Afghanistan: Fall of the Giants and Accentuated Lessons II
By Professor MK Othman
Archaeologically, Afghanistan is reputed to be the graveyard of some powerful empires for 770 years from 1219 to 1989. Those formidable countries/empires were Mongolian Empire (1219-1221), Mughal Empire (1383-1385), the British first attempt (1839-1842), British second attempt (1878-1880), British third attempt 1919, and Soviet Union (1979-1989). They all manufactured excuses justifying their invasion of Afghanistan at different times but they were vigorously repelled and forced to retreat with shattering consequences and their tails between their legs. In addition to their obvious regrets and heavy losses, their attempted invasion of Afghanistan initiated the disintegration of their empires and ended in the dustbin of history. Ironically, we hardly learn from history. Otherwise, the experience of the last 20 years in that country shouldn’t have been. As stated in the first part of this piece, the Taliban government had no issue with America until the incident of September 11th, 2001 took place. What went wrong between America and the Taliban government after the September 11th Incident?
The September 11th, 2001 (11/09) incident involved airline hijacks and suicide attacks on targeted locations in the USA, which were committed by 19 militants of al-Qaeda, reputed to be an Islamic extremist group. The attacks caused extensive deaths of 2,750 people in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania in addition to the massive destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York among other valuable properties. All 19 militants died in the suicide attacks. Police and fire departments in New York were especially overwhelmed and hard-hit that caused the deaths of about 200 police officers and firefighters. The attacks were the deadliest and most condemned terrorist attacks on American soil at the beginning of the 21st century. The world was shocked to witness such the ugliest incident. Osman Bin Laden, leader of the Al-Qaeda, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed were accused to be the principal masterminds of the 11/09 attacks. Bin Laden and Mohammed were in the Mujahideen group of Afghanistan and were partly trained by US Central Intelligence Agency during the Russia-induced Afghanistan war of the 1980s.
Almost overnight, Bin Laden became a major thorn in the flesh of America. He became the most wanted accused personality with a $25m reward on his head in the FBI’s “most wanted” list. Taliban government was accused of harboring Bin Laden in Afghanistan. The US demanded the Taliban to hand him over to them on the allegation of being the mastermind of the 11/09 attacks. Taliban demanded concrete evidence linking Bin Laden with the incident of 11/09 before deciding the next line of action. In severe haste of doing justice to the victims of 11/09 and sending a warning signal to Al-Qaeda and similar groups, America had no patience to dilly-dally on the issue and thus, led other countries to wage intensive military operation against the Taliban. The then President of America, George Bush built a worldwide coalition against terrorism as more than 80 countries suffered losses on 11/09. Thus, 136 countries offered a diverse range of military assistance, 46 multilateral organizations declared their support to fight Taliban government and international terrorism. Soon, the Taliban realized the enormity and the glaring consequences of the coalition attack on Afghanistan, to save Kabul from destruction; they gave up power and melted into the mountains, valleys, and caves within the country. American Intelligence eventually eliminated Bin Laden on 2nd May 2011 in Pakistan but the war continued to be fought bloodily for the next ten years; 2001 to 2021. The two decades of war claimed more than 6,000 American lives, over 100,000 Afghans, and more than $2 trillion spent by the U.S. and Allies in executing the war. Now that American had moved out of Afghanistan and the American-supported government collapsed within a twinkle of an eye and the Taliban is back to power. What are then accentuated lesson and the way forward to have ever-lasting peace in Afghanistan?
The first lesson is the repercussion of subjecting nations or communities to violent hardship as done to Afghans. This has developed the resilience and doggedness of the Afghans as a result of many years of hardship caused by wars. In Nigeria, this scenario is currently being played in the northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest. The activities of bandits and Boko Haram are fast militarizing the civilians with looming consequences of having unquantifiable firearms in the hands of people. Government should do everything to protect people and build their confidence.
The second lesson is the failure of the Soviet Union and other empires before it. As my mentor in Journalism, Dr. Hassan Gimba opined, “the Afghans had bled them irreparably and, with the benefit of hindsight, that war sounded the death knell for the world superpower”. Powerful countries need to be careful and resist the temptation to invade other countries on flimsy excuses to avoid preventable and severe consequences.
Finally, the world should not stay aloof to watch Afghanistan struggle to stand on its feet amid all the challenges. There is a need to intervene in Afghanistan’s rehabilitation, reconstruction, and reintegration for peace and economic development. To do that, the Taliban has to be recognized as the interim government of Afghanistan and set a mechanism for the establishment of law and order as well as initiate a democratic process. This will put the country on the path to sustainable development and economic progress. On the other hand, the Taliban has to recognize and respect fundamental human rights, freedom of speech, and religious practices provided that the freedom to stretch one’s hand should not be extended to touch another person’s nose. Afghanistan needs peace after 40 years of war turmoil. We all need a peaceful world to progress.