By Latheef Farook –
Afghanistan is a landlocked country at the crossroads of Asia. Afghans are fiercely proud of their heritage and cherish their freedom in a system blending tribal traditions and Islam. They drove out the powerful British invaders, during the peak of the British Empire, and in more recent times driven out the mighty army of the Soviet Union followed by the US-the sole super power.
The tragedy began when the then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev dispatched troops on a December winter day in 1979, and installed a communist Afghan puppet Barbrak Karmal as its leader. This triggered off a political crisis which virtually destroyed the delicate and unique Afghan political system, its infrastructure, economy and caused untold misery to its poverty stricken people. Millions ended up in refugee camps in neighbouring Pakistan. Their sufferings continue unabated even today.
In Moscow’s military offensive, thousands of innocent Afghan men, women, children and the aged, were massacred and maimed. Afghan freedom fighters launched one of the fiercest freedom struggles ever known in human history, forcing the mighty Soviet Empire to bleed profusely and collapse.
The conflict brought in other players to the scene. Foremost among them was the United States, which spent billions and supplied the Afghans with money, training and weapons. In the process US also armed, trained and funded Osama Ben Laden’s Al Qaeda to fight its Cold War rival in Afghanistan.
Throughout the conflict India was on the side of the Soviet aggressor. The destructive war continued until 1988, when the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev began a troop withdrawal under an agreement signed with Afghanistan, the US and Pakistan.
Imagine a band of committed guerrilla warriors being able to overcome a superpower and bring it to its knees. An elated US was quick to gloat over the conquest of its old Cold War enemy and rewarded Osama bin Laden lavishly for his efforts and cooperation.
Once the Soviet troops left the Afghans started a civil war amongst the rival Mujahedeen factions which caused immense destruction and aggravated the sufferings of the war-weary people.
In the midst the pro-Moscow President Najibullah was overthrown in 1992 and the power struggle ended with the formation of a government with an Islamic scholar Tajik Burhanuddin Rabbani as President.
The overall situation remained unstable in 1994 when the Pashtun dominated group called the Taliban (whom US President George Bush thought was the name of a pop-group), comprising mainly youths from religious schools tutored in neighbouring Pakistan, arrived and ended the civil war.
It was a joint US-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia effort that brought the Taliban into power. Afghans welcomed the Taliban who restored some measure of peace and stability to their troubled nation.
There were hundreds of thousands of widows, orphans, maimed and crippled men, women and children and the aged, and they all needed support.
The Taliban imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law to create a pure Islamic state. This created nightmarish conditions for women and all social dissidents. The Taliban ventured to eliminate rival factions and the infighting resulted in 65,000 deaths in the capital, Kabul alone.
The US, meanwhile, demanded that the Taliban government hand over Osama bin Laden who was accused, without any evidence, of bombing US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which 225 people were killed. Taliban authorities refused.
President Bill Clinton launched missile strikes and imposed crippling UN financial and economic sanctions and an air embargo in the country. In fact one should not forget that in America’s war against Moscow, bin Laden became a “reliable partner of the CIA where his roots were deeply instilled”, if we are to go by various reports.
The UN Security Council ratified the US-sponsored resolution unanimously. In the event of Kabul’s failure to comply, the resolution instructed the member countries to freeze Afghanistan’s assets, including its foreign accounts, and impose a ban on flights of Afghanistan’s national carrier, Arena, or any other hired air service.
The US imposed its own sanctions on Afghanistan causing further misery to Afghans battered by two decades of civil war.
Taliban did make some positive contributions as they brought law and order and stability to that lawless country, wiped out some rapacious war lords and gangsters, ended civil wars, stamped out corruption, paved the way for trade and commerce to flourish by making roads safer for people to travel from one corner to another without the fear of being waylaid or attacked, destroyed poppy cultivations and eliminated drug barons to cite a few.
But the US administration had its own agenda to control the oil sources of Central Asia to secure its own and more importantly Israel’s interests. The US was reported to have tried to make a deal with their Taliban for an oil-pipe line to run from the Caspian Sea and through Afghanistan to the warm waters of the Gulf. The secret discussion was reported to have taken place in Texas in the US. The US is then believed to have dropped their support for Taliban The media campaign, the UN sanctions and the US pressure on the Taliban once again brought untold misery to the already impoverished people
Then came the September 11 events in New York and Washington which were swiftly exploited by President George Bush and his neo-conservative cabal to impose their hegemony on Afghanistan, and thus, Central Asia, to serve US oil companies, arms industries and other corporate establishments. George Bush accused Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda of masterminding this attack and demanded the Taliban authorities hand them over for trial in US.
Washington let loose its destructive military juggernaut on the poorest of the poor Afghans.
Carpet-bombing, missile attacks, and cluster bombs were responsible for killing thousands of civilians. The US installed a puppet regime under the Pashtun royalist Hamid Karzai. The Taliban would have been the darlings of Washington if only they had agreed to be party to the proposals of the US oil cartels to exploit the resources of Central Asia.
Initially, Taliban rule was welcomed. Even its harshest detractors conceded that the Taliban did “succeed in certain things” such as reducing corruption as they kept “a semblance” of law and order, although it was a harsh and twisted Islamic version of law and order. After the Taliban began enforcing a ban on the cultivation of opium poppy in September 2000, the total production of opium in Afghanistan dropped by 94 per cent, thereby reducing the global annual supply by nearly 75 per cent.
The US rushed to sign agreements with Central Asian countries for oil exploration in an endeavour to keep both China and Japan out of the scene. The US aggression brought back to power war lords, gangsters, hooligans and murderers, who terrorised, looted and killed innocent people. Karzai’s administration, protected by US troops, was confined to Kabul, while opium production began to flourish and drug cartels again became active. Around 75 percent of world’s opium comes from Afghanistan and with opium poppy being cultivated in 28 out of 32 provinces and, according to UN sources, Afghan opium farmers and traffickers brought home about US$2.3 billion as at early this year.