Looking at Afghanistan: who’s responsible for the rise of the Taliban?

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Once again the women are the ones who are stepping up and informing people about the injustice taking place ehimetalor akhere unuabona -unsplash

If we stop pointing fingers, can we remedy the consequences of the Taliban’s rise to power?

I have never been to Afghanistan, regardless, the country has been relevant to me in different phases of life. As a child, I grew up reading travel stories about Afghanistan, both the natural beauty of its mountains and the candor and hospitality of the Afghan people.

Then, in the late 90s and early 2000s Afghanistan was suddenly in the news almost daily for far less pleasant reasons. I remember news about the Taliban’s taking control of the nation, razing temples and Buddhist sculptures that stood as testimony of the rich, diverse culture of Afghanistan.

In my part of the world, it is no secret that the Taliban have their roots in US-funded attempts to create a grassroots militia of Afghan people to resist the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. I say “my part of the world”, but I doubt this is news to anyone who has seen Hollywood action movies from the late 80s, especially the third Rambo movie. There is also certainly no dearth of photos of America’s favorite Ronald Reagan in meetings with early iterations of the Afghan factions that today form the Taliban. I am not saying any of this absolves the Taliban of being a particularly intolerant, misogynistic group that was comfortable harboring terrorists. I am pointing out that they obtained the ability to enforce their brand of militant Islam, and conviction to collaborate with terrorists from their experience and training from the CIA and the US Department of Defense. Now, as of August 2021, the Taliban’s back in power, and have access to American weapons and resources to once again enforce their preferred way of life. One that does not have room for music, sports, or women in public spaces.

Another link I feel I have with Afghanistan is the author Khalid Hosseini. I read his book Kite Runner, which is the story of two siblings against the backdrop of all the political upheavals that their nation bore witness to in the 70s and 80s, and how it affected their lives. For me, possibly the biggest takeaway of the story remained the amazing resilience of the ordinary Afghan so unfairly a pawn in the hands of either the Shah, Soviet Union, the USA, or the Mujahideen. It is certainly hard to read Hosseini without feeling the displacement and loss of the ordinary Afghan, packing his bags, and escaping his home, because whatever faction is in power at that time does not care for his dissenting opinion. As the media has been writing about amply this past month, at least that one thing has not changed. Afghans are still packing up and trying to leave because their own home does not have space for them. This is not due to lack of physical space, which may have been tolerable. This is a rejection of their way of life, their beliefs, and values.

Afghans are leaving because as we have already seen, music academies are being shut down, women are not allowed to play any sports – and because this is supposed to be a more moderate, enlightened Taliban. Yet, women are being told to not go to work because they might be mistreated by Taliban enforcers on their commute. I wish I were joking, but the Taliban media spokesperson explained that women should not leave the house until the Taliban High Command has trained their foot soldiers to not assault women who are out in public.

Of course, everyone that cares to follow world news is asking how this could have happened. How could Afghanistan fall in a span of roughly two weeks as soon as American troops were no longer around to protect the government? Why did the Afghan army not fight back? How is it that 20 years of work was, or will soon be, undone in less than 20 days?

Fragmented explanations are being offered. The incumbent government was supremely corrupt. President Ashraf Ghani was exceedingly willing to negotiate terms that allowed him to escape in a helicopter, reportedly weighed down with suitcases filled with US dollars. The Afghan army are not paid a regular salary, for training and had neither ideological nor purely material reasons to fight back. In fact, it was to their benefit to get rid of westernized uniforms and blend in with the Taliban’s. All these reasons are not new to many of us from countries that are ever on the brink, managing a delicate balancing act. All these reasons were so avoidable it is heartbreaking. To make it worse, US President, Joe Biden, posted on social media how all they wanted from the Afghan war was to apprehend Osama Bin Laden, and nation building was never on the agenda. I have a lot of respect for Biden, perhaps somewhat colored by the former President and how good anyone looks in comparison. But I found his claims singularly disingenuous. First, if the only reason to get into Afghanistan was to make Bin Laden pay for his crimes, then that goal was attained in May 2011. For that matter, Bin Laden was not even found in Afghanistan! Second, if nation building was never a goal, then there seems to be too many American diplomats and private contractors stuck in Kabul this past month. I doubt they were there for a vacation!

I do have a somewhat unpopular opinion. Yes, the USA failed Afghanistan. The incumbent government also failed Afghanistan. Once again, the Taliban’s will enforce compliance to their understanding of the Shariah, which in the past has involved flogging men for having a clean shave, and women for not covering their hair. But ordinary Afghans cannot wash their hands so easily. For 20 years, the average Afghan had the opportunity to win an ideological battle. To join in spreading ideas, writing books, and having discussions aimed at countering the recruitment strategies of the Taliban. Given how the bulk of the membership today is youth born in the late 90s, this does not seem to have been given much effort. 20 years of relative peace and safety from the Taliban have not been capitalized on. I do not mean to blame the victim, but all the same there seems to be a lesson here: Afghanistan today might be what happens when the average citizen does not care anymore.

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