29 September, 2021

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A Perspective On The Internal Conflict In Taliban

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

There are common dimensions to power struggles in earth-shattering scenarios or in more modest cases. Scale and significance may differ between the great and the puny but some features are similar. Between the early 1960s and to this day, sometimes intensely and at others peripherally I have been a party to a long history of what people call the “internal struggle” in the LSSP-Vama-NSSP and in the Left involving the JVP, CP, Shan’s Maoists and Vijaya Kumaratunga. (The Bala-Edmund breakaway fizzled away quickly). The way I think about Afghanistan-Taliban is influenced by these experiences. I wondered whether others may find it interesting and decided to share some thoughts.

First let me admit the gigantic difference in scale and significance, both global and domestic, between the two stories. But on the other hand, both involve ideological differences, factions, power struggles, outside pressures, interventions, leaders and ambitions. It is interesting to hold a mirror as it were to history. For example, outsiders will be surprised to learn that there was a substantial international side to our ‘internal struggles’. There was intercession by four international Trotskyite ‘Internationals’, Indian Marxists and Social Democrats. Russia and China influenced the CP, JVP and Shan. Many personages visited the LSSP-Vama-NSSP many times, our comrades participated in conferences overseas and there were other levels of support for factions that took this side or that. Most of the factions that split away to form five or six parties (some just insignificant little sects) that issued out of these experiences were local branches of these “Internationals”. The impact of global influences in Afghanistan-Taliban is a two-orders of magnitude mightier ballgame of course but ideological, institutional, factional and personal aspects are analogous.

The second point I wish to emphasise is that ideology is critical. For the Taliban, its visions of Islamic society, the Caliphate and Sunni-Shia imaginings of Islam. In the left it’s about the road to socialism, class collaboration, the role of the party and of course what Marx and others in the pantheon said or didn’t say. During the internal debates in the LSSP fat tomes and erudite quotations from Marx, Lenin and Trotsky were flourished about. If you comb through all 150 or so volumes that the complete works of these worthies span, it is impossible not to find contradictions. The quotations wars were sometimes hilarious like Biblical verbal abuses Christins hurled at each other in internecine wars. (I am a Marxist but I am an intelligent one. What if young Marx, drunk as a lord, was chased down Tottenham Court Road by irate coppers?).

How the internal factional and ideological conflict sorts itself out will be crucial. The Taliban is riddled with internal tendencies; there is IS(K) or Islamic State (Khorosan) and there are the infiltrators Pakistan is injecting across the border. There are powerful figures associated with previous US aligned administrations and power-brokers, though it is not yet clear what strategy the Biden Administration will pursue after the dust settles. There are reformists (dare I call them modernists?) and hardcore conservatives within and around the Taliban. The worst of the jihadist extremists are in IS(K) but where is the border between Taliban and IS? Where was the border between constitutional scholar par excellence, social democrat and darling of the working-class NM, and the Bolshevik flanks of the LSSP and of Vama? 

I have repeatedly said in my previous columns that the way the women’s issue plays out is the true weather vane of how the wind is blowing. But that outcome will not be decided by relative factional strength alone. It will also depend on personalities and on the aid provided by the rest of the world (China, the Middle East and even the IMF-USA). The more the world stabilises the new Taliban government the more reformist and moderate it will be. Turkey has de-facto recognised the Taliban. Erdogan said he is mulling a deal for running Kabul airport and told a news conference: “Taliban says ‘You operate but give security to us.’ How can we do that. How will we explain if another bomb goes off? It’s not an easy job”. Qatar too has said it will help to reopen and run the airport.

Though a very cornucopia of arms has fallen into its hands, Taliban needs pilot training and antimissile defences to tame IS(K). America says its concern is whether Afghanistan will become a witches-brew spewing terrorism abroad. Stabilising the new government instead of driving the country into chaos is the first requirement for that. Can the Biden Administration grow up, accept defeat and recognise that if it is to have leverage it must stay engaged, fund, provide professional support and stabilise the government? Americans who wish Afghanistan well have to work out a deal rather than cut their noses to spite their faces. Most Americans wanted to get out of Afghanistan but now feel humiliated by the debacle. They must relax into the inevitable. In Washington the Republicans are baying for Biden’s blood.

