Everyone has the right to make assessments – and to get them wrong. But no one has the right to be surprised. Hardly any event has ever taken place without casting its shadows before. Some of us, who went to school before the state had started tinkering with our curricula, were taught such pearls of wisdom in Kindergarten.
I once met a theoretical physicist who studied Iqbal to deepen his philosophical skills. This profound combination led him to propound a unique hypothesis: before an event, one could talk about its likelihood – let’s say in percentage terms; but once it has happened, its chances must have been hundred percent.
If this mathematical mumbo jumbo was too convoluted, one may like to recall a very insightful contention, made I believe by a diplomat. He said he wasn’t sure what was going to happen; but once it did, he could prove that it was inevitable (This Brotherhood hardly ever commits itself).
Read more: The enduring name and philosophy of Iqbal
In the last two decades, the number of Af-Pak hands has skyrocketed. Most of them seem to have slept on the wheel and now suddenly woken up in a state of dumbfoundedness. They are shocked that the US was leaving Afghanistan – precipitously; and dismayed that the Taliban were gaining ground – exponentially. That reminds me of Rip Van Winkle who also slept for twenty years. When the last reports came in, our wonderstruck media magicians were desperately trying to paint the future dark and gloomy—to keep themselves in business.
US retreat from Afghanistan: What’s new?
Whatever else the Amis could be blamed for, springing surprises was not one of them. Before quitting the region in the early 1990s, they had made it quite clear that their commitment to Afghanistan was not forever, and that they would leave the latest when the Soviets did.
This time around, the hints were being dropped for over a decade. Obama talked about the exit in the first year of his first stint in the office. The last two years were all about “ET Goes Home”.
And when our fly-by-night whizzes expressed disappointment that the Yanks were abandoning their hired hands, one simply had to ask: so what’s new? Even the Europeans know that the much-maligned Russians fulfilled their vows better than the leader of the free world.
Before vacating an occupation, putting in place an interim government to help the transition, was always a good idea. It was not only the late lamented Zia who pleaded for it but also a key pre-condition of Karzai to sign the status of force agreement that was to sanction foreign forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2012.
It was spurned by Washington on both the previous occasions, but when it finally understood its logic, the proposal was rejected by Ashraf Ghani, who rightly believes that if he did not hang on to the office, he would be hanged – like Najibullah was in 1992.
I do not know why the Americans abandoned the Bagram Base in the dead of the night. Maybe they didn’t want to disturb the Afghans sleeping next door or were for once observing a sound principle of war – while withdrawing, make a clean break.
Unreal story. US left Bagram air base and did not coordinate with local Afghan commander to take over. Base was unattended for 2 hours before the Afghans figured out. Not sure what on earth is going on in Washington D.C… #Afghanistan https://t.co/gfXR2NWu7B
— Kabir Taneja (@KabirTaneja) July 6, 2021
And what’s so astonishing about the Taliban gaining ground with such ease! For those who have been holding out against the world’s mightiest alliance for two decades, once the latter retreats it was more like a cakewalk. Their forays in the North remind me of a similar move by the Mujahedeen when the Soviets were pulling back. That time it was to ensure that the Commies would not stay on across the Solang Pass to affect a North/South Divide along the Hindukush.
This time around, they probably want to preempt the formation of another Northern Alliance. I wonder where did they learn the essence of strategy – how best to synchronize battle and maneuver. We teach that in our military institutions, but let others practice it. Koreans implemented the economic model developed in Islamabad.
But our regional experts still have a chance to ensure no more surprises. Let them ponder over the American withdrawal from a base where they were well-positioned to play the New Great Game – a euphemism for their rivalry with China. Have they repositioned themselves for the next round? I am not sure if one heard about the use of drones in Afghanistan, but with their forces out of harm’s way, don’t be surprised if Obama’s henchman resumed his legacy and claimed another Nobel Peace Prize.
PS: Isn’t it a bit too late to worry about the Taliban ruling the roost in Kabul? We have always supported the Afghan Resistance – regardless of the name it gave itself – because a foreign occupied Afghanistan was bad news for the region. My only worry is that these inwards-looking Afghans would not be interested in exporting their victorious model. Otherwise, a bit of Talibanisation would do us a world of good. Our surrogate state and predator elite would else never reform itself.
Gen. (r) Asad Durrani is author of “Pakistan Adrift (2018)” and “Honour Among Spies (2020)” and a prominent defence columnist. He served as Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), DG Military Intelligence and as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Germany. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space (GVS News) – Editor.