August 15, 2021, will go down in the history of Afghanistan as a remarkable day when the Taliban regained power without firing a single shot. The same day will also be remarked as the day when the US occupation of a poor country finally came to an end. The American intervention in October 2001 was a folly motivated by an imperial hubris of a few political elites.
The US forces crossed all thresholds of humanity and decency in their determination to “teach” the Taliban a “lesson”. They were not chasing the real perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks but the so-called supporters of al-Qaeda. In this absolute madness, they did not realize that Afghans or the Taliban members had no affiliations or connections with al-Qaeda. Taking revenge in a savage manner was a norm in the US capitol in those days.
The horrors of the aftermath of 9/11
The US actions in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks left humanity mortified. Bombs were dropped indiscriminately to strike those suspected to be close to the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Innocent civilians bore the brunt of the bombing as hundreds of them lost their lives. Bombs with non-depleted uranium were used to strike targets despite the well-known poisonous effects of uranium that could cause recurring health problems for years to come.
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This is evident through the increase in the number of diseases such as cancer on both sides of the border. Many Afghans were also killed for sports. Fingers of the slain Afghans were collected as trophies. Only recently, a few US soldiers were put on trial for killing innocent Afghans to provide some semblance of accountability. However, killing innocent civilians was just one dimension of the devastating power unleashed.
Detentions were common due to a lack of accountability. Suspects were tortured through electric shocks, kept in solitary confinement, and put through waterboarding. Suspects were often told to strip their clothes off in attempts to humiliate them. The torture, pain and suffering inflicted on suspects continued in Bagram and Guantanamo detention centers. Many detainees died whilst others were physically disabled and mentally scarred for life. Only a few were released on accounts of not being guilty after suffering years of torture.
The US occupation was a dark chapter in the history of Afghanistan. However, it did not crush the spirits and resilience of the Afghan people. They regrouped and initiated a struggle to liberate their country from foreign occupation. August 15, 2021 was the culmination of that heroic resistance. The Taliban entered Kabul triumphantly and ended the epoch of devastation, mass killings, and the senseless pursuit of an invisible foe. Taliban’s success forced the US troops to retreat in ignominy and heralded the advent of a new era.
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Challenges for Afghanistan
However, Afghanistan now faces daunting challenges. One of the issues needing immediate attention is to create a representative government and maintain unity in the ranks. Drawing an administrative structure and enforcing control in all parts of the country will not be an easy task to accomplish. Taliban will also be required to deal with militants and limit their ability to destabilize the country.
The job of institution-building and governance systems, and undertaking reconstruction and rehabilitation are no small challenges. Among other tasks, opium cultivation needs to be banned. Poverty needs to be focused on. Drought has aggravated the sufferings of the people. Restoring basic amenities such as health, education, water supply, electricity would engage the government’s immediate attention. Given the 3.5 million IDPs, the UN has warned of an impending human catastrophe if the urgent needs of the citizens are not met. The Covid-19 pandemic has posed yet another challenge as the country struggles with a poor healthcare system.
The Taliban’s real test has just begun. They will not be subjected to any resistance from rivals. The only danger they face is from within. This new scenario offers a historic opportunity to rebuild the nation after decades of conflict. If the Taliban squander this chance, it will be at the expense of the entire nation. Taliban must realize that their victory has brought a new era.
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The Afghans should make the most of this historic opportunity to initiate reform and change. To tackle issues facing the country, they will need to cooperate with the world community. Afghanistan’s road to recovery will require considerable support from both within and outside the country.
Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist in Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held the position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade. The article originally appeared at The Express Tribune and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.