I will not burden you with names because some people in the running may not make it to powerful positions in the new government. Just four names are worth remembering in these early days.

Akhundzada, Abdul Badar, Kalil Haqqani and Mohammad Yaqoob
(They look like clones; one photo would have sufficed)

* Akhundzada: A Komenei like mullah who will be supreme leader.

* Abdul Ghani Badar, likely prime minister and point-man for Taliban dealings with the West.

* Mohammad Yaqoob son of one-eyed Taleban founder Mullah Omar.

* And controversial Kalil Haqqani.

From a faction-fight point of view the important people to watch are Badar and Haqqani. The rise and fall of Badar will be a barometer of how well the reformist and not-anti-Western faction is faring. The ascendency of this faction may be good news for women and may keep the lid on extremism and terrorism. Kalil Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network, classified as a terrorist by the US, is a brother of the late Jalaluddin Haqqani, famed fighter against the Soviets. Kalil is also the father of Anasi Haqqani who smooth talks the international community. An involuted and complicated fruit salad you could say. The Haqqani Network is a link between the Taliban and IS(K) but there is a substantial radical presence, in its own right, within Taliban. Recall the organic “Bolshevik” radical presence in the NM-Colvin-Leslie-Bernard outfit.

This setting I grasp well thanks to my experience of factional-ideological-personnel disputes in Lanka’s Left. I can again hear declamations on the podium, hoots of dissent, the odour in the corridors and the burning of midnight oil. Ted Grant used to say “You guys are crazy; you argue till 1 a.m., then wake up at six and go on as if there had been no night in-between!”. Taliban Factions are manifestations of deeper rifts; there are peripheral and there are deeper than peripheral connections between independent radicals, pro-IS(K) radicals and IS proper. There is the third-party connection via the Haqqani Network. For these reasons and because sympathies in the country at large are complex and diffuse I place greater emphasis than other analysts, strategists and commentators (have they got anything right?) on how the internal differences within Taliban and Afghanistan will resolve themselves. Everything will go on from how that turns out.

Unlike bourgeois-parties corruption plays little role in left-party internecine wars and it is the same in Taliban. NM, Colvin, Dr Wicks or Peiter could not have been bought by American dollars or maharajah gold, mansions and dancing girls. (NM had rather too many of the last anyway). The Taliban as is customary in such organisations will not tolerate corruption or treachery. Pity a squad doesn’t come over here and sort out our MPs and politicos by summarily relieving them of their nuts. Conflicts within Taliban will not be resolved by what these chaps think the Prophet decreed or denied, but rather by how to stabilise the regime and make the country prosperous, though subliminally couched in ideological vestments. Ideology is the garment in which real struggles are fought and serve to cloak reality from the protagonists themselves. Yes, I’m a hard materialist on today’s Taliban imbroglio.

One outlier in the ongoing process is the Panjshir Valley; long, deep and 100 miles north of Kabul, well defended by the surrounding Hindu Kush mountains. It is populated by Tajiks holding out for greater autonomy instead of simple participation in an all-inclusive government as the Taliban have offered. The valley, under its leader Ahmad Shah Massoud the “The Lion of Panjshir”, never fell to the Soviets. The Taliban have surrounded the Valley and are poised to attack, eventually they will win but it would be wiser to reach a settlement.

The new governments deep financial difficulties continue. The IMF, US and the Europeans have frozen $ 9 billion Afghan money whose release depends on international recognition of the government. Afghanistan is rich in natural resources “copper, gold, oil, natural gas, uranium, bauxite, coal, iron ore, rare earths, lithium, chromium, lead, zinc, gemstones, talc, sulphur, travertine, gypsum and marble” (according to Reuters Natural Resources Fact Box – 19 August 2021). Its Lithium deposits alone are valued at $ 2 trillion says a CNN analyst. The odds are on that stability will be achieved in the end but I am apprehensive that there will much anxiety before that.

