Tag: Taliban

Withdrawal of US troops could spell disaster for Afghanistan

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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”.

VIEWPOINT: Liberal Hinduism versus Sectarian Hindutva

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By Ram Puniyani

Banning or attacking the books in current times has been aplenty. There have been many reasons given for this intolerant attitude by different social-political groups. The cases of Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja, book on Sonia Gandhi Red Saree, A.K. Ramanujan’s Three Hundred Ramayans are some of the major examples. There is a tight rope walk between freedom of expression and hurting ‘others’ sensibilities, which keeps fluctuating for same political groups. Those from Hindu right will talk of freedom of expression for Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasreen, while the Muslim fundamentalists will talk of ‘Hurting religious sensibilities at the same time. In case of ‘The Hindus an Alternative History’ by Wendy Donigar or ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ the same Hindu right will assert the religious sensibility argument to get the uncomfortable things banished away. The overall victim of this intolerant attitude is freedom of expression and it also shows the ascendance of ‘Taliban’ elements in the social political sphere.

The ‘out of court settlement’ reached by Penguin to pulp its stock of ‘The Hindus-an alternative History’ is a very condemnable move from one of the most powerful publishers, who could have taken the matters further to the highest legal battles and preserved the right of a scholar to disseminate her views, and the right of readers to have access to it. It is in the fitness of things that well known Penguin authors Jyotirmaya Sharma and Siddharth Varadrajan have written to Penguin to pulp their books and cancel their agreements. The case against The Hindus… was filed by one Dinanath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (SBAS). In his petition to the court, the book is described as “shallow, distorted…a haphazard presentation riddled with heresies and factual inaccuracies”, and …that Doniger herself is driven by a “Christian Missionary Zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light”. Interestingly Doniger is no Christian, she is Jewish. In her preface she writes “Part of my agenda in writing an alternative history is to show how much the groups that conventional wisdom says were oppressed and silenced and played no part in the development of the tradition—women, Pariahs (oppressed castes, sometimes called Untouchables)—did actually contribute to Hinduism…to tell a story of Hinduism that’s been suppressed and was increasingly hard to find in the media and textbooks…It’s not about philosophy, it’s not about meditation, it’s about stories, about animals and untouchables and women. It’s the way that Hinduism has dealt with pluralism.”
The two central aspects of the book are, one a presentation of the matters related to sex, which has become a taboo for the self proclaimed custodians of Hinduism. One knows the great creations like Khajuraho and Konark and the depiction of matters related to sex, that’s how it was looked at as and that’s how it prevails in society, before the Victorian prudishness took over. One recalls the classic of Kalidas; ‘Kumar Sambhav’, canto 8, which gives the erotic episode of Shankar and Parvati. And same way Adi Shankaracharya’s, Saundarya Lahiri, which gives graphic descriptions of the goddess, sholaka 78-79 being two examples.
As far as attack on Doniger’s book is concerned it is part of the long sequence of the agenda of SBAS and the other RSS affiliates like VHP, Bajrang Dal etc, who became more assertive after the decade of 1980s. This is also the period when the touchiness about religious sensibilities and suppression of the freedom of expression became a phenomenon of regular occurrence. It is interesting to note that the paintings of M.F. Husain drawn in the decades of 1960s and 1970s came under attack much later, during the 1980s with the rise of the aggressive presence of politics, which began around the Ram Temple issue.

Batra, who filed the suit, is the head of the Vidya Bharati’s Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, the educational arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the patriarch of the Hindu right. The earlier major book under its attack was A.K. Ramanujan’s classic essay ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’, which was part of the syllabus in Delhi University. This essay shows the wide prevalence of diverse telling of story of Lord Ram. These diverse versions are not in conformity with the version of Ram story which gels with the Ram Temple campaign. Even before the attack on this book, the RSS supporters had attacked an exhibition of many tellings of Ram story by Sahmat. In a similar vein RSS’s political wing BJP’s political and ideological partner Shiv Sena in Maharashtra had opposed the publication of the book ‘Riddles of Ram and Krishna’ as in this book Ambedkar, apart from other things, says that he will not regard Ram Krishna as Gods and nor will worship them.

Doniger has been a Professor at School of Oriental and African Studies in University of London. She has two doctorates in Sanskrit and Indian studies and has written several works of scholarship on Hinduism. She says that Sanskrit and vernacular sources are rich in knowledge of compassion for deprived sections of society, women and pariahs as well. An example of this is in order, she is critical of Manu smiriti as it denigrates the women, at the same time she appreciates the sensitivity with which Vatsayanan’s Kam Sutra deals with women.

The tirade of SBAS and other RSS progeny against differing versions of Hinduism, and iconography is a part of its political agenda. It harps on the Brahamanical version of Hinduism bypassing and undermining the other Hindu traditions, Nath, Tantra, Bhakti, Shaiva, Siddha etc. The construction of RSS brand of Hinduism is a part of its Hindutva project, which took place during colonial period. Hindutva is the political ideology of this supra political organization, RSS. Hindutva picks up its version of Hinduism from the elaboration of European Orientalist interpretation of Hindu traditions. Orientalist scholars were in tune with the monotheistic worldview and that was reflected in their reading of Hinduism. In their rendering Hinduism got straight jacketed into monotheistic, monistic one and this puritan monolithic notion of Hinduism came to be presented as the Hinduism. The Colonial powers’ monotheistic worldview could not fathom the diverse richness of Hinduism’s philosophical, spiritual, religious and aesthetic expressions. Their understanding of religion revolves around a single Prophet. Hinduism as a religion as such is a conglomeration of multiple traditions which were prevalent here. Brahmanism was just one of them. During the colonial period by selectively projecting Brahmanical texts and values as Hinduism, the Orientalist scholars and British rulers gave legitimacy to caste and gender based Brahiminical tendency as ‘The Hinduism’. Brahmanism started becoming projected as the Hinduism. It is due to this that Ambedkar went on to say that ‘Hinduism is Brahmanic theology’. He was criticizing the social inequality prevalent in the name of Hinduism. Opposed to Brahmanical stream was the Shramnanic traditions of Hinduism, which by that time were out of the horizon of scholarship of Westerners and the British policy makers. In due course the declining sections of Hindu Landlords and upper caste resorted to the politics of Hindutva, which in the name of glorious Hindu traditions wanted to uphold the status quo of caste and gender, wanted to retain its hegemony in social and economic sphere. The freedom movement and its leader Gandhi’s Hinduism was away from this Brahmanical-Hindutva stream. It was more in continuation with liberal Hindu belonging to Shramanic tradition. It is the Hinduism with which the large sections of Hindus could identify.

Hindu Mahasabha and RSS brand of Hindutva was a marginal phenomenon as it was elite Brahamnical and harped on the values which were at deeper level undermining the status and dignity of women and dalits. That’s how RSS and the elite supporting them kept aloof from the social changes of caste and gender during this period, and stuck to their agenda of Hindu nation based on their own sectarian interpretation of Hinduism. The RSS, in pursuance of its agenda floated SBAS, which was the one which was instrumental in communalization of the history text books during the NDA regime, led by BJP-Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The same organization is the one which is at the back of the multitude of educational endeavors and promotes the divisive-sectarian history through many Sarswati Shishu Mandirs, Ekal Vidyalayas amongst others. So, for them Doniger’s book is a red rag as it talks of rich diverse traditions of the people and is not prude enough to suppress the narrations related to sex. Doniger talks of liberal Hinduism while RSS wants sectarian Hindutva imposed on the society. The struggle between liberal Hinduism and sectarian Hindutva is in full flow around the debate on this book. 

Source: Plural India

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