Afghanistan- The Great Game or a Tumbling Dice on the Road to Ruin
Viewpoint by Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. and Jainendra Karn

Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. is an ex-diplomat & ALCAP’s Special Adviser for Asia & Africa and Jainendra Karn is a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

New Delhi (IDN) The SAARC Foreign Minister’s Meet scheduled for 25 September 2021 in New York was cancelled as Pakistan insisted that the Taliban government rather than the representatives of the previous Afghan government should be allowed to participate.

Interestingly, the Taliban nominated their Doha based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador and asked to speak at the United Nations. Countries like Qatar and Pakistan now urge the world to engage with the Taliban.

While one tries to comprehend why Americans handed Afghanistan to the Taliban on a platter, one even tries even more to figure out which side the dice will turn as Iacta alea est in the great game called Afghanistan.

The field of international relations is such that it gives one a chance to interact with, assess individuals and frameworks that play an important role in the developments that affect us. And of course, the feelings are a mixed bag of emotions and admiration.

For example, wisdom dawned after a heavy evening in the United Nations Delegate’s lounge about the legend of Henry Kissinger and the influence on U.S. foreign policy. One finally concluded that even though Kissinger might have meant business , the myth of Henry Kissinger is actually a myth.

On the other hand, being on an advisory board along with Dr. Thomas P M Barnett introduced one to the wonderful academic frameworks of “the Functioning Core” and the “Non-Integrating Gap” to understand our world and make a sense of it.

It is a geopolitical theory that looks at the world through a binary. It came into prominence in the year 2003 during the invasion of Iraq when Thomas wrote an article in support of the military action, later published in the book titled “The Pentagon’s New Map.”

In a nutshell, the central thesis of geopolitical theory is that in the Functioning Core of the world, the connections globalization brings between countries (including network connectivity, financial transactions, and media flows) are synonymous with those countries with stable governments, rising standards of living, and “more deaths by suicide than by murder”.

Whereas the areas that make up the Non-Integrating Gap are the ones where globalization has not yet penetrated, and which are synonymous with political repression, poverty, disease, and mass-murder, and conflict.  

Therefore the United States must “export security” to the Gap in order to integrate and connect those regions with the Core, even if this means going to war in Gap countries, followed by long periods of nation-building.

Afghanistan is a classic case that one can interpret as an example of US action that was supposedly undertaken to integrate and connect the typical Non-Integrating Gap that the country is.

However Democrat Congresswoman and former US Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard who later supported the current US President Jo Biden deemed the US’ mission in Afghanistan as ‘unnecessary’ and ‘wasteful.’

She criticised the American elite of lacking any clear mission or strategy after the swift defeat of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.  The decisions of the leadership or the lack of it caused a lot of suffering along with wasting the US taxpayer’s money worth Trillions.

Because of the precipitous withdrawal of the US, the Taliban now has an air force now, 11 military bases and USD 85 billion worth of military equipment.

The manner in which the US left Afghanistan is also construed as a betrayal of the country by the Americans. Under peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, better known for his pro-Pakistan policies, the U.S. Administration gave away everything America has fought for in Afghanistan since 9/11.

Looking back, it was actually Kissinger’s protégé, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was the person behind the US’ wrong decision to intervene in Afghanistan. The US laid the foundations of its defeat in Afghanistan of 2021 way back in 1979 itself.

The intervention sowed the seeds of Islamic terrorism in the region and the US then paid the huge price for that mistake on 9/11. Strangely Taliban now claims that there is “No Proof” that Osama bin Laden was ever involved in the 9/11 attack on the US.

What if there is another repeat of 9/11? The flight of the US from Afghanistan has cast a doubt on its leadership. It shows that the West will never stand up to fight for its values.  It seems to have lost the will to fight.

The deep links of Pakistan in the US and also in Afghanistan are well known. Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, a front for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the US who used to lobby with the policymakers, was arrested by the FBI in 2011.

Whether it was Pakistani Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the perpetrator of 9/11 or Osama bin Laden of Al-Qaeda who was found next to a military complex in Abbotabad, Pakistan, the country has much sway in the region.

Terrorism’s effects are not only without but also within. In 2020, the FBI helped India in tracking the masterminds of the Pulwama terror attack which were located in Pakistan.

Is it not very surprising that 70-75 thousand Taliban who seem from the medieval times defeated a supposedly modern, trained and equipped by the West, Afghan army of over 3 million?

Interestingly Iran which had close relations with the Taliban in the past has also slammed Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan and wants a probe.

Pakistan’s involvement in harbouring the Taliban and Haqqani Network is also under America’s scanner. Anthony Blinken has mentioned that US will reassess its ties with Pakistan over Afghanistan future.

What is not a common knowledge is that the fountain head of Taliban is actually Darul Uloom Deoband which is an Islamic seminary in Deoband, India. Deobandi is an Islamic revivalist movement within Sunni, primarily Hanafi, Islam.

Its political wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which was formed in 1919 played a major role in communalizing and polarizing the Muslims in India. Through the organisations such as Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Tablighi Jamaat the Deoband Madrassah Movement began to spread and is now not only in South Asia but also throughout the world.

Now back in the seat of power, Taliban hasn’t changed a bit and is back to its old ways. Its abuses have started causing widespread fear across Afghanistan and abroad.

Buoyed by Taliban’s victory of Kabul, Ayesha Siddiqa, a scholar of South Asia notes that Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based Deobandi Jihadist Mujahedeen group now wants to target Kashmir in India. Given Taliban’s much reiterated hostility towards India, after the USSR and US, now it is India’s turn to face the music.

What is curious is that like many across the world, a few in India, world’s largest democracy, such as the Peace Party whose stance on key issues has almost always been Islamist, welcome the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

Every country in the world including India, Russia and China face the same problems while dealing with terrorism at home which is about militants integrating into global networks. This makes the countries in the neighbourhood of Afghanistan particularly vulnerable to Islamic terrorism.

However there are some indifferent perspectives of real-politik who want to get over it all and move on with their lives like before, such as Professor Yiwei of China who claimed that the Taliban are the ‘Liberation Army’ of Afghanistan who “are demonized by the U.S., but are China’s ‘Good Brothers.’

One has to understand that the field of international relations is very obfuscating where states are involved in the game for various reasons. They undertake various initiatives such as initiation, involvement, rescue, abandonment etc. that are in synergy with their priorities.

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