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    Thank you Professor Kumar David for careful and disciplined writing. You have clearly been studying this problem for years, and you are being realistic about what we can expect to happen.
    .
    I’ve listed manymlinks here which reflect my romantic hopes for the resistance that is still holding out.
    .
    This appears to be an honest admission by a Brigadier who was on the spot:
    .
    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58437673?ns_mchannel=social&ns_source=twitter&ns_campaign=bbc_live&ns_linkname=58437673%26UK%20Army%20officers%20tell%20of%20%27chaotic%27%20Afghan%20evacuation%262021-09-03T17%3A18%3A28.240Z&ns_fee=0&pinned_post_locator=urn:bbc:cps:curie:asset:a8f72448-3452-4853-8865-fabd54323307&pinned_post_asset_id=58437673&pinned_post_type=share
    .
    I had hated Nigel Farage as a right-wing racist drunk. But this is sane discussion:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWiJSQVszWQ
    .
    Five reports on what it’s like to be under the Taliban:
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    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58434735
    .
    This has come in about 11.00 am Lankan time today: less than a minute of Youtube
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=836SaM9JzYk
    .
    I’ve looked at the comments – which say fake report from the Taliban. Whom do we believe?
    .
    This is even more recent:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHoUUT8GOPU

  • 2
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    I despair. This is surely the major story in the World right now, and will nobody even think about what’s happening in Afghanistan? It was surely what’s happening there that emboldened a Sri Lankan Muslim lunatic to launch his suicide attacks in Auckland. We keep taunting peace-loving Muslims here for what was done to the Bamiyan Buddha statues in 2001, but don’t we care sufficiently to even consider the plight of the Afghan people fated to come under Taliban rule again?
    .
    I hope that somebody will listen to these 20 minutes of Amrullah Saleh, which are quite interesting actually:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgtqE5ZIRDs

    .
    [Edited out]

    • 3
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      S.M,
      “but don’t we care sufficiently to even consider the plight of the Afghan people fated to come under Taliban rule again?”
      There is a difference between what we are told to believe about a situation, and what the real situation is. Especially when the media itself is biased. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the very media shedding tears over oppressed Afghan women called the oppressors heroes when they were fighting godless Communists not long ago? Does the media talk as much about the hundreds of thousands of children dying in Yemen, or who supplied the weapons? We are told that Iran is a hellhole full of evil mullahs. But have look at this Iran:
      https://youtu.be/CYoa9hI3CXg
      Give the Afghans time and space, and they will evolve. Do not be concerned about them simply because the media provokes you . Even we have practices that are reprehensible in Western eyes, but luckily we have no oil, lithium, or whatever.

      • 2
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        S.M,
        Does the media even tell us the truth about Tamil Nadu for instance. We were shown videos of people dying in the street. But look at this: https://youtu.be/PolyF8KeS1I
        Sensationalism sells. Otherwise, you can use outright lies.

      • 2
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        Old Codger,

        Well said, News like a commodity are managed and sold. We have to be selective otherwise we will be slaves of newspaper magnates.

  • 3
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    Taliban won’t be in power if the Afghans don’t support/want them …… the Rajapakses won’t be in power if the Lankans don’t support/want them.

    Give the people, a majority of them want, and make them happy. ……Happiness is the key!


    Cost of Afghan-war ……… $300 million a day.

    Biden is a courageous man who made the right decision – looking good doesn’t mean a thang …… people have short memories …… they’ll forget, as soon as the next crisis hit.

    America has better things to spend the money on.

    • 4
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      continued

      Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning of April 16, 1953, (is the date correct, SJ?) before the American Society of Newspaper Editors:

      ”Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children . . . This is not a way of life at all in any sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

      The nations are spending almost $1 trillion a year on destructive weapons – more than $1.8 million every minute, day and night; the cost of one Trident submarine would pay for immunization and basic health care for all the needy children of the world.

      • 3
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        Nimal,
        Yes, Eisenhower knew what he was talking about, having been a General himself. But even he couldn’t stop the military-industrial complex, as he called it. The machine grinds on regardless.

        • 3
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          “The machine grinds on regardless.”

