Shafick Emmambokus
(London)

Afghanistan has, in recent weeks, been hitting the headlines of global news media and, unfortunately, not for the good reasons. This country is once again being marred by turmoil, civil unrest, panic and the fear of a life of uncertainty for many of its people, a population of nearly 40 million inhabitants.
With America and its western allies pulling out their troops, the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani and his government disappearing into thin air, a free passage has been created for the Taliban to make a comeback, giving them ‘de facto’ rights to govern. Many Afghans are fearful to live under their regime and have been fleeing the country in droves and in a manner never heard or seen before, resulting into a kind of modern exodus.
Their despair and determination were such that risking their lives and those of their families and children to just try to leave became for them, a dangerous game worth paying any price for. They even went to the extent of clinging onto moving aircraft, trying to get to the destination where the plane would be next landing, regardless of where that might be. We saw babies and children being flung through razor wired fences into the hands of would-be rescuers with desperate parents succumbing to the risk of perhaps never seeing their children again.

Afghanistan is a very interesting country with an abundantly rich history which goes back centuries. It was built on a good mixture of cultures and traditions imported from mostly the Persian, Ottoman and Mughal empires as well as from its people of Greek and Indian origins and beyond. It is also a country of natural and cultural beauties, with its sweeping valleys, its snow-capped mountains and its strikingly loving people. These, put together, make this country one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Afghanistan is of no shortage of wealth either. It is well known for its poppy plantation which is a great asset to its economy. Poppies are always in great demand for medicinal purposes as well as, unfortunately, for illicit ones. It also has other natural resources in the form of gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, sulphur, lead, zinc, iron and precious and semi-precious stones. These should guarantee a sound economy for the country, but alas, on-going wars, conflicts and national unrests erode this and the result is the opposite.
Although Afghanistan is a predominantly Muslim country, it also consists of people of other religions and ethnic groups, with Pashtun being the highest among them, whilst its Buddhist, Indian and Zoroastrian traditions and history still shine through and these can be seen and felt anywhere in the country.

This great country had always been ravaged by wars and conflicts with its enemies both from outside and within. This has been going on almost throughout its existence. Its heads of state, one after the other, had seen their tenure in office ending, not through elections or end of terms but by being overturned and often killed, murdered or hanged.
Afghanistan is situated between South & Central Asia and the Middle East. Britain, seeing this as an ideal and perfect geographical and strategical location for easy access to India, its then ‘Jewel in the Crown’, had on three occasions, between 1839 and 1919, tried to conquer or gain control over it but failed. On each occasion the defeat had been very embarrassing and humiliating.

In 1979, whilst offering a helping hand to the pro-Communist Party, the People Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. This brought civil unrests in the country and with it, emerged the Islamic militant group The Mujahideen, with Ahmad Shah Masood at the helm. Whilst they were being heavily financed by their fellow militant supporter, Osama Bin Laden of Saudi Arabia, America and UK were helping them militarily. Several fierce and ruthless military conflicts ensued which lasted for a decade. The Soviet military suffered a humiliating defeat and Russia withdrew in 1989/90. This became the forerunner of the collapse of USSR. It empowered the Mujahideen and then, what followed post 9/11, the strengthening of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

No sooner had the Mujahideen triumphed over the expelling of the Soviets than emerged the desire of Al-Qaida and the Taliban to take over. The leader of Mujahideen, Ahmad Shah Masood was assassinated. Coincidence or not, two days later on September 11, 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center in New York took place. Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda allies became the prime suspects.

The ‘War on Terror’ programme was then launched by the US government, led by President George W Bush of America and it got the United Kingdom as its main ally with NATO and some other countries offering their ‘lukewarm’ supports. The main objective was to defeat Islamist terrorists wherever they were operating from, but mainly in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Their pursuit and elimination of Osama Bin Laden, then a wanted man by USA and the West, was placed firm on their agenda.

The Taliban had, by then, gained firm footing in Afghanistan, controlling several regions and its influence spread out further throughout the Middle East. Osama Bin Laden was, in 2011, eventually captured and killed by the Americans, though we only heard but never saw any evidence of it. Fights went on for two decades in Afghanistan between the Taliban and the Afghan’s government army, supported by a US-led force. The Taliban were only prevented from achieving their aim but not defeated. They proved to be a hard nut to crack.

Now, fast forward, two decades later and in 2021, we see Afghanistan today where it sadly is, again in turmoil and facing further ruin. Without really achieving what they had hoped to achieve, the American troops have suddenly left in a hurry and without any peace plan or exit strategy in place, clearly allowing the Taliban to wear the crown. The Afghans feel they have been abandoned and left at the mercy of the Taliban. This whole ‘ill-thought of’ decision has placed the current US president, Joe Biden, in an ignominious position.
Whilst the Taliban are greasing their axle for a smooth start, ISIS have started throwing spanners in their works. We saw this some days ago when they (ISIS) launched a despicable suicide bombing attack at Kabul Airport, killing over 170 people, comprising civilians, children and military personnel. This certainly is not a good start for Taliban nor is it an encouraging sign for the country.

Be it ‘de facto’ or ‘de jure’, the Taliban are back in Afghanistan to govern. There are mixed opinions as to whether or not, they are bringing with them their old ideologies or if have they really been transformed into this new and reformed Taliban group as they claim to be? Regardless of what they are, taking it as a lesson from the idiomatic expression “once bitten twice shy”, it would be foolish for any foreign force to question this and start interfering again, especially AMERICA. Best for them to keep away and let the Taliban get on with it.