Perhaps the most relevant, and also the most overlooked, outcome of the Afghan war is that the Taliban have reminded the world of the true meaning of the concept of jihad. For, even as the whole world is waxing eloquent about how Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, and how it sent the mightiest superpowers of the time – England, Soviet Union, the US- back home with a red nose, they fail to mention that in none of those campaigns was Afghanistan’s formal military responsible for the victories.
It was always the average people of the country, most of whom have always been very poor farmers, fruit sellers, blacksmiths, etc, who answered the call for jihad and defeated foes many times stronger each time. When America had gone to war in Afghanistan, it was the world’s only superpower and also a military hyper-power. And it simply beggars belief that such an extensive, sophisticated and expensive military complex was humbled by very ordinary, untrained fighters who barely afford to live in their mud houses.
It took them 20 years and only God knows how many lives, but they finally announced a successful end to their latest jihad with the departure of American forces from their country. They’ve also allayed all sorts of fears by announcing an inclusive government, which will be represented by all segments of Afghan society, and also protection for minority and women’s rights. That is the most prudent way forward and the very people who fought for the land and are now responsible for keeping the peace in it know better than outsiders how to approach the next phase, which must be reconstructing and rebuilding the war-torn country.
And even as Washington still tries to keep some leverage over the country by rolling back its aid and freezing the central bank’s money abroad, it bears reminding the world that the Americans were one of the first countries to offer the Taliban an olive branch when they first came to power in 1996; even though they didn’t formally recognise their government. The reason was that they were salivating for oil and gas deals that would see pipelines built from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan and into Pakistani ports on the Arabian Sea for subsequent export.
They had been lobbying for rights through Afghanistan since before the Taliban came to power. But they needed stability in the country, which was not possible during the civil war. And once the Taliban took over, it was for the first time since the rule of Ahmed Shah Durrani more than two centuries ago that the whole country was governed by one seat of power and there was complete peace. At that point, to try to cuddle the Taliban, the US gave it $500 million, while a Unocal executive team travelled as far as Kabul and Kandahar to negotiate with the Taliban leadership. But when their sharia compliance ruled out any such project, which was meant to exploit oil and gas demand in certain countries to make windfall profits for powerful corporations, the American goodwill suddenly, and quite expectedly, turned into very stiff opposition.
This time also, Washington is trying to use money, which Afghanistan needs very desperately at the moment, to try to retain some sort of influence over the Taliban and save face in the international community, where it is being very severely criticised for losing such a long and expensive war to a rag-tag militia of people, a large majority of whom live in the kind of poverty that can’t possibly be imagined in the US. But the Taliban will never bow to such pressure. Fortunately, countries closer to it realise the need to keep the Asian region in order, for which peace in Afghanistan is a central requirement; as everyone has seen and realised over the last four decades. The Afghan government is now taking steps that it believes are best for its people. And countries in the region are lining up to lend it support, and also enough money to begin rebuilding the country, so there is no immediate financial crisis at the very least.
Pakistan will, as always, be affected most by how things unfold in Afghanistan. That is why Islamabad has been lobbying western countries to resume aid to Kabul, which was taken away as soon as the Ghani administration fell and the disgraced president fled with as much money as he and his inner circle could smuggle out of the country. Even then, close to 80 per cent of Afghanistan’s budget comprised of aid and grants. To expect the country to function without any money in the present circumstances would be asking far too much.
That is why Islamabad’s recommendation that the developed world should prepare a Marshal Plan for Afghanistan, makes a lot of sense. It is essential to keep the country from descending into civil war yet again. Already, it’s not as if the departure of occupying forces has led to an end to all sorts of fighting there. There is still the presence of the so-called Islamic State (IS), which is bent upon wreaking havoc in the entire region. The Taliban will need funding for that fight as well, in addition to all the reconstruction that must now take place.
Therefore, the jihadists who have just rewritten history in the grandest way possible once again face yet another monumental challenge. That is to run the country peacefully now that they have wrested it from the clutch of occupiers; as their forefathers did before them whenever so called upon. It is the right time for the world to engage with the Afghan Taliban sincerely to ensure peace in the volatile region. Afghanistan direly needs education, health and road infrastructure after decades of destructions that it witnessed in its surroundings. Afghanistan needs sincere world’s attention, which is well-rooted on humanitarian grounds.