          OC,

          Nothing will stop until the economy collapses – until the means to cause mischief comes to a halt. This is what happened to all the “great empires” before ……. the rot starts from the inside.

          Could anyone have predicted that the Soviet Union would collapse so suddenly and quickly? That’s what their Afghan-adventure did to them.

          Bin Ladin thought he could do the same thing to the USA ……. draw them in to a war in Afghanistan and defeat them and destroy them “economically” ……… he was only partly right ……… the American economy is still mostly intact. Unlike the Soviet economy, the American economy has a way of renewing itself. The social structure/setup – this is not if it’s right or wrong; that’s another shindig – draws in all the best talent from all round the world and gives them an opportunity to be wildly successful. Perhaps it’s a formula they discovered by accident but now inbuilt to the system.

          • 2
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            continued

            America will collapse …… how and when ……. who knows!

            btw …… I haven’t even walked past a history/economics class/lecture …….. I just have a bird fluttering in my brain about these things ……. but I try to make sure that the birdie is honest; brutally honest ……..

            • 2
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              A little addition

              I haven’t yet met a man intelligent enough …… to push intellectual-dishonesty very far ………

              Well, that’s just the nature of the beast ………….

              • 2
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                Throughout history …….. some great intellects have fallen victim …… to charlatans ……..

                They say Hegel (or some philosopher) ……. lined up in the streets of his town ……. to receive conquering Napoleon …….

                Beethoven dedicated one of his major compositions to Napoleon ……. but later, scribbled it out angrily in the original score …….. when he discovered that ol’ Napoleon was another Gota ……….

                Did SJ line up in the streets to receive Gota ……. in the Vijitha Maga? :))

                I hope, someday, professor SJ will thank me, the worst engineering student he’d ever come across ……. for alerting him to a minor human trait/insight ……..

                Well, they say …… living in hope is what kills us all in the end! :))

      • 1
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        nf
        I should confess that am not so much an Eisenhower fan as you are.
        But my interest in Cuba led me to this letter, dated July 11, 1960 from ‘Ike’ to ‘Dear Harold’
        https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v06/d551
        *
        Three months on, on Oct. 19, 1960 the Eisenhower administration placed an embargo on exports to Cuba, setting in motion an uneasy political relationship that continues to this day.
        Almost immediately, Castro began to restructure the government in a socialist mold and develop a relationship with the Soviet Union. “Relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly as the Cuban regime expropriated U.S. properties and moved toward adoption of a one-party communist system,” writes the U.S. State Department.
        (Source: dingdulcinea.com/news/on-this-day/September-October-08/On-this-Day–Eisenhower-Places-Embargo-on-Exports-to-Cuba.html)
        *
        Glory be to the man, who initiated the six decades long brutal sanctions regime against a tiny neighbour which consistently failed to intimidate the poor country.
        *
        BTW,
        This apparent icon of disarmament threatened China with nuclear attack in 1952.
        Any thoughts, subject to your Wittgenstein limit of course?

        • 2
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          “I should confess that am not so much an Eisenhower fan as you are.”

          SJ,

          I’m no fan of Eisenhower or any man dead alive or still unborn. No fan of God either. …….. No man is infallible (most of all ye ….. and at times, I : ) ) and without fault. I quoted Eisenhower to get across the wastefulness of war ……. the figure $300 million a day is from Forbes, of which I’m no fan either …….

          In the limited time I have ……. I have to write comments without giving a foot long bibliography ……… yes, your best buddy ol’ Wittgenstein (so good ol’ Witt is still bugging you, eh?) included ………

          I do not deal in individuals but individual acts of individuals ……. I praised Biden’s individual act of withdrawal: setting a date and pulling out.

          Individuals are so fraught with shortcomings ……..as I have said many times before ….. I rarely deal in individuals ……. but traits/characteristics of humans/humanity as a whole ….. macro not micro ……. Forrest not trees …….

          Coprehendo profesori?

          • 0
            0

            I appreciate your effort to push the boundaries of your language with new spellings and words unfamiliar to you.
            But it will not change the mind of good old Ludwig.
            *
            Be cool.
            A glass of water should help.

