater fissures as western allies look at the Afghanistan car crash with a degree of foreboding. 

The geopolitical fallout from the Taliban’s success in forcing out America will have implications far beyond Afghanistan as jihadists around the world will get emboldened and seek to emulate this model. An Islamic Caliphate in Afghanistan will reverberate across multiple geographies, challenging most nations. It also remains a fact that whatever the Taliban are saying now as part of their image building exercise, they are unlikely to deny sanctuaries in Afghan territory to extremist groups. From Pakistan to Central Asia, foreign fighters will find a new destination. This is not a regional problem but a global challenge which the world will find very hard to ignore.

 


As the Taliban wait in glee to be embraced by the liberal West, those Afghans who decided to believe and stand by the values of democracy and human rights, only to be abandoned in the end, will always stand as a testament to the infirmities of the liberal global order. It’s nothing but a sham! 


 

And then there is Pakistan and its military-intelligence complex that is relishing the latest turn of events, not realizing that their myopic approach is likely to bring Pakistan even more misery. The inability of the West to take on Pakistan has, perhaps, been the single most important factor in the disaster that is now unfolding in Afghanistan. In its desperation to get out, Washington decided to lean on Pakistan’s promises, knowing full well that Rawalpindi has no intention of keeping them. As the Biden Administration faces its reckoning with the collapse of all that was achieved in Afghanistan over the last two decades, Pakistan’s duplicity stands out as the key variable that destroyed Afghanistan and brought ignominy to the US. There will be challenges for India for sure but India of 2021 is not the India of 1990s. India is quite capable of addressing the problems that are likely to emerge from a Talibanised Afghanistan but it is ordinary Afghans who have looked India as an exemplar in the region that would be feeling alone. And New Delhi should do all it can to help them in this hour of need.
 

Tough Time for Women; Banner of Revolt in Taliban

The facade of a modern and moderate face the Taliban tried to project for itself has fallen flat easily. Within hours Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban chief spokesman, tried to put up a neo-face of tolerance and allowed himself to be interviewed by a woman Afghan journalist; all women journalists  were sacked. 
In rural areas, executions and firing have started no sooner; he had made a big claim:  "We will not seek revenge… All those on the opposite side are pardoned from A to Z.”  In Jalalabad, unarmed protestors and common Afghan civilians were fired upon on Wednesday (August 18) when they resisted the Taliban move to replace the country's 'national flag' with the Taliban White Flag.
 
Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami: A new breakaway Afghan Taliban faction that has close links with Iran has emerged. The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami, or Party of Islamic Guardianship, is believed to have split from the mainstream Taliban soon after the United States and the militant group signed a landmark peace agreement in February. The formation of the splinter group underlines the possible divisions within the Taliban, which has seen bitter leadership transitions and growing internal dissent in recent years.
Meanwhile, from his ‘virtual hideout’, Amrullah Saleh, Afghan vice president, has raised his voice and banner of resistance to the Taliban and asserted, "The war is not over". 
“As per the constitution of Afghanistan, in absence, escape, resignation or death of the President the FVP becomes the caretaker President. I am currently inside my country & am the legitimate caretaker President. Am reaching out to all leaders to secure their support & consensus,” he tweeted. His audio interview given to western media has gone viral on social media and TV channels across the globe. A follower of the slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, Saleh has blasted the “Pak-backed oppression and brutal dictatorship”. “I can never be under one ceiling with Taliban,” he said.Amrullah Salehhas come up the ladder fighting rivals and through hard work. Picked up in 1997 by Ahmed Shah Massoud, he was asked to liaison with the Northern Alliance. In 2004, Saleh became the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. He has also been highly critical of then-President Saleh is now stationed in Panjshir Valley, the only well-known locality which has still not fallen to the Taliban. Can he really cobble up a strong ‘anti-Taliban force’? It remains to be seen. “I am not ready to be part of the humiliation and shame...,I am standing for my country,” he maintained rather put up a brave front. 

 

The limits of western power today are all too palpable and the embarrassment of Afghanistan is likely to constrain western strategic thinking for decades now. The West perhaps couldn’t have built a nation in Afghanistan but the manner in which the withdrawal has unfolded casts a long shadow on the Western ability to manage the emerging, highly volatile global order.  

As the Taliban wait in glee to be embraced by the liberal West, those Afghans who decided to believe and stand by the values of democracy and human rights, only to be abandoned in the end, will always stand as a testament to the infirmities of the liberal global order. It’s nothing but a sham! 

(The author is a Professor, King’s College, London, and Director of Studies, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

 

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