STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

NATO forces landed in Afghanistan as “deliverers”; twenty years later they ended up being the occupiers. How did this happen? Post mortems will be done by multiple tiers of policy makers, analysts and historians. Blame game and finger pointing shall keep the public confused for years to come. USA will continue to be at the centre stage despite exiting the longest war in its history. Eventually facts will emerge as dust settles to expose the perpetuators and beneficiaries.
The expense on Afghan and Iraq war exceeds the proposed budget of President Biden to re-vamp the entire US infrastructure. It could have happened twenty years ago if President Bush had stopped after neutralizing Al Qaeda and pursuing Bin Laden. Instead there was a double whammy; Afghanistan was put on the back burner as US launched the Iraq war.
Unfortunately wisdom was thrown out the window to favor Neo-Conservative agenda of the ideologues. They wanted to shove Western democracy down the throats of stable autocracies. It unraveled the entire Muslim world; it continues till today causing destruction as warring groups kill each other. Citizens are hostage in their own countries or finding refuge elsewhere. Unfortunately, immense pain and torture has been dispensed at the altar of modern day crusaders.
Afghanistan was the biggest victim of this crazed adventure. Trillions of dollars of American tax payers’ money have been wasted. The sad reality is that this money could have been spent at home to benefit its citizens. Every American is deeper in debt than ever before. It is not a pretty picture.
Afghanistan war caused extreme hardships for neighboring Pakistan. At the height of Afghan war, the spillover led to bombs and IEDs killing and maiming innocent civilians all over. Pakistani economy bled profusely due to disruption caused by terrorists based in safe havens in Afghanistan. It was fuelled by India, supported by Afghan intelligence and ignored by NATO high command. Simply stating that 70,000 lives were lost or $150 billion was the cumulative damage does not do justice to the pain and anguish suffered by the nation.
The challenge was met head on by Pakistani forces sacrificing their lives and injuries suffered by the brave warriors. At one stage terrorists threatened to invade Islamabad and take over the nuclear arsenal. The trauma engulfed everyone. Kidnapping and extortion became the order of the day. Anyone who ignored hand written chits demanding millions paid their price in blood.
Those memories are painful. Without the resolve and commitment of our defenders Pakistan would have crumbled; degenerating into a never ending civil war. Providence intervened to guide through these humungous challenges. We never want to go back there. Despite huge pressures by international forces to “do more”, for once Pakistan stood its ground. PM Imran Khan and military establishment took the bold stance of “no more”.
Those who demanded more from Pakistan finally understood the futility of prolonging the Afghan conflict. Occupiers accepted the reality of “no more”. As they were leaving Afghanistan their puppet regime crumbled like sand castles washed away by the wave of Taliban resolve. The unceremonious and hastened departure has left gaping wounds in the tall egos of the architects of this unnecessary conflict.
Taliban’s takeover of territories is just the first step. They displayed commendable resolve and commitment standing up to the world’s most powerful war machine. Occupying forces deployed their most lethal weapons and best forces, equipped and trained to bring the resistance to its heels. They did not succeed because their local allies were a bunch of crooks. All this has the benefit of hindsight. It is important for the Taliban to look towards the future.
What are their immediate challenges? Formation of a new government involving all factions. It is easier said than done. Everyone is digging in their heels to get a piece of the pie. It needs intense negotiations dictated by accommodation. Results will emerge within days.
A bigger challenge is the need to prep for rebuilding the nation. This will require a very sagacious policy to walk the thin line. On one side, there is the fervor of imposing Shariah in its extreme form amongst the rank and file of Taliban’s fighters. On the other side is the growing concern amongst the Western nations and neighbors to uphold the rights of women, minorities and those who sided with the opposing forces in the conflict.
The new Government must come up with a happy medium of accommodating both sides. It will not be easy. However the Taliban have to accept realities. Fund for rebuilding efforts will require resumption of inflow from lending agencies and international donors. The biggest concern overwhelming the Western media is to provide a safe passage to those who aided the occupying forces. The best way to diffuse this clamor and create tremendous goodwill would be to allow it to happen in an organized manner as quickly as possible. Keeping these Afghans will not benefit Afghanistan anyway.
There is an urgent need for the future Afghan government to apply a soothing balm to permit face saving for departing occupiers. It will create a goodwill that could speed up the release of funds desperately needed to rebuild. The cards are stacked in favor of Afghans. Supporting neighbors like China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Russia and Qatar are willing to work with them to pave the way for a better future.

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