    • 0
      3

      “Biden is a courageous man who made the right decision”
      Did he? Have we forgotten the one who sat in the White House before him?
      It is an interesting change to hear some words of praise for Biden these days. (A correct statement is not a cut and paste job though.)
      *
      If “America has better things to spend the money on” why did it dump trillions of dollars in Afghanistan to destroy lives?
      To keep the the military-industrial complex well fed?

      • 2
        0

        “If “America has better things to spend the money on” why did it dump trillions of dollars in Afghanistan to destroy lives?”

        Oh C’mon SJ!

        You are starting to sound like EE! …… you are better than that! ……… you know as well as I (or even more than anyone) about human-nature.

        I don’t have much time to elaborate; perhaps later ……… the gist of the whole shebang is ……. the rich and the powerful of the world, by various means, have shifted the tax-burden to the poor by introducing a consumption-tax (VAT; different names in different countries) to replace the income-tax. Then people in the guise of “politicians” fight to get into positions to control/spend/grab/rob that money.

        It’s not different anywhere in the world …… no group of people are any better than any other group of people ………. gotta look at it through primordial human behaviour; ape-behaviour ……… how apes survive …….


        btw ….. I tease/pull-legs of all you guy ……. but have tremendous respect for all of you for staying behind ….. Dr Janapriya, Prof David, SJ ……. and countless others ………..

        It would be churlish of me not to acknowledge ………. but we brawl ……… as we should …….

        • 0
          2

          Don’t be desperate.
          I appreciate your difficulty in answering a question.
          The Ludwig limit is only one aspect of human limits.
          Calm down.
          Getting agitated is of no use in desperate situations.
          You pull your own legs, imagining that you pulling the legs of others.
          Were you pulling N. Bonaparte’s legs too?
          *
          A glass of water will help, but not to swim in though.

          • 2
            0

            Who is desperate now? :))

            A little addition

            I haven’t yet met a man intelligent enough …… to push intellectual-dishonesty very far ………

            Well, that’s just the nature of the beast …………. :)))))


            btw ……. I still respect you ……. more than you respect yourself by these …… your “desperate” comments!

            • 1
              2

              I have yet to find any beast pushing intellectual-dishonesty any far. However, I appreciate your efforts.
              Keep me informed.
              Best Wishes.
              ps. Always remember that glass of water.
              Byeeeeee.

              • 2
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                What else can you say SJ, eh?

                Cornered? ……. lost your queen to a pawn? :))

                • 0
                  0

                  So you are a pawn after all.
                  *
                  Remember two things: the Ludwig limit and the glass of water.

  • 2
    1

    I suppose, we shouldn’t wait for the demise of America with bated breath ……… after all, America might be the best bad-empire we’ve ever had ……… and perhaps ever will …….. :))

  • 1
    2

    nimal, it may be true that the US had to get out of Afghanistan fast, but Biden has shown himself to be a bumbling old nincompoop, though we rooted for the guy during the Presidential Election. Perhaps there is something ridiculous in a fellow like me who has never been anywhere near the States expressing any opinion on this.
    .
    Btw, I had heard about Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial lobby. All the more valid because he led forces against Hitler. But mustn’t we condemn him for overthrowing Mosaddegh of Iran? We’re still paying for that.
    .
    oc, I’ve followed all your links. I’ve also seen you say that there have been worse tragedies than the fate of the Panjshiris, (fate of the two heroes unknown). Isn’t that rather like the red herrings that we strew when our Tamils want justice?
    .
    The Tamil effort to present Prabhakaran as a hero runs into difficulties owing to his own criminality. I have seen no such failings in these two heroes. You may say, “Since the cause is lost, they don’t matter.” May be. But can we not mourn for them, as for Brutus, and at least say, “these were men.”?

    • 0
      1

      Geeze man SM!

      Don’t you guys get it? …….SJ, I can understand, but you? …….This is what I wrote SJ,

      “I’m no fan of Eisenhower or any man dead alive or still unborn. No fan of God either. …….. No man is infallible (most of all ye ….. and at times, I : ) ) and without fault. I quoted Eisenhower to get across the wastefulness of war ……. the figure $300 million a day is from Forbes, of which I’m no fan either …….

