The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul has been termed, by the Western media, as the ‘Fall of Kabul’. For America and its allies, that term probably makes sense. But in reality, the ‘Fall of Kabul’—to foreign occupying forces—took place in 2001. What happened last week was more of a retaking of Kabul. Or the ‘Reclaiming of Kabul’, by the domestic people of Afghanistan.
We may not like the Taliban. We may not agree with their philosophy. We may be apprehensive of their past, and fearful of their future. But there can be no denying of the fact that Taliban (or, erstwhile Mujahideen), are local people of Afghanistan; which is more than we can say about NATO forces, or even individuals like Ashraf Ghani, who are Western proxies, installed to lend cosmetic legitimacy to the government. As such, Kabul, which had fallen to the Americans some twenty years ago, was reclaimed by the Afghans this week. And for all those who believe in the ‘right of self-governance, across liberal capitals of the world, this should be an occasion to recognize, if not celebrate.
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How did the Taliban achieve victory?
The reclaiming of Kabul, over the course of the past few weeks, has been surprising in three distinct ways: 1) the manner and speed with which the Taliban progressed; 2) the conduct of the Taliban, since coming into power; and 3) the chaotic withdrawal of US forces and the inhumane manner in which they plowed over the locals that assisted them.
Each of these requires deeper analysis.
The manner and crassness of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which came as a surprise to America’s allies and many within the American establishment, has split asunder the myth of American power. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the manner in which America has withdrawn (read: run away) from Afghanistan, has effectively brought an end to the century of American imperialism.
A century that started at the end of the First World War (in 1920), and continued through the ups and downs of the Cold War, till the Taliban toppled the mighty empire in Kabul. Saigon (1975), looks like an honourable exit in comparison to Afghanistan (2021).
Read more: Why did the Afghan National Army give up the fight for Afghanistan?
To begin with, the United States’ political and intelligence establishment completely misread the speed and strength of the Taliban fighters. Much more surprisingly, they were utterly wrong about the ability of Ashraf’s Ghani’s government to put up a fight. They not only overestimated the technical strength of ANDSF to put up (some) resistance against the Taliban but (much more importantly) they miscalculated the motivation and desire of the Afghan forces to fight against the Taliban.
They listened to the likes of Amarullah Saleh and Hamdullah Mohib, who were entirely unaware of the ground realities. Afghanistan, all through its history, has been defended by a collaboration of warring factions, instead of a centralised army. Soldiers of ANDSF see themselves as tribesmen, before anything else. And as soon as Ashraf Ghani and company ran away, the soldiers of ANDSF gave up their weapons and reverted to their respective tribes, instead of fighting for a political force that had been imported from abroad.
But how did America get this wrong?
Did they not have the requisite intelligence? Did they not assess the tribal culture correctly? Did they not see the disconnect between Ashraf Ghani’s government and the people? Or, much more likely, did the Americans simply not care?
Since coming to power, the Taliban have surprised even the worst of its critics. There are no widespread killings or terror on Afghan streets. Historically, in a battle, victorious armies take over the capital city of their opponents through much bloodshed. How many people did the Russians kill, when they marched into Kabul? How many people died in American Daisy-Cutters when they took over Afghanistan? Heck, how many people did the Taliban kill in Kabul the last time they were in power some 25 years back? But this (new) Taliban, did no such thing.
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Despite 20 years of war, including Taliban massacres carried out by the likes of Rasheed Dostum and Amarullah Saleh, the Taliban announced a general amnesty for all those who threw down their weapons. For now, they have promised free press and women’s rights (within the confines of Shariah). That may not be as much as the world wants, but it is more than what any of us had expected from the Taliban. And this humility, this idea of amnesty and forgiveness, has prompted many world capitals (including Beijing and Moscow), to reconsider their opinion of an impending Taliban government.
But perhaps the most surprising and inhumane part of this incredulous story has been the callousness that the Americans have shown to (Afghan) people who had expected refuge for helping American forces. Images of planes running over hapless people, and young Afghans falling to their death after clinging onto the wing of the plane will haunt America’s international legacy for decades to come.
For the record: in that (infamous) footage, the plane belonged to the champions of human rights and democracy; and those falling to their death were the people that the superpower had come to ‘liberate’. As it turns out, the people who gathered at the Kabul airport to get onto the American plane were not just regular folk. All of them, at some point in time over the past twenty years, had been promised asylum by the Americans. They had only come to the airport and then clung to the plane, in redemption of that promise. A promise, made by a superpower, in lieu of helping Americans find and kill fellow Afghans—the Taliban.
Can America be trusted in the foreseeable future?
More specifically, what will happen to those who swore allegiance to the American-backed government in Taiwan? What will happen to regimes in Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus? What will happen to the American allies in Syria, in Lebanon, and Iraq? If, in the hour of need, America did not come to the aid of their allies and assets in Afghanistan—a place that the Americans had expended over $2 trillion in—will they really come to the defence of American ‘assets’ in far flung regions of the world?
Read more: US defeat in Afghanistan: Ending west’s dream of hegemony over Eurasian land mass?
Even more importantly, what will happen to the Indian claims in the region? India was meant to act as a counterweight to China in this region, as part of the ‘contain China’ policy. And, in return, India was promised financial, military, intelligence and economic support. Will these promises really hold any longer? If America did not defend Ashraf Ghani & Co. against the Taliban, will they really defend Modi and his fascist cohorts, in case of conflict with China? Will American forces come and ‘liberate’ the Ladakh regions, claimed by India and currently occupied by China? Will they come to save the Siliguri Corridor and India’s ‘Chicken’s neck’?
The reclaiming of Kabul, by the Afghan Taliban, is a watershed moment in American and global geopolitics. We witnessed the greatest and most modern military machine that the world has ever seen, being brought to its knees by a bunch of mullahs with AK-47s on CD-70 motorcycles. If that doesn’t make you pause and reconsider entrenched world views of political and military hegemony, nothing ever will.
Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at email@example.com, or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. This article originally appeared in The Nation under the title, “The reclaiming of Kabul” 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.