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When The Americans Failed Afghanistan: Chronicle Of The Dramatic Collapse Of ANation O n August 17, 2021 US President Joe Biden delivered a historic speech on the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan from the East Room of theWhite House, wherein he rationalized the deci- sion, which was universally criticized, as necessary becauseWashington, he said with some rare candour, was overtaken by the events that happened “more quick- ly than we anticipated”. “The events that we are seeing now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united and secure Afghanistan, that is known in history as the graveyard of empires. What is happening now, could just as easily happened five years ago, or 15 years in the future.”, adding sheepishly that the US was now focusing on “what is possible”. The unusual admission of defeat and misjudgment - not for the US for the first time in history - was testimony not just to a colossal strategic policy fail- ure on the part of the American establishment. Its ramifications are still being felt on a proud nation of 23 million people that, because of its strategic geopoliti- cal positioning, has been fought over by major powers and stirred unending internecine conflicts which kept its largely rural and feudal society in a permanent state of unrest and civic dis- order. Millions of Afghans have fled abroad over the years, settling in different coun- tries near and fear that have given them refuge, knowing well that a return to their homes might be a chimera. The latest exodus of course was triggered by the American retreat from Kabul andWash- ington washing its hands off the country’s future after being stung badly by their experience which a top commander ad- mitted was a “strategic setback, a strategic failure”. FALL OF KABUL Chronicling the dramatic “The Fall of Kabul” (Bloomsbury) in an eponymously titled book, was an intrepid Indian mul- timedia journalist, Nayanima Basu, who had gone on her own initiative to report on the withdrawal of NATO troops but ended serendipitously being almost a ringside witness to the tumultuous power transition in the capital with the collapse of the US-backed Ghani government; the Taliban renewing its brutal and medieval grip over a war-battered nation after a quarter of a century; and the loss of tens of thousands of lives. *Ironically, the Taliban did not have to fire a single shot or kill even one person to enter the capital (Kabul) where it had once ruled,” wrote Nayanima, blaming the extraordinary turn of events squarely on the policies of three American presidents who she said where variously “responsible for how the war ended and where it has brought Afghanistan, push- ing it back to the dark ages where women do not even have the basic dignity of life”. Nearly three years on, little has changed for the country and its people. Officially, the country is no more at war, but by no stretch is at peace, with a clutch of well-armed militant groups, either patronized by the Taliban, or fighting against it, carving out their respective spheres of influence in a mountainous nation wracked by poverty and inequi- ties. That brings them often at odds with either the present rulers of Kabul or with Afghanistan’s neighbours, like Pakistan and Iran, leading to frequent eruptions of localised conflicts, but with transborder ramifications. The book is not an outcome of a premeditated creative expression of a stunningly beautiful country roiled by wars. The book is a fairly gripping first- person account of a country that was in a 20-year-long war that just “collapsed in a matter of hours”. And the author just hap- pened to be there at the right place and the right time, braving death on multiple occasions, to record it as she filed real- time despatches from dangerous loca- tions where events were unravelling with apocalyptic speed before she took the last available flight evacuating Indians out of Kabul. As the events rapidly overtook the world, including the country’s simple folks who had little stake in the power struggle, Kabul, in the author’s words, “looked like something out of the pages of a historical dystopian novel, where everything seemed to be in an existen- tial crisis”. A little vignette of an ex- change between the author and her local driver is telling. “Do you think Kabul will fall’, and pat came the reply: ‘Yes, soon. But nothing to worry ma’am, You enjoy Kabul.’ RECEDED FROM HEADLINES The world has expectations of a differ- ent Afghanistan, one which is at peace, is politically stable, respects human rights, particularly gender rights, and does not remain a haven to terror groups, But the reality may be quite different, and many of Afghanistan’s neighbours may be hav- ing to hurriedly reorient its policies to suit the changing ground realities. Pakistan, which initially exulted at the return of the Taliban, which they thought would give the country “strategic depth” against India, now finds itself at the rough end of unchecked cross-border militant attacks that has resulted in a lot of casual- ties, as the perpetrators, the Tehreek e Taliban e Pakistan (TTP) are ideologically aligned with the Afghan Taliban, which does not want the world to see it as “Is- lamabad’s lackeys”. India, which found itself quite behind the curve like the US in gauging the rapidly changing political dynamics, first shut down its consulates and then its embassy just as the Afghan Republic collapsed on August 15, 2021. But once it realised it would be foolhardy to expect the revival of the Republic, it tacitly started mending fences with the Taliban, sending what it called a “tech- nical team” to Kabul, resumed humanitarian aid, and discon- tinued diplomatic support to the embassy in New Delhi that was in the hands of representatives of the ousted Ghani government. It also meant inexplicably discon- tinuing visa support to Afghan students and those who flocked to the country for medical treatment, as well as forcing the shutdown of the only Afghan school in the Indian capital that gave education to children of Afghan refugees, eroding its reservoir of goodwill among ordinary Afghans in the process. With new theatres of global conflict emerging, Afghanistan has receded from the headlines and also slipped down in global priorities. Socially, it may have slipped back to the “dark ages”, but much of the world doesn’t care. It might well become in the years to come a theatre for another “Great Game’ as China slowly spreads its tentacles around Afghanistan, coveting its untapped mineral and energy deposits, and seeing it as a conduit for its ambitious connectivity project, the Belt and Road Initiative. The US may have given up on Afghani- stan, and so perhaps the world; but not perhaps its hardy and never-say-die peo- ple, who continue to struggle in the country or have managed to escape abroad, who continue to “dream of an Afghanistan where there are no more wars and it is back to the heady days when women roamed freely on the streets and there was no fear of bomb blasts....” (The author is a veteran jour- nalist and Consulting Editor, South Asia Monitor. Views are personal.) -South Asia Monitor By Tarun Basu Commentary News India Times (May 11 - May 17, 2024) May 17, 2024 3 Photo:South Asia Monitor US troops depart Afghanistan. Photo:US Air Foercevia Reuters