      I do not deal in individuals but individual acts of individuals ……. I praised Biden’s individual act of withdrawal: setting a date and pulling out. ” ……… (Even Mahinda did a very good deed; I don’t have the time to write it now)

      “Individuals are so fraught with shortcomings ……..as I have said many times before ….. I rarely deal in individuals ……. but traits/characteristics of humans/humanity as a whole ….. macro not micro ……. Forrest not trees …….”


      I believe most US presidents are war-criminals …… if the shoe was in the other foot ….. would have been convicted in trials similar to Nuremberg and hanged.

      All the recent presidents were more morally corrupt than Trump …… Trump was a monumental idiot who didn’t even have the smarts to be corrupt!

      I don’t have the time ……. perhaps do a piece about the whole shindig later …… for the benefit of first-year freshmen like SJ ……….

      • 0
        0

        This might’ve got cut off

        I believe most US presidents are war-criminals …… if the shoe was in the other foot ….. would have been convicted in trials similar to Nuremberg and hanged.

        All the recent presidents were more morally corrupt than Trump …… Trump was a monumental idiot who didn’t even have the smarts to be corrupt!

        I don’t have the time ……. perhaps do a piece about the whole shindig later …… for the benefit of first-year freshmen like SJ ……….

      • 1
        0

        Nimal,
        Since you probably have Netflix, you should watch this:
        https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.netflix.com/title/81315804&ved=2ahUKEwjX4sG6k-_yAhWFfH0KHQ7CD0AQFnoECAUQAQ&usg=AOvVaw3lDWkaEUPR9mpnQggwcTsP&cshid=1631096435185

        It’s a doc about the political machinations that created the Taliba, etc. The funny thing about Americans is that they create disasters like Vietnam /Afghanistan but then produce no- bullshit analyses like these. Unimaginable in Sri Lanka.

        • 0
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          In some other place, nimal had shown great awareness of Michael Moore. I stumbled on the fact that there’s a free airing of this Documentary (9/11) at 6.30 am, Lankan time, on Saturday, the the 11th, September – that’s the 20th anniversary, isn’t it?
          .
          I have already placed some new links below this article by Dr Ameer Ali:
          .
          https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/islamic-state-caliphate-an-anachronism/

  • 2
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    Ashraf Ghani has just now apologised to his people in a long tweet:
    .
    https://twitter.com/ashrafghani
    .
    To the Afghan people, not to me! He was a funny sort of guy; a brilliant intellect; he worked hard and sincerely, but couldn’t connect.
    .
    He has only half his stomach, after an operation for cancer. He wouldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes had he been handled roughly. Let me hope that he has a few years in which he can effectively denounce the Taliban – and America.
    .
    However, he may go down in History as a coward. Question: how will our Gota be remembered?

    .

    • 2
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      And now the BBC has a long (and I’m sure accurate) account of Ashraf Ghanis’s last two days as President , before his ignominious exit.
      .
      I still don’t blame him, personally. The only criticisms I have seen of this cultured Professor of Anthropology are that he tried to micromanage all affairs of state, reading through reams of reports after waking at 4.00 am, that he was a loner, and that he had a fearsome temper, although we’ve not been shown any of his tantrums, which had ceased to be frequent about nine years ago.
      .
      All of which serves as a warning to anyone wanting to be President merely because he is the most educated man around.
      .
      But then our problem is that we either have guys with no certificates, or guys who obtained certificates sitting with only the Principal of the Institution in air-conditioned comfort.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe

    • 2
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      The link hadn’t been given by me:
      .
      https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58477131
      .
      The last two days, but there are two photographs taken at the same ornately carved table that are interesting. In the first, President Ghani in a virtual address to the nation (I heard it a fortnight ago, I think, in Pashtun) has left a book, which he had been reading (and he’s a great reader) on the table, with a bookmark.
      .
      In the second, some bearded Taliban are at the same table. The book, and its mark are in the same position as earlier. The Taliban would have no use for the book, which must certainly have been in English – wonder if they would have burnt it by now?

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