This does not mean that the Taliban, which has swept to power in the war-torn country, must be left alone to run havoc
At the height of the Cold War in the 1970s, a weary Polish poet, tired of Communist jargon, and the intrusively pervasive presence of the former Soviet Union in East Europe, wrote the evocative lines: “Workers of the world… Leave me alone!”. A weary Afghanistan, tired of the presence of foreigners for decades, must be echoing these lines.
This does not mean that the Taliban, which has swept to power in the war-torn country, must be left alone to run havoc. There can be no Taliban 2.0. The Taliban, by its very nature is unlawfully violent, fanatically religious, repressive to women, compulsively terrorist, and insensitive to democratic governance. International pressure, for it to behave must continue, and increase.
However, the principal point of this column is different. And that is that countries must ultimately resolve their internal problems on their own, and foreign presence or military intervention has self-defining limitations, and cannot continue in perpetuity. In fact, I would further assert that military intervention in the end exacerbates problems and delays the solutions which countries can better arrive at as part of their autonomous evolution.
History is replete with examples to illustrate this verity. In Iran, a rootless anglicised elite under the Shah of Iran in the 1970s was sought to be propped up by a US-UK backed military coup. In the end, it failed. More significantly, the fact of this intervention, and the kind of regime it was trying to prop up, created its own backlash in the bazaar, and we had the empowerment of an ultr a-regressive regimen led by Ayatollahs. The consequences of foreign intervention are being felt till today.
In Kampuchea, the carpet-bombing by the USA led to a quantum leap in the recruitment of the abhorrent Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Ultimately the Pol Pot dictatorship came to power, which carried out a genocide against its own people in which millions died. China supported this genocidal regime, providing 90 per cent of Cambodian aid, and more than 15,000 “military advisors”. Left to itself, Cambodia has today resolved its internal problems.
In Vietnam, the iconic Ho Chi Minh formed the Communist Viet Minh party to oppose Japanese invaders and the French colonial administration. The US, in the thrall of the Cold War, then intervened, and fought a long bloody war to prevent Communism succeeding in Vietnam. At least three million Vietnamese were killed as also some 58,000 Americans. Communist forces ended the war by seizing control of South Vietnam in 1975. Today, Vietnam is a prosperous and stable country, and the United States is one of its most enthusiastic investors.
These are snapshots of history, but they illustrate the essential point that foreign military intervention, however well intentioned, is usually counter-productive, and nations must resolve their internal issues on their own. In Afghanistan, Russia intervened during the Afghan war of 1978-82 in support of the Afghan
Communist government. The Russians stayed for 10 years, none the better for their intervention, leaving Afghanistan only more bruised and battered. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack, the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. It stayed for two decades, at an expense of one trillion dollars. During this period, it trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, and equipped them with state-of-the-art military equipment. However, the moment the US left, the Taliban reconquered all of Afghanistan at lightening speed. The US has been vilified by many for leaving Afghanistan to the mercy of the Taliban. The truth is that the Americans, for once, understood the lessons of history. Joe Biden spoke the truth when he said that “endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me” (emphasis mine).
Now, what remains is for Afghanistan to begin and complete its own process of national reconciliation. It is a highly complex country, opaque to foreigners, and overlapped with multiple ethnicities, fiefdoms, local loyalties, and internal dynamics. Yet, we have little option but to repose trust in the Afghans themselves to work out their destiny. What should give us hope is that Afghanistan is not what it used to be two decades ago. Two-thirds of its population is below the age of 30; 60 per cent of Afghans have Internet access; the bulk of Afghani people have been exposed to democratic freedoms; and, Afghani women, having experienced new freedoms, are likely to fight to retain them.
This does not mean that we underestimate the threat of the Taliban. The imperative now if for the international community to keep up the pressure on it to eschew terrorism and repression against women. It is hoped that China will learn from the experience of Russia and the US, and keep out of Afghanistan. Pakistan will be complicit with Taliban, but history may well bring out that it was sleeping with a Frankenstein monster.
During the transition period, with the Taliban in power, the threats to India are very real. There are many advocates of greater activism on the part of India, including building bridges with the Taliban. I don’t think that is advisable, and we should act as per the options available to us. In such a situation, it is useful to remember what Chanakya said. In addition to sama, dama, danda, bheda, he spoke about a fifth upaya or instrument, asana, the strategic art of sitting on the fence. This essentially means that we should identify our feasible priorities, add our voice vehemently to international pressure on the Taliban, and look to what we need to do to protect our own interests: the evacuation of our remaining citizens from there; strengthening our defences (especially in Kashmir) against the possibility of greater terror emanating from the Afghanistan-Pakistan axis; and wait to see how the situation evolves in Afghanistan.
In the interim, the world should allow Afghanistan to negotiate its own destiny, free from outside military intervention.