Tag: Afghanistan

Withdrawal of US troops could spell disaster for Afghanistan

1200px-Flag_of_Afghanistan.svg

US troops provide important protection for Afghans against insurgents in the war that started with 9/11
nearly 19 years ago, says UNSW’s Dr. Srinjoy Bose.

MELBOURNE, June 3, 2020:Trump’s peace negotiation with the Taliban could leave Afghanistan worse-off as the US plans for final troop withdrawals, says UNSW Middle East expert Dr. Srinjoy Bose.

“Any clause in any kind of agreement that will somehow bring the Taliban on board

as allies in a fight against ISIS, Al-Qaeda or others, is really foolhardy,” Dr. Bose, from UNSW Arts and Social Sciences, says.

US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban head Abdul Ghani Baradar signed the peace agreement with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a witness on February 29 in Doha, Qatar, following 18 months of negotiations.

At the signing, Mr. Pompeo urged the Taliban to “keep your promises to cut ties with Al-Qaeda”.

Dr. Bose says the connection between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is “generational – cemented by marriage ties, in some cases – complex, layered and not well understood”. A new UN report also recognizes that the close links between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban remain.

“To assume any Taliban promise of fighting Al-Qaeda will go ahead, and have them hand over whatever remnants of Al-Qaeda remain… well, I’d take that with a big pinch of salt,” he says.

“How will the US even measure, observe, or find evidence that the Taliban are actually going after Al-Qaeda and Daesh [ISIS]?” Dr. Bose says. “Will the US troops fight the Taliban on one day, then ask them to fight Al-Qaeda and Daesh on [the] other days?”

All US troops are set to make an exit from the country within 14 months, as part of the peace agreement. Additionally, they will release 5,000 insurgents from Afghan jails in exchange for 1,000 prisoners held by the Taliban.

The US withdrawal will end the American presence in Afghanistan which began when terrorists affiliated with Al-Qaeda attacked New York’s Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people.

The “mastermind” behind the 9/11 attacks, Al-Qaeda’s then-leader Osama bin Laden, was shot dead by US Navy Seals in 2011.

Despite a brief three-day lull in fighting to mark the end of Ramadan, called the Eid-ul-Fitr Festival, on May 24, violence in the region has not abated despite the peace talks.

Dr. Bose says part of the deal to reduce US troops in Afghanistan, was on the basis that the Taliban would decrease their violence.

However, on May 12, armed assailants carried out an attack on a maternity ward in Kabul, run by international aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres. About 24 people, including mothers, pregnant women, nurses, and two newborns were massacred in the attack.

Gunmen also shot dead eight worshippers and wounded 12, during their evening prayers in a Mosque in central Afghanistan on May 19.

The Afghan government laid blame with the Taliban but the group has denied involvement in either massacre.

Dr. Bose says the increase in attacks, including a suicide car bombing in the east of the country, and another which killed seven Afghan intelligence officials coincides with what is known as the ‘Taliban Spring Offensive’.

“Basically, as winter draws to an end, with the falling of temperatures and the melting of snow, the Taliban revise their attacks typically in the month of April,” Dr. Bose says.

“The escalation in attacks would also imply that the Taliban are trying to increase their leverage, vis-a-vis their negotiations with the Americans and the future negotiations with the Afghans,” he says.

“They might be trying to leverage the situation to ensure their bargaining power increases by carrying out these attacks.”

Dr. Bose says it was a “big mistake” for the US to exclude the Afghan government when they entered into negotiations with the Taliban earlier this year.

“The Afghan government wanted to be a part of these negotiations, so that robbed them of a voice, particularly on how many US troops would withdraw from the region and when.

“One of the reasons the Taliban demanded this is because they can see that once American troops are taken out of the equation, then the group will have the upper hand,” Dr. Bose says.

Dr. Bose says the US is also considering reducing aid to the Afghan government at a time when officials there are already stretched trying to provide health services during Covid-19.

“There is the view that this is part of the negotiations with the Taliban, and one could argue that’s a strategic move,” Dr. Bose says. “Because of the Taliban’s relative power and demand for power increase with reduced aid to the Afghan government.

“The Taliban has argued and justified their continued resistance by identifying the American occupation. They have said, ‘If the Americans leave then we will bring peace to Afghanistan and we will talk to our Afghan brothers and sisters’.”

But Dr. Bose says many are skeptical of the Taliban’s promises, saying the group will just find another justification for war.

“My great fear is that without American financial and military support, the Afghan government will be overrun. They will collapse,” Dr. Bose says.

“This is not to suggest that it will be an easy fight for the Taliban. The government could fall in a matter of months, it could lead to renewed civil war and you could see years of engagement,” he says.

“But there are also a number of warlords, strongmen who command peoples and arms, who might coalesce against the Taliban, or they might have pockets of influence where they are fighting the Taliban. So what we might actually see is a fragmented country with multiple centers of power.

“So, there’s unlikely to be peace, instead it will be a state of war: of all against all. None of which is good for the Afghan people.”

BOOK REVIEW- Afghanistan: A country that refuses to be tamed

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RETURN OF A KING – AN INDIAN ARMY IN AFGHANISTAN; William Dalrymple; Bloomsbury 2014; 567 pp, Rupees 499.

By Neeraj Nanda

MELBOURNE, 7 April 2020: I bought this book from Mumbai’s Crossword Bookstore in 2015 and started reading it quite late and, slowly, but finally, finished it last year. Meanwhile, numerous reviews of this incredible piece of history (in William Dalrymple’s history writing style) have already appeared and the book is relevant and a best- seller to this day. Its well-researched page by page facts backed by potent sources (Bibliography pages 537 to 551) is a fine point which one cannot but commend.

Since the publication of this book in 2014, the geopolitics of Afghanistan continues to be in a flux culminating with the current talks between the Trump administration and the Taliban which could lead to the withdrawal of US forces from the country. And, possibly the return to power of the Taliban in Kabul, who are already in control of much of the country.

Anthony Loyd quotes a Taliban operative (he calls him ‘Pashtun fighter) in New Statesman (Letter from Afghanistan: “We have just defeated a superpower”, 1 April 2020) as saying, “It is 40 years we have been fighting now to establish an Islamic emirate, either as the Taliban or as the Mujahedin,” Khalid Agha told me as a slow breeze danced dust around the desert plains beneath us. “It is true we are sick of killing and dying. Who wouldn’t be? But if it takes another 40 years of fighting and killing to achieve what we fight for, then so be it.”

This very spirit is reflected in the array of events that Dalrymple charts in this book. The 1839 restoration of Shah Shuja (1786-1842) to the throne in Kabul by a massive British invading army comprising of 14,000 East India Company sepoys plus 38,000 others are fiercely fought out by Afghans as a jihad. After two years they are expelled slapping the biggest ever humiliation to the British.

By the end of February 1842, the British quit the place in retreat and Shah Shuja could not manipulate himself to remain on the throne and on 5 April 1842 was mowed down by his own godson. The massive details and storytelling are exceptionally brilliant.

From chapter one (No Easy Place to Rule) to nine (The Death of a King) is a historical thriller with clockwork precision. Shah Shuja was on the throne but the actual rule was that of the British occupation army. The Afghans never accepted this and Shah Shuja remained a hated figure till his end. The Union Jack was lowered at Bala Hissar, Kabul, on 12 October 1842 ending the British occupation.

The East India Company left Afghanistan after losing around 40,000 men, 50,000 camels with a demoralized army, ripe for a revolt, retreated, leaving the country in tribal chaos. In 1844, Dost Mohammed took over Afghanistan. It was the Anglo-Russian rivalry that led to this violent and needless episode in Afghan history.

But, events unfolding much later, saw the Russians (Soviet Union) in the 1980s withdrawing; in 2001 the US and Britain being pushed out by Afghan resistance; and in-between the Taliban rule and then 9/11 happened and the rest is history. The book reveals the Afghan people though united by one faith are actually badly fractured. So was their resistance to foreign occupiers. Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires, no doubt, is validated by the recent events unfolding with US troops poised to withdraw from the country and two leaders already battling for power after an election and most of the country occupied by the Taliban.

Most of the sources of the book are from the British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections, National Archives of India, Public Records Office, National Army Museum, London, Punjab Archives, Lahore and private collections. The hundreds of historical sources are all detailed (chapter wise) and make one wonder the amount of hard work the author did research the book.

All major figures/personalities mentioned in the book have their details in the Dramatis Personae giving one a historical context while reading the gripping book.

I repeat the quote of Mirza ‘Ata (1842) with which the author ends this book: “It is certainly no easy thing to invade or govern the Kingdom of Khurasan”.

Ancient Bamiyan Buddha’s will not be rebuilt – UNESCO

By Andrea Lunt

United Nations, March 11, 2011 (IPS) – Afghanistan’s historic Bamiyan Buddhas, destroyed by the Taliban 10 years ago, will not be reconstructed despite claims the 1,500-year-old statues could be repaired, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has said.
The decision follows a two-day meeting of scientists, Afghan officials and donors in Paris recently.
While the expert panel was split on the possibility of reconstruction, UNESCO has told the Afghan government it does not support a rebuild project, citing concerns over funding priorities and authenticity.

Replicating the colossal monuments, which once stood 55 and 38 metres tall, could cost between eight and 12 million dollars. However, less than half of the original stone used to build the statues remains.
“We think any reconstruction will essentially be a fake because of lack of original material,” UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture, Francesco Bandarin, told reporters at a special conference in New York.
“We have to think of the public, and they don’t need to see a fake, they need to see the reality. And these statues have been destroyed. As much as we mourn that they have been destroyed it’s an historical fact,” he added.
The Bamiyan Buddhas, dating from the sixth century, were bombed in 2001 as part of the Taliban’s campaign to rid Afghanistan of pre-Islamic structures.
While much of the statues was reduced to dust, a group of German scientists, led by Professor Erwin Emmerling of the University of Munich, has said the smaller of the two could be restored.
The scientists have spent years studying the Buddhas, by analysing the hundreds of exploded fragments currently stacked in warehouses in the Bamiyan Valley.
According to Emmerling, a reconstruction project could be feasible using the original stone, but there would be practical considerations. Either a small factory would have to be built in the valley, or the 1,400 rocks weighing up to two tonnes each would need to be transported to Germany.
The scientists’ proposals, however, have not been accepted by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government, which has indicated it, will not go ahead with restoration.
The decision has drawn strong criticism from Afghanistan’s Hazara community, a minority ethnic group that claims a long association with the Bamiyan Valley and views the Buddha statues as a source of pride.

The international advocacy organisation Hazara People said the consensus to not rebuild was “shameful”.
The group believes the decision is politically influenced and reflects the continued discrimination aganst Hazara peoples in Afghanistan.
“We are not surprised the Afghan government does not want to rebuild the Bamiyan Buddhas,” a spokesperson, who did not want to be named, told IPS. “Bamiyan Buddhas are great proof that say Hazara people have been living in that area for thousands of years.”
Hazaras have long faced violence in Afghanistan, suffering genocide, slavery, and forced displacement under a series of governments including the Taliban.
And while the ethnic group is predominately Muslim, their East Asian appearance bears a resemblance to monuments such as the Bamiyan Buddhas.
“Afghan regimes have had this policy to destroy all historic symbols of Hazaras,” the spokesperson continued. “The (19th century) Afghan/Pashtun king Abdurrahman has destroyed the face of Buddha in Bamiyan. It was very simple, he didn’t want Buddha’s face like Hazara’s face.”
The group rejected the argument that there was a lack of funding for restoration, pointing to the Karzai government’s recent willingness to financially support the reconstruction of Pashtun poet Rahman Baba’s bombed shrine in Pakistan.
“But the same government didn’t pay one dollar for the Bamiyan Buddhas,” the spokesperson told IPS.
“The expenses of a few projects in Bamiyan have been covered by some international donors. Furthermore, eight to 12 million dollars is nothing compared to billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan…eight to 12 million dollars is nothing compared to a million dollars corruption by Afghan senior officials.”
While acknowledging there was desire to see the Buddhas rebuilt, UNESCO believes priority should now be placed on preserving the wider Bamiyan Valley, a World Heritage-listed site containing treasured Buddhist art and monastic caves dating to the first century.
The organisation, which has already conducted extensive consolidation of the ancient niches where the statues once stood, has called for construction of a central museum in Bamiyan, in addition to smaller site museums within the area.
“The priority now is creating the capacity to conserve what is there and ensuring the security of the site, in order to have it open for tourism,” Bandarin said.
Source: SAT